Working in Luang Prabang a few weeks ago gave me ample time to taste and try the local laotian food native to Luang Prabang. I felt that it was a melting pot of Thai, Laotian, Vietnamese and French Cuisines. I think the Mekhong River helped spread the tradition around this area. My friends told me that Vientiane cuisine is different to that of Luang Prabang, i guess we will have to wait and see. Khao Jii or grilled sticky rice patty with brushed beaten egg and fish sauce is one of my absolute favorites. It’s soft gooey insides with a savory salty crunchy bite coating. The best part is that it’s offered slathered in a chilli paste, now many chilli pastes in Thailand is a sweet concoction which i’m not in favor off. This is torpedo spicy. Served on a banana leaf for 10 baht it was delicious.
At the walking street a cheerful food stall opened for business around 5 pm. It’s the biggest stall at the beginning of the market (You cannot miss it) selling Pho, Khao Soy and Noodles etc. In Thailand Khao Soi is a Thick, creamy curry more islamic influenced with egg noodles and crispy egg noodles on top. In Luang Prabang Khao Soi is a bean paste / tomatoeish / pork rib soup with noodles which is similiar to that of Chiang Mai’s Naam Ngeo which is similiar except we use fresh rice round noodles or flat wide noodles. Usually served with fresh veggies, lime and spicy chilli paste it is one of my absolute favorites. In Thailand we see it boiling in pots, but at this stall as they are serving so many varieties of noodles it seems like they only have 2 pots – one for boiling noodles and veggies and one for the stock. So they have containers of pork ribs with the bean paste / tomato mixture and they mix with the stock.
You choose your noodles, tear your garden herbs and veggies, squeeze some limes and dump crazy amounts of chillis and dig in. It was around 80 baht which i thought was quite expensive for street food, but again this is Luang Prabang.
My fondness for Khao Soi is great as i had 4 bowls of if at different places. This place seemed like a local restaurant – although there is no such thing because locals eat at home. They have Shrimp paste on the table complimentary eaten with fresh vegetables. Thai use it to make a dip but the locals here eat it straight with fresh vegetables. Quite lovely as i’m used to th epungent smell.
Note that they all serve this noodle soup with fresh mint, limes and lettuce. Really hearty and savory from the bean paste which is total different from miso which has a different feeling of saltiness to it. The contrast with the tomatoish broth makes it a fresh sourness to it.
I have always preferred sticky rice over steamed rice i think its got a good texture and just feels more right. The sticky rice at this roadside restaurant (only 4 tables) is nicely steamed. Not tough when cooled. Still soft and chewy.
The pork sausage is much blander than the ones in Northern Thailand but quite crispy casing, and juicy insides. I feel that Laotian cuisine really relies on the tastes of the ingredients and not too much flavoring. It will be considered bland for Thai tastes who which are so used to so much flavoring.
Som Tam or papaya salad is one of my childhood favorites. In Thailand the papaya is shaved in to small strands, in Luang Prabang it’s sliced and wide. I like it because it had a nice texture and mouthfeel to it although the taste of the pradaek – fermented anchovies is not as strong as the ones in Thailand i feel. They also have the addition of kapi – shrimp paste in their papaya salad. I think it’s a taste that everyone can enjoy, a balance of sweet, savory, sour and spicy. A well rounded dish, although i prefer extreme spicy and sour som tam.
This is seriously to die for. My whole team is still drooling for the grilled fermented pork sausage. Hands down. I have never had this good of a Naem before. I usually dislike cooked Naem I prefer it still raw. But this. It’s juicy, slightly sour, very savory and the right balance of the pork rind to provide that teeth resistance when you bite into it. Chew it together with a chilli and pop a hot sticky rice ball in your mouth. It’s worth swiping your card, getting on air asia just for this Naem. It’s been 3 weeks and everyone in the office is still dreaming and talking about this fresh fermented Porky Heaven.
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