Category Archives: Recipes

Bamboo shoot stew with pork ແກງ ໜໍ່ໄມ້ ໃສ່ຊີ້ນໝູ gaeng naw mai sai sin moo

This is one of three recipes for gaeng naw mai from the cookbook “Food from Northern Laos”. It uses fresh bamboo shoots and yanang juice. The recipe was recorded in ant egg season (April – May), so ant eggs and acacia fronds were added. The recipe is perfectly fine without the ant eggs, and you can add a mix of beans, mak buab (or zuchini), squash tendrils, Lao basil and sawtooth herb (or coriander) cut in  5 cm pieces instead of the acacia fronds or leave the greens out entirely.  Up to you!

N.B. One of the other recipes, gaeng naw mai som uses pickled bamboo shoots and the other, gaeng naw mai sai padek uses a piece of fermented fish from the padek pot as well as your choice of meat.

Serves four to six.


500 g – 1 kg  (1 – 2 lb)  fleshy pork bones chopped into small pieces (3 cm [1 in])
1 – 2 large handfuls yanang leaves to taste (or half a tin or more of yanang extract)
Water for soaking yanang leaves
3 T oil
5 cloves garlic
1 small white or red onion, chopped into thumb-size pieces or several shallots
5 T padek, boiled for 5 minutes to sterilize (or less to taste, or add some fish sauce at the end)
10 – 12 long reddish chillies
1 thick bamboo shoot, pre-cooked, finely sliced lengthwise and blanched (or about 2 cups tinned bamboo shoots)
2 C oyster mushrooms
2⁄3 C cloud ear mushrooms
1 bunch acacia fronds (pak la) (or your choice of greens)
1 C red ant eggs (optional)


  1. Put yanang leaves into water and soak. Rub, squeeze and collect the liquid (or use tinned yanang extract).
  2. In a large frying pan or wok, add the oil. When hot, add the garlic, stir briefly and then add the onion. When the onion is transparent, add the pork pieces, frying until sealed and succulent looking (about 5 minutes).
  3. Put the yanang juice in a large pot along with the padek and chillies. If using yanang extract, add sufficient water to create a soupy stew. Bring to the boil and simmer for 5 minutes. Add the pork and simmer for 5 more minutes. Stir in the bamboo shoots and simmer a further 5 minutes. Lower heat if needed and add the oyster mushrooms. Stir to mix gently.
  4. Line up the fronds, so they face the same direction. Curl them on top of the stew; do not mix in. Leave to simmer for a few minutes, and then slip in the red ant eggs and cloud ear mushrooms trying not to disturb the fronds. Simmer for a few minutes more. Take off the heat and serve with steamed sticky or plain rice.
Op padek

Braised minced pork with fermented fish sauce ອົບປາແດກ Op padek

Boat Landing doyenne, Joy Khantisouk, was taught this dish by her mother, who is a great cook from Luang Prabang. The dish doesn’t use much of anything, but the combination of tastes melds into a perfect savoury accompaniment to simmered vegetables and sticky rice.

Op padek

Clockwise from top left: Op padek, mushroom lahp, simmered vegetables and ginger, egg and ivy gourd leaf soup

Joy and Dolly

Joy and Dorothy with food from the missed demo at the Boat Landing

Kees and I missed Joy’s demonstration of the dish because we did not know it was happening, although she was doing it solely for us and we were in the room next door. You have to have worked or associated with Lao people before you can understand how this sort of thing happens – which is often!
So far, the biggest occasions we have missed are Khamsouk’s graduation, for which we came to Laos especially, but her College Director asked her to attend an early ceremony (she couldn’t refuse him and didn’t want to disturb our plans), and Kees missed out on our own farewell baci from the Rural Research and Development Training Center in Vientiane because it was a well kept surprise; a huge affair two months in the planning. Kees had a prior engagement in Luang Namtha, seven hours drive away, but could have made it by driving down from Luang Prabang at 4 in the morning if he had realised the true purpose of the occasion. Unfortunately he had been told repeatedly that it was a house warming for someone else and thus he gave repeated notice that he could not attend. We should have listened between the lines! Why were they repeatedly asking what they knew already? Duh, thick falang!
Anyway, we ate the superbly flavoursome op padek dish with Joy, plus a delicious mushroom lahp and a ginger, poached egg and ivy gourd soup (whose demonstration, of course, we also missed). The happy news is that Peng later demonstrated the op padek dish for us so we can share it with you.

