Posted by: Anna | June 1, 2011

Laos Cooking Class

I didn’t know anything about Laos food or Laos cooking. Are there Laotian restaurants in the US? I mean, there must be, but I’ve never seen one. But I do enjoy cooking, so I signed up for a cooking class in Laos at Tamnak Lao Restaurant.

Laos is the only country in Asia to have sticky rice as the staple food. Sticky rice is actually a different kind of rice, not a different method of cooking. To eat, you pinch a bit with your fingers and dip it in something (sauce of a stir fry, or a dipping sauce). There are three different kinds of sticky rice, each with a slightly different flavor. The purple is the most expensive and the most delicious (in my opinion).The food is less spicy than neighboring Thailand, and less ocean based (Laos is a landlocked country) than Vietnam.

I’m going to share the rest of the day in pictures.

We started our cooking class at the market. Like Vietnam, Lao shop every morning, early. Our teacher Leng took us to the market in a tuk-tuk (that's right, we're backin the land of tuk-tuks!). By the time we arrived at 10:15 AM, the market was (relatively) quiet. We passed a very odd stand selling a variety of men's underwear on our way to the food section.

We passed several egg stands. The rest of the world does not refrigerate eggs - why do we? Also, the bright pink ones are duck eggs. They dye them so you can know.

We passed a big area full of large plastic tubs and live fish. A hose runs into the tub and circulates the water. When I asked Leng about the fish, he explained that the fish go back home to the farm (on a river) every night, and are transported back here every morning. That's why they are alive. Very fresh!

Leng stopped to buy some vegetables. An interesting variety, causing us to ask several "what is that?" qustions. The thing that looks like firewood he called spicy stick. You grate it. Of course.

Sorry people who don't like dead animals. Anyway, this is a sliced pig's head, for soup. Laos, a landlocked and historically poor country, has had to use every part of an animal for food as protein supplies are limited. Laotian traditional food includes all sorts of protein sources Westerners would find somewhat repungnant, such as creepy crawlies, and well, sliced pig's head.

Sorry, again, a little gross. This is congealed pig's blood, for soup. So weird I had to include it.

Leng called this Luang Prabang salad, essentially a Lao take on chef's salad. It has an interesting mayonnaise, using hard boiled egg yolks instead of regular eggs. We received careful instruction on the proper method of arranging the vegetables - a very Asian attention to aesthetic detail thing.

This photo is from Leng's demonstration on making fried sticky rice noodles. The format of the class was Leng would demonstrate a dish, then we would "shop" from the front table of ingredients and cook the dish ourselves at our station using the recipe. It's actually a great way to figure out if the recipe will actually tell you what you need to know to cook the dish. This dish was interesting in how it's made, although probably would take some doing to replicate at home, as I would have to locate sticky rice noodles...

These two dishes formed our lunch. We (my friend Emily and I) got to sit with a fan and eat our lunch. It was delicious.The afternoon set-up worked a bit differently. Leng would demonstrate five dishes, which we would taste. Then we would pick three to cook and eat ourselves. I will share two of the recipes from the three we selected – the best one and the easiest one. Happy cooking!

This was the best dish of the day - Larp (Lao chicken salad). It has so much fresh flavor; we were surprised how much we liked it.

Larp (Chicken Salad)

Very delicious traditional Lao cold salad – the same recipe can be made with fish, tofu, or pork. Serves 3-4 as a side.

1 large boneless skinless chicken breast, ground

1/2 chicken bouillon cube

juice of 1 medium lime or lemon

2 tbsp hot water

2 tbsp banana flower (optional, and you probably can’t find it anyway), thinly sliced

2 kaffir lime leaves, thinly sliced, stem discarded

1 green onion, thinly sliced

2 shallots, minced

2 garlic cloves, minced

1/2 cup cilantro, finely chopped

2 stalks lemongrass, thinly sliced (white part only)

6 leaves arugula, thinly sliced

1/4 tsp salt

1 tbsp rice powder (can get at Asian grocery)

1 tsp chili powder or 1 fresh chili (if you like spicy)

1/2 tsp fish sauce

2 tbsp deep fried garlic & shallot mixture (to add crispiness – could use bacon or other crispy textured something)

1. Put water, bouillon cube, chicken, and half the lime juice in a wok over low heat.

2. Stir until chicken is cooked through and liquid is mostly absorbed.

3. Place cooked chicken in a medium size bowl. Add banana flower (if using), kaffir lime leaves, green onion, shallot, garlic, cilantro, lemongrass, and arugula to bowl of chicken. Mix well.

