I can hardly believe that we’ve gone this far into our trip without devoting a post to food. So what have we been eating in Lao? These are some of the more interesting things. . .
I LOVE eating noodles for breakfast. Some of the best noodle soup is sold from low tables near the morning markets. I head off there early while Madeline sleeps in. The noodle soup I like best comes with thick white rice noodles in a vegetable broth. On the side they provide a plate of green beans, lettuce, fresh mint, hot basil, green chilies and limes that you add to your noodles as you go.
I’m less sure of what’s in rice porridge, but its kind of salty, kind of sweet and may have some coconut in it. I had rice porridge in northern Cambodia topped with pickled cucumber and a boiled egg. I declined the fermented fish that was the alternative topping.
It’s an unwritten rule of the universe: wherever there are travelers, there are banana pancakes. After sampling 4 countries worth of banana pancakes, Madeline is of the opinion that the best ones are made using a very thick batter and with the banana mixed through the batter. That way the banana is hot. The best pancakes we’ve had were on Koh Lanta.
After learning how to say "Hello" and "Thank you" I learn how to say "Black coffee". I like strong black coffee, so I love the coffee in Vietnam and Lao. Lao coffee is strong black filter coffee usually served in a glass. Unless you ask otherwise they also add about 3 tablespoons worth of condensed milk to make the ultimate coffee and sugar hit.
We’ve found these throughout Vietnam, Cambodia and Lao. They’re great if you can find some in the morning while they are still hot. We’ve used baguettes to make omelet sandwiches for breakfast and taken them on buses with cheese spread for lunch (sometimes you never know where the bus will stop for lunch!) I’ve also had great pork rolls made by street vendors. As well as fresh pork the rolls have some kind of pate (don’t ask, just eat), chili paste, tomato, cucumber, fresh coriander and seasonings.
Sticky rice is another great food for travel days. In Lao you can buy a tube of bamboo that is stuffed with seasoned sticky rice. The bamboo is just a container that you peel away as you go.
For a main meal we often get a few dishes and share. In Lao we’ve been eating sticky rice that comes served in a little bamboo basket with a lid. You use your hand to make a ball of rice that you then dunk in your food (or that’s the way we do it any way!)
Generally we eat vegetarian and our usual dishes include: fresh or fried spring rolls, tofu and vegetable curries made with coconut milk, stir fried vegetables with ginger or chili, morning glory (green leafy vegetable).
Laap: pork mince mixed with mint, chili, lime and probably some other ingredients. Comes with lettuce leaves that you use to make little parcels.
Papaya salad: Not an expert on this one either. They make it using a large mortar and pestle and it looks a little like a salad of onion. Whenever I get it they warn me that it will be hot as it has chili in it, but I usually find that it has a tangy taste.
Mekong weed: This is a specialty of Luang Prabang that I tried earlier in the week. It came as crispy dried sheets, topped with sesame seeds and served with a chili condiment that had chewy strips in it. It was a little salty, but good with sticky rice. I read later that the chili condiment is made with buffalo hide (yum)
Lao Lao: Lao rice whiskey. Earlier today we went to a village where this was being made using large 44 gallon drums converted into stills. On its own it is pretty potent and tastes a bit like bad Sake. In Don Det we had some with lemon and honey, which tasted more like lemon and honey and so was quite good.
Beer Lao: In my opinion the best beer we’ve had in South East Asia and at 80 cents for a bottle that can be shared between two people what’s there not to like about it?
Other things that I like to eat that are sold along the street side in Lao include:
Steamed dumplings: savory and filled with sweet potato or pork mince or who knows. Sold around lunch time
Banana fritters: Fresh from the wok. Greasy but good.
Steamed coconut and rice dumplings: A desert that we’ve found here cooked in steamers at the market place. The first time we "just" ordered .40c worth and ended up with a whole plastic bag full of them.
Some travelers lose weight while overseas. I am definitely not one of them. After 3 months I’m starting to notice a slightly larger waist (and its not just the block of Kip that’s in my money belt!)