Two notes to this recipe: The original dish is very strong and salty but not at all fishy from the amount of padek used, so if this is your first time using padek as a main ingredient or you are concerned about salt consumption take it easy on the padek at first and then increase the amount tasting it and leave the Knorr stock powder out. For die-hard padek lovers, a greater amount of padek will get you swooning with joy. Secondly, in the tropics the herbs would be cut just before adding to the dish so that they don’t wilt in the meantime. In cooler climates, its OK to pre-chop them.

Here is the recipe:


Braised minced pork with fermented fish sauce ອົບປາແດກ Op padek


4 large garlic cloves
3 red or brown shallots
7 long green chillies
2 T lemon grass, finely sliced (a fine bladed mandolin works brilliantly)
1½ T raw garlic, chopped
2 T vegetable oil (or pork fat)
½ t Knorr seasoning powder or stock cube (optional, omit or otherwise add salt, or soy sauce depending on the saltiness of your padek)
2 T lemon basil (pak I tou Lao or maenglak Thai), chopped
2 T coriander (cilantro), chopped
2 T spring onion, chopped
4 whole leaves Kaffir lime, torn
1 large duck egg-sized handful minced pork
2 eggs
¼ – ⅓ C fermented fish sauce (padek), or use Isaan/Thai nam pla or other substitute. If you are tentative about the strength and saltiness of your sauce, try 3 T (45 ml) first, and adjust the quantity after tasting.

Vegetable accompaniment

2 wedges of cabbage
1 bunch of Chinese greens (pak kaart som) or other stalky leafy green
4 apple or small Japanese eggplants or pumpkin
5 C water


  1. Grill the garlic cloves, shallots and chillies over a charcoal fire, gas ring, barbeque or electric oven grill, turning regularly. Use a wire rack or a frying pan which can sustain heat. Each ingredient will have a different cooking time. The garlic, shallots and chillies are ready when slightly blackened on the outside and softened on the inside. Remove ingredients to a plate when ready.
  2. Heat a wok or deep frying pan and add the oil. When the oil is hot, toss in the chopped garlic and sauté it for one minute until aromatic. Then add the meat and seasoning powder, stir frying to mix. Add the padek (or substitute) and the torn lime leaves. Simmer on low.
  3. In another pan, set the vegetables to simmer in five cups of water. Turn occasionally. They should take between 10 to15 minutes on a low heat once brought to the boil depending on how thick the cabbage was cut and how soft you like the vegetables.
  4. If you cut down on the padek, now is the time to taste and add more so the padek has a chance to absorb into the meat before adding the eggs.
  5. Peel the grilled garlic and shallots and cut into small rough slices. Scape any blackened skin off the chillies and slice them the same size.
  6. Finely chop the basil, coriander and spring onions if not already done.
  7. After the pork mixture has simmered for about 5 minutes, add the eggs and stir fry until the mixture thickens. Add the sliced lemon grass, shallot and garlic slices. If the mixture gets too thick, thin with some of the vegetable stock. Taste and adjust seasoning if needed. It should have a salty, spicy punch with a rich under-taste. Add the chopped herbs, turn off the heat and mix together. Transfer to a serving bowl.
  8. Remove the vegetables from the cooking water and transfer to a serving plate. If you like, save the cooking water for stock for another dish such as the base for an accompanying mild soup – gaeng jeut, just add 2 T soy sauce, some sliced Chinese greens, daikon (white Japanese radish) and pepper. Serve with sticky rice. For non traditionalists, op padek is particularly good with brown jasmine hom mali rice.