4. Add salt, rice powder, chili powder, fish sauce, and fried garlic/shallots. Mix well.

5. Once mixed, pour remaining lime juice over the top. Serve with a garnish of cilantro leaves.

Khua Maak Kueua Gap Moo (Fried Eggplant with Pork)

Very easy. Serves 2 with rice.

1/3 pound  ground pork

3 large green onions

1 Asian eggplant (long eggplant)

3 garlic cloves, minced

2 tbsp oyster sauce

1/4 tsp salt

1/2 tsp sugar

2 1/2 tbsp soybean oil

1. Cut the spring onion into 1.5 inch lengths. Cut the eggplant into 2 inch wedges (do not peel).

2. Heat 2 tbsp oil in the wok over high heat. Add eggplant and stir fry until it begins to soften and turn golden. Do not overcook.

3. Remove eggplant from wok and set aside. Leave oil in wok.

4. Add remaining oil to wok over high heat. Add garlic and stir fry for 45 seconds.

5. Add pork and stir fry until cooked.

6. Add salt, sugar, oyster sauce, onion, and cooked eggplant to wok.

7.  Keep stir frying until onions begin to soften (about 2-3 minutes).

Serve with rice.

The photo of the eggplant / pork stir fry didn’t turn out as nicely as I’d like, so you’ll just have to make it at home to see how it looks. More Laos cooking class photos here.

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Responses

  1. Isn’t it strange that we worry so much about egg storage in the States? My guess is that we developed the habit of refrigerating eggs during the period of time when traditional egg farming methods overlapped with widespread use of mechanical refrigeration. Placing your eggs in a refrigerator will prevent embryonic development if the eggs are fertilized (a big advantage unless your goal is balut/maodan.) Anything higher than 75F and you’re likely to have a beating heart at the end of the week. I’ve brought eggs home from the lab that had been stored at 65F for a couple of weeks and fed them to David and Adrian. The only noticeable difference is that the yolks break more easily.

    Your cooking classes have looked delicious!

    • Very interesting…and only you would know. So the eggs we buy now aren’t fertilized? What about eggs from people who keep chickens?

  2. Salad looks good. Pig’s blood, not on my list of gotta try. It is neat you are trying so many different things.

  3. Great blog, but I would like to point out that whether Laos is rich or poor has nothing to do with its people enjoying eating innards. French cuisine and other exotic European cuisines use all parts of the animal as well. China, despite its economic power, also uses all parts of the animal. Even the people in poor countries like Thailand and Vietnam eat innards and all parts of the animal, but they’re just too embarassed for whatever reason to serve them to foreign tourists like you. But in France, those “exotic” ingredients are actually expensive and the French are proud to serve them to foreign tourists.

    Laotian cuisine is actually far spicier than Thai cuisine, but the city you went to is located in northern Laos, which is in a colder environment, so the people there don’t eat all that spicy. However, in central and southern Laos where the climate is typically hotter, the people make their dishes really spicy.

    • Good point about the innards in Europe – I ate some intestines, etc, when I was in France. I was trying to make the comparison that where Americans typically do not eat all parts of an animal, Laotians do. There is a cultural component as well as an economic one at work, and perhaps my perspective is influenced by being American instead of coming from a culture in Europe where all parts of the animal are used (French, Spanish, etc). Our instructor pointed out that the pig’s blood is good nutritionally, and that “Westerners” do not eat it commonly, but Laos do in order to make the most of each animal slaughtered because Laos is poor (his words).

      I wish we had gotten to travel further in Laos to see the variety of cuisine. Other tourists that we’ve met (in Thailand, Vietnam, etc) keep implying that Laos food is not good. I disagree, and it sounds like you do as well. For someone who likes spicy food as much as I do, it’s good to know that the South and Central regions have spicier cuisine. Are there other differences?

  4. Love your cooking classes so much. I enjoy the pictures and recipes both so much, even the gross congealed pigs blood. It is clever and resourceful. I just finished Gabrielle Hamilton’s “Blood, Bones and Butter” non-fiction about her life that influenced her cooking and her restaurant Prune in NYC. Anna you have to read it on your Kindle — you will really like it and will resonate with what you are seeing now.


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