Lao Food what's that? by Xaixana Champanakone at Khop Chai Deu Restaurant
Kin Khao - 'eat rice' is the daily celebration of life, and the way of cooking what you 'eat with rice' - kin kap khao - reflects the Lao attitude to life : Simplicity
Three rocks, some firewood and a pot will do the trick, and a mortar and pestle would come in handy. Ah, and a steam pot and bamboo basket!
You buy fresh in the market what has been newly gathered and caught along the rivers, in the fields and in the jungle - vegetables, leaves, herbs and fish. Whatever livestock runs around the house yard makes for a feast.
Bamboo skewers grill things on the fire while banana leave wrappings roast food in the hot ashes or steam it in the bamboo basket; the pot cooks soups and stews, and fries the odd meat. Mortar and pestle pound roots and spices, chilli pastes and the life sustaining papaya salad; and the steamer and basket makes a home for it all with sticky rice.
With few tools and some herbs the Lao know to magically produce culinary delight, finelybalanced in flavour, varied in preparation, all of it ultra healthy - light and fresh.
Cooking and life - simple, immediate, receiving the abundance of nature with humility. Every meal is Thanksgiving, an auspicious and merry occasion blessed by the presence of family, friends, neigbours and colleagues... or you as the guest, anytime.
Where does this leave you?
Venture on foot or by kayak into the deep countryside for a 'homestay', eat in the local street stalls or bypass exercise and culture shock and go adventuring at a restaurant dedicated to serving Lao food in style.
Where daily meals are 'ingenuity in simplicity' - sticky rice, a chilli dip, something grilled and something boiled, all of which is accompanied by mountains of fresh herbs - festive occasions justify the extra effort to produce some of the Lao signature dishes to be featured in this magazine's next issues together with everyday fare for healthy sustenance :
Copyright (C) Vincent Fischer-Zernin 2010
4. PA DEAK - defining Lao Cooking
Fermented Fish to you and me, “rotten fish” to foreigners who know no better; the Swedes call theirs lovingly surströmming!
This is definitely an acquired taste. Once you get used to it, though, you will most likely become an aficionado of its haut gout taste; here the smell of a well matured, runny French Brie cheese of comes to mind. In the case of surströmming and Brie you are excused if you don’t like it but do not miss out on the peculiar flavour of this indigenous Lao condiment which replaces salt or fish sauce in cooking. It is used with joyful abundance in preparation of the national dish none other than the famous Green Papaya Salad (tam mak-houng).
Any kind of small fishes will do, about 10 - 15 cm long. Gutted and cleaned, they are then fermented whole in earthenware jars, preserved with salt, (30 kg fish, 10 kg salt, 0.5 kg sticky rice husks) for a period of three months. You then add 3 liters of water, another 1 kg salt and 3 kg of unpeeled sticky rice.
This unpeeled rice is first roasted in a dry pot. During the roasting process the rice will inflate, turn white and start to pop and jump all over the place - your kitchen - so much so you need to put a lit on. (Peeled white rice behaves in a more orderly way when roasted. Why it does that is a mistery to me.)
The fermentation is then continued for at least another two weeks, and you have an authentic Laos delicacy, like the French and Swedes have theirs.
This is the starter set; the stuff keeps forever. People do not completely finish a jar but rather top it off with more of the above (no different from topping off the jar with your home made vinegar with left-over wine). Like a good wine pa daek matures and blossoms with age!
You find the previous articles at tropicaldesignfz.net/articles
See you for the next issue
Lao Cooking and The Essence of Life by Xaixana Champanakone
- Monument Books in Vientiane, Luang Prabang and Pakse
- Green Discovery Travel Specialists’ offices in Luang Namtha, Luang Prabang, Vang Vieng, Vientiane, Thakhaek and Pakse
- Preview and online purchase at tropicaldesignfz.net/articles