What to do with leftovers – heat up and serve with corn tortillas, add to fried rice.

Breakfast at Ban Chalensouk

It was the day Khamsouk’s baby had her baci, the formal ceremony in Khmu culture (and slightly differently in Tai culture) where the baby girl is named (Media, yup, as in communication), accepted into the family, and wished a good life; and her parents, Khamsouk and her husband, are acknowledged and “blessed” in their new role. If Media is anything like her mother she’s well named!  This ceremony is held approximately one month after the baby has been born. For the previous 28 days the mother follows a traditional form of resting close to the fire, eating a restricted diet, and the baby may have a tenuous hold on life. Khamsouk followed this practice. My next post will share the ceremony and the food which followed, but here is a snippet to whet your appetite – our breakfast before the baci ceremony. We arrived at 10 am and we were going to have another feast at midday after the baci! We were late because our tiny car had two flat tires achieved getting to Luang Namtha from Luang Prabang.

Breakfast at Ban Chalensouk

Breakfast for two at Ban Chalensouk (the huge banana-leaf-wrapped parcels of sticky rice not shown)

From top left: Khmu (Khamu) yellow eggplant sa (this is very bitter), lemon grass dipping sauce, jeow houa sikai , simmered bitter bamboo (naw mai kom, which don’t taste bitter at all when young like these ones), a gelatinous pork dish from the market was unfamiliar, it may be made from pig’s trotters and only tasted so-so, yummy freshly grilled tilapia fish stuffed with lemon grass, ping pa, and in the centre, a pork lahp with sliced innards, again from the market.

Bitter bamboo shoots

Simmered bitter bamboo shoots

Lemon grass jeow

Lemon grass jeow

Bitter bamboo shoots are available in the dry season when other shoots are no longer abundant. One peels off the skin of a shoot, breaks off a piece and dunks it into the lemon grass jeow, which makes a stunning accompaniment. The jeow contains finely sliced galangal root and lemon grass, as well as garlic. These are pounded with salt and lime juice is then added. Finally chopped spring onion greens are stirred in. I think that the jeow would be just as delicious using ginger root and such a substitution would be consistent with Khmu culture because they often use small traditional ginger (which is more pungent than commercial ginger) in their dishes where other Lao would use galangal.

Chicken lahp with vegetables and variations ລາບໄກ່ ຜັກກັບ lahp gai pak gap

Ingredients for a Lao raw or cooked meat lahp are extremely variable reflecting a cuisine which is prepared with whatever is readily available from the forest, stream or garden. Consider this recipe an outline of fundamentals. Once you get the feel for lahp, experiment with abandon! Serves three to six depending on the number of accompanying dishes.

Lahp, Luang Namtha style

Lahp, Luang Namtha style


2 C chicken, boned, including the heart and liver, if desired, cleaned and sliced (or use pre-minced meat if pushed for time)
3 T water
2 cloves garlic, chopped
5 brown or red shallots, finely sliced
3 small red chillies (or 1 t chilli flakes)
1 stalk lemongrass; use only if very fresh and tender (optional)
1 T fish sauce or padek, liquid only
1 – 2 limes, juiced (not used in Luang Namtha lahp, but used elsewhere in Laos)
2 T ground, roasted rice powder
½ C mint leaves, small, rinsed and patted dry
1 C banana flower, finely sliced (optional); soak in acidulated or salted water until ready to use

Other ingredients such as finely shredded kaffir lime leaves, coriander, lemongrass, chopped galangal or bitter small eggplants  may be included as desired.

