The day started with a market tour. I FREAKING LOVE MARKET TOURS! Sorry. Got a little carried away. (dabs at brow)
The class is led by Joy, the head chef and co-owner. Not only is the dude personable, but he really knows his business.
Phosy Market is the biggest market in Luang Prabang and it's entirely too much fun.
Mekong river fish are ugly but oh so eatable.
It also has plenty of meats, seafood, poultry, and quite a few things that were new to me.
Se pak- it's the short fat brown one in the middle.
My favorite ingredient discovery was se pak or pepper wood. Chunks of this stuff (that looks just like kindling) are used liberally in Lao cuisine, mainly in soups. Similar to Sichuan peppercorns, the wood has a lot of ma and la. It's both mouth numbing and spicy.
Lao fish pastes are delicious. More rugged than Vietnamese or Thai versions, they nevertheless have layers of pleasantly subtle flavors and can transform an entire dish with just a little dab.
Blood cake doesn't get more vibrant than this.
Frogs are very popular. They eat unusually small ones here.
Another revelation for me was the use of buffalo bile. Bitter and a little funky, local chefs add it to soups and sauces to punch up the flavor and add another layer of interest. Kind of like the Vietnamese do with cà cuống extract. Buffalo bile is also used as a meat tenderizer.
After procuring the all the necessary items, we headed over to a little farm to do some cooking.
An un-omittable staple, we start by steaming up some sticky rice.
Individual sticky rice baskets. Practical yet adorable.
While the grains were gently cooking away in their bamboo steamers, we skewered some tomatoes, eggplants, chilis, onion and garlic to get things started for some dips: jeow mak keua (eggplant) and jeow mak len (tomato).
Everything goes straight on the coals,
and then gets pounded in a mortar and pestle with lime juice, salt, fish paste, and herbs. Spectacular.
We also whipped up some mok pa, fish steamed in banana leaves. You start by making an extremely fragrant paste with lemongrass, dill, basil, shallot, garlic, chilis, and green onion.
Rachel getting ready to pound things into submission. Don't be fooled by her innocuous grin. The lady is a she-devil.
Some chunks of fish get marinated in the paste and then wrapped in banana leaves and steamed.
Like an edible Christmas gift.
The stuffed lemongrass was a huge hit. Basically, you score the ends of some stalks and then cram in a mash of chicken, flavored with herbs, garlic and kaffir lime.
Coat the whole thing in an egg wash and then give it a slow shallow fry.
Also on the agenda was orlarm, a stew that Luang Prabang is famous for. It's chock full of all kinds of fun stuff like buffalo skin, pea eggplants, pepper wood, cloud ear mushrooms, and snake beans.
Here I am expertly toasting sticky rice to thicken the dish and add a nice smoky flavor. Look at that technique!
Like everything else, the pots go straight on the coals.
The final dish is rich and complex with plenty of contrasting flavors and textures.
If only I would have had a splash of buffalo bile. C'est la vie.
Dessert was sweet purple sticky rice with coconut milk, fresh fruits, and a tangy tamarind sauce. Even though I was stuffed I somehow managed to find room.
I'm pretty sure Lao food is my new favorite cuisine.
Thanks Joy and all the fab peeps from Tamarind- it was a pleasure!
Ban Wat Nong, Luang Prabang
T: (020) 777 0484
Open for lunch and dinner, closed Sunday