As my one year anniversary of life in Laos quickly approaches (this week!), I’ve been trying to take some small moments (and with final reports due and an upcoming trip to prepare, the moments are indeed small) to reflect on the things that I’ve grown to appreciate and love in the past year. Very high on the list, of course, is food. Food is always an important aspect of anywhere I visit, and luckily Laos has not disappointed in the culinary department. While Lao cuisine doesn’t traditionally include some of my favorite ingredients (read: cheese, bread), there are a whole new array of spices and flavors now in my palate. (And luckily there are some excellent Western restaurants in town to indulge my taste for cheese when I really need some).
Some of my favorite “go-to” Lao foods… (Some of these are not exclusively Lao, but also found in Thailand. However, it’s in the Lao context that I’ve come to know and love them.)
Morning Glory (paak bung)
The spinach of Southeast Asia–a water weed (which I’ve recently learned is illegal to import, possess, or sell in the USA) that I like best fried with garlic, chilis, and fish sauce, as pictured.
Broken Rice (nem khao)
Fried rice, rolled into a ball and deep fried. The ball is broken apart and then tossed with herbs, peanuts, and pig skin (the spagetti-like pieces). Pick some up with your vegetable of choice and then dip into a slightly spicy peanut sauce. (Pictured here with spring rolls).
Chicken with Cashews
Fried chicken pieces mixed with onions, chilis, cashews, and a delicious sweet and sour sauce. (After numerous taste tests, I’ve determined Lao Garden restaurant to have one of the best places of gai pad med mak muang in town, pictured above).
Chicken Laap (laap gai) with Sticky Rice (khao niaow)
Laap, or meat salad, is one of the most common Lao foods, and certainly my favorite. I prefer the gai (chicken) variety, although it also comes with bpaa (fish), muu (pork), ngua (beef), or kouai (buffalo). Diced meat with onions, chilis, mint, and other herbs, served with sticky rice. Saep lai! It’s the only Lao food I’ve attempted to cook, with some success.
Chili peppers (mak phet)
Well, chilis might not really be one of my favorite foods yet, but they’re so ubiquitous that I’ve learned to love them in greater quantity than before. However, I still ask for food bo phet (not spicy) whenever I order it. This guarantees that it will just barely be on the tolerable side of uncomfortably spicy.
…And how could I leave out Beerlao, staple of Lao cuisine? Though some might say it’s not a food, you use the verb “to eat,” kin, for beer consumption as well as eating food, which seems to reflect its centrality in celebrations, and most meals for some. The most palatable, and enjoyable, of the regional beers, in my opinion. Nyok!