To finish

3 small red chillies
Mint sprigs (optional)


1 cucumber, thickly sliced; peel only if the skin is tough and bitter
Choose at least three of the following:

one large-leafed green such as lettuce, cabbage or pepper (betel) leaves,

one bitter or crisp vegetable such as apple eggplants or long beans, cut into 5 cm (2 in) lengths,

one or more herbs such as sweet basil (pak boualapha), coriander, sawtooth herb, dill, mint or whole chillies


  1. Prepare the ground, roasted rice powder.
  2. Finely mince the meat to an airy paste using a cleaver or heavy knife. This will take about 10 minutes. The goal is to aerate the meat fully by repeatedly turning the mixture onto itself and mincing until a paste is created. Cover and set aside. Chop the garlic and finely slice the shallots, three chillies and the lemongrass. Set aside.
  3. Remove the mint leaves, tearing them into small pieces if they are larger than a pinkie fingernail.
  4. Prepare all the other ingredients to be mixed with the cooked meat.
  5. Heat a wok or frying pan. Add the minced meat and sliced organs to the dry pan. Do not use any oil.
  6. Move the meat about in the pan, breaking up any lumps. Add a few tablespoons of water to prevent sticking if the meat is very lean. Keep moving the mince until the colour goes out of it. Take care not to overcook, as that will both dry the meat and diminish its flavour.
  7. Transfer the mince to a bowl to cool.
  8. Fry the garlic in 1 teaspoon of oil until slightly golden. Add to the mince.
  9. Add the padek or fish sauce and the optional lime juice. Mix together with your hands, squeezing the ingredients lightly while tumbling. Sprinkle in the sliced lemongrass, shallots and chillies and mix. Add the optional banana flower and any other ingredients being used. Combine. Add the ground, roasted rice powder. Mix, allowing the flavours to integrated juicily.
  10. Taste and adjust the lime juice, fish sauce and/or rice powder. When all is well mixed, toss in the mint, combining lightly. Transfer the lahp to a serving plate and garnish with mint sprigs. Complete by tucking three small red chillies stems or bottoms upright into the surface of the salad.
  11. Wash and trim the accompanying vegetables; slice the cucumber into thick diagonal pieces. Arrange them on a plate along with the herbs. The taste of the herbs is an important part of the lahp dining experience. Do not stint on them. Eat the herbs separately, or one or two may be included in each bite of lahp accompanied by some rice or the vegetable used for scooping the salad.
  12. Serve with sticky rice.


  • For beef lahp, use steak. For a raw lahp, use only fillet. Hand-mincing the meat will ensure airiness. The lime juice and fish sauce may need to be increased to taste. Beef lahp may be served raw – a Lao steak tartare – or cooked. If using raw meat in lahp, it is essential, of course, the meat be of fine quality from a safe source. This caution is equally important if one is offered raw lahp in a restaurant or home.
  • For pork lahp, use shoulder meat if possible. Again, by mincing the meat yourself, a fresh, airy lahp is guaranteed. Some pork skin, finely sliced and deep-fried until crisp, can be added to the lahp for additional flavour and texture.

Gaeng bawt with chicken or duck ແກງປອ໋ດໃສ່ ໄກ່ ຫຼື ເປັດ gaeng bawt sai gai leur bpet

This is a typical Kalom (Tai Yuan) stew from Ban Khone, The Boat Landing’s village. It is prepared with whatever vegetables are in season. Ingredients for the dish in the top photo below include banana flower, gourd vine leaves, chilli wood (the dark stuff on the  left) and rattan, whereas the stew in the next photo uses baby corn, beans and snake gourd and is served with less liquid.

Gaeng bawt with duck ແກງປອ໋ດໃສ່ ເປັດ gaeng bawt sai bpet

Gaeng bawt with duck ແກງປອ໋ດໃສ່ ເປັດ gaeng bawt sai bpet

Gaeng bawt with alternative vegetables

Gaeng bawt with alternative vegetables


2½ C water (or more for a thinner dish)
1 t salt
3 pieces chilli wood ( mai sakahn), half a thumb-length (or substitute 1 green chilli, ½ teaspoon of black peppercorns plus several Sichuan peppercorns if you have them)
2 T oil
2 T garlic, chopped
½ C chicken or duck on the bone, cut soup-size, 2 cm (1 in)
2 stalks lemongrass, white only and bruised to release flavour
1 chilli (or more to taste)
3 small green apple eggplants, cut in eighths
½ C rattan pieces (or use pumpkin, squash, gourd, baby sweet corn or tinned rattan, soaked and drained)
¼ C gadawm gourd (optional; or any other gourd or squash)
4 leaves sawtooth herb (or substitute coriander/cilantro)
3 stems dill, cut into 4 cm (1½ in) pieces
2 stems lemon basil (pak i tou Lao), cut into 4 cm (1½ in) pieces
2 small long beans, cut into 4 cm (1½ in) pieces
3 T roasted rice powder
2 T thin soy sauce


  1. Put the water in a small pot, add ½ teaspoon of salt and bring to the boil
  2. In a wok, put 2 tablespoons of oil. Heat and add 2 tablespoons of chopped garlic. Stir fry briefly. Add the chicken pieces, lemongrass, the chilli and ½ teaspoon of salt. Stir fry until the colour of the meat has changed. Transfer this mixture to the boiling water. Simmer.
  3. After 5 minutes, add the eggplant. Simmer for 10 – 15 minutes, and then add the rattan (or substitute). Simmer 5 minutes more until cooked.
  4. Sprinkle 3 tablespoons of roasted rice powder over the gaeng. Mix in smoothly. Add the long beans and herbs; simmer for a further 5 minutes. Finish with 2 tablespoons of thin soy sauce. Stir, taste and add more soy sauce or salt if needed.
  5. Transfer to a serving bowl.


  • Try using tofu or pork instead of chicken.

Ginger, garlic and fermented soybean jeow

Ginger jeow

Ginger, garlic and fermented bean paste jeow (Tai Neua style)

This Tai Neua jeow was prepared for us in Ban Siliheuan and bursts with flavour. The sweetness of the sugar and the sharp tang of the ginger and garlic are softened by the spicy umami flavour of  fermented soy bean paste.

Mak Lod berries

Mak lod berries

It is served with very sour berries (mak lod ໝາກ​ລອດ) wrapped in spring onion leaves and coriander (cilantro). The berry tree grows in the forest and around the homes of Tai Neua people. The berry ripens and yellows until it is too sweet to eat. Crab apples, cranberries, unripe plum slices or cape and ordinary gooseberries would easily substitute for the mak lod  – the sourer the fruit the better.


1 knob ginger, the size of three fingers
6 big garlic cloves
15 small dried chillies, not bird’s eye chillies
3 – 4 tablespoons (2 rounded Chinese soup spoons) fermented tua nao paste or substitute such as miso or Korean fermented bean paste
3 tablespoons raw cane sugar
1 tablespoon MSG
Salt, added depending on the saltiness of the khao soi paste


Pound the garlic in a mortar with half a teaspoon of salt for a minute and then add the ginger. When the paste is well integrated and squishy, remove it to a bowl and set aside. String the chillies on a skewer and roast over the fire or gas flame or under an electric grill until semi blackened but not immolated. Deskewer into the empty mortar and pound until well mixed and broken up. Then add thefermented  bean paste and pound again. Put the ginger and the garlic paste back into mortar, pound a bit and add the sugar and MSG until all is well mixed. Taste and adjust the levels of salt, sugar and MSG to suit your own taste.

Wrapping mak lod in spring onion and coriander prior to dipping the morsel into jeow

Wrapping mak lod in spring onion and coriander prior to dipping the morsel into jeow

To serve, take a mak lodt berry (which is VERY sour) and remove the pit with a sharp knife. Wrap the sour fruit with a piece of coriander (cilantro) and spring onion leaf, then dip the little bundle in the jeow and pop into your mouth. A taste explosion will ensue. Any very sour berry could be eaten this way, such as gooseberry, a slice of crab apple etc.

How Tai Neua make fermented soy bean paste for Khao soi noodles

Tai Neua

Tai Neua tua nao paste fermenting

Ever since I first espied the towers of richly deep reddish brown piles of tua nao paste resting in large basins in the Luang Namtha and Muang Sing markets I have wanted to know how to make this essential ingredient of the local khao soi noodles from scratch. I did some internet research and found some information about the fermented soy bean paste made in next –door Yunnan, China, and further away in Korea.  Determined after several years of making my own pork mince and fermented bean sauce using purchased paste I decided it was definitely time to go to Muang Sing, to track down the people who made it all the time for sale in the market as a local ingredient.

Like in a modern day Wild West, we drove slowly down the main street at sundown in our bright red Honda Jazz as town was wrapping up its business. We were about as conspicuous as a whore in a nunnery so to speak. As soon as we got out of the car Kees recognized a former guide who had accompanied him to photograph the opening of the Akha Experience trek for Exotissimo and GTZ. Well, it turned out that his family made tua nao paste, so at 8.30 the next morning we (Kees and I plus ‘intrepid camper in the freezing cold’, Sharon) set off to find that the font of fermentation lay in a Tai Neua village, Ban Nam Khao Hong.

Tua nao paste for khao soi

Tua nao paste for khao soi

Our guide, Than  Sai Kuatong (Kees’ mate’s little brother who needed to practice his English) took us to the village where we met his Mother, Nang Jantee, elder sister and hairdresser, Nang Buawon, Paw and their elderly next-door neighbour who makes the most superb fermented beancurd – but that’s another story!)

This family IS tua nao paste. At least twice a year they make the paste using 100 – 150 kg of dried soy beans, and set it to ferment in ceramic jars and Chinese plastic tubs for 1 – 2 years (up to 4 years). The older the better. They start selling it at 4 – 5 months.

Nang Jantee with tua nao paste

Nang Jantee with tua nao paste

There are only five Tai Neua villages in Muang Sing and only 9 in the whole of Laos, and this paste and the associated dishes is THEIR local dish. They take their noodles and paste down to Luang Namtha to sell at the market. They also tell us that in Luang Namtha they make a different type of rice noodle (round sheets that are then cut) and that the Tai Neua way is the proper way. (Again, that’s another story.)

The night before, Nang Jantee had dry fried 10 kg of soybeans until the outsides started to blacken until nearly burned but the insides were yellow. She then set the dried fried soy beans in a big pot with water on the fire at around 7 pm , where they simmered until the fire went out. Nang Buawon got up early and reset the fire so they continued to cook. By the time we arrived, they had been simmering for about 12 hours. They were soft but whole and certainly didn’t look burned.

Preparing soy beans for tua nao paste

Preparing soy beans for tua nao paste

The next step usually is to set the beans and their liquid aside in a covered pot for 3 days to start the fermentation process. This step produces the best fermented bean paste. Sadly, we didn’t have three days because of commitments in Luang Prabang. However, our demonstrator said you could do make the paste without the 3 days fermentation but it would not be the best although we would be able to learn all the steps involved. Deal. Also, not wanting to condemn all the beans to becoming inferior paste by skipping the three days, we only used a big bowl of beans, probably about 1.5 – 2 kg and gave the rest to the family.

Steaming soy beans, tua nao

Steaming soy beans ready for pounding

Using a dipper, Mother transferred this smaller quantity of beans into a colander to drain and we trouped over to the pounder at the next house to pound the beans while adding the extra ingredients of chilli, and then salt.

Cooked beans in mortar

Cooked soy beans are transferred to the giant mortar for pounding

It took about 25 minutes in total to pound the beans because they had not started their fermentation process. When the beans have been left for 3 days they break up faster and more easily to form a sticky, gooey paste which is darker than the paste in the photos.

Pounded paste before adding broth

Pounded paste before adding broth

After the beans are pounded to initially break them down, chilli powder is added in the proportion of 1 : 10 (1 kg chilli powder to 10 kg dry beans) and pounded throughout the beans.

Nang Jantee adds chilli powder to the pounded beans

Nang Jantee adds chilli powder to the pounded beans

Pounding the soy beans

Nang Buawon pounds soybeans for tua nao paste

Then salt is added, which is done by taste. Some pastes are saltier than others according to personal taste.

Our small tua nao paste sample had half a large packet of salt added (about 500 g), a ratio of 1: 20. The salt was then thoroughly pounded in. Finally three ladles of bean cooking liquor were added, pounding between each so that all ingredients were mixed into a smooth paste. The consistency was a bit wetter than either smooth peanut butter that has been newly opened or a Thai chilli paste.

Adding broth to tua nao paste

Broth from boiled soy beans is added to the tua nao paste

The finished paste was transferred to a bowl and covered with a plastic bag to keep out the air. It had begun its 1 – 2 year journey of fermentation. I now have it in a plastic lidded container in the back seat of the car and we will take it to our home in Bang Saray, Thailand where it can happily ferment away. I learned that although the family say the fermentation process is one to two years, they were using 5 month old paste themselves and had taken some out of a big tub to sell at the market while the paste was still a teenager by tua nao paste chronology!

Tua nao paste after pounding is completed

Tua nao paste after pounding is completed

Here a spoonful of the sample batch we made after a few years fermentation – its much darker than paste made with the traditional 3 days fermentation.

Tua nao paste

Tua nao paste without the three day fermentation period. it is much darker than the paste which is fermented first.

How to make Khao Soi meat sauce Tai Neua style

khao soi meat paste

Well cooked khao soi paste after salt and msg is added

Khao soi meat paste

The family's khao soi meat paste, naturally preserved with oil and chillies

You cannot go to khao soi village Ban Siliheuang in Muang Sing without making the famous pork and fermented bean sauce which is the key ingredient topping Northern Lao khao soi.

Here is how the Tai Neua make it. Our cookbook shows you how to make this khao soi sauce the traditional way, Luang Namtha (Tai Lue) style. The two ethnic groups have influenced each other over the past 200 years. There is not much difference really, just the type and form of chillies). Both groups insist that soaking and chopping the chillies from scratch gives the best results, but most restaurants and khao soi market stalls in both districts take a short cut by using dried chilli powder and chilli flakes.

Ingredients for the meat and fermented soybean (tua nao) sauce

4 big cloves garlic

1 cup fermented soybean paste (actually 3 heaped Chinese soup spoons)

3 – 4 tablespoons (actually 2 heaped Chinese soup spoons) mild chilli powder, brightly coloured – not from bird’s eye chillies

3 – 4 tablespoons (actually 2 heaped Chinese soup spoons) coarser dried chilli flakes

Mincing pork

Mincing pork for the khao soi meat paste

750 g fatty pork such as belly pork, minced (3 big handfuls when minced), or a mix of pork and beef which is evidently especially delicious.

1 cup palm oil (or other vegetable oil, but not coconut, mustard or olive oil)

Salt to taste

MSG to personal taste (Tai Neua use a whopping amount in everything)

2 tomatoes, sliced in small wedges


Method for sauce (soup and accompaniments are further down the post)


Put the garlic cloves and ½ teaspoon of salt in a mortar and pound for a minute.

Pounding garlic

Nang Jantee pounding garlic for the khao soi meat paste

Adding oil

First the oil is added to the wok

Adding khao soi paste

Khao soi paste is added

Tomatoes for the meat paste

Slicing tomatoes for adding to the meat paste

In a hot wok or frying pan, add the cup of oil. When heated, slip in the garlic mixture and fry while moving it about until the garlic is browned. Before it burns (!!), add about 1 cup of tua nao paste and stir to mix. Continue to fry together until the oil returns.

Add the two types of chilli and keep on frying, while moving the sauce around the pan.

Add the tomato slices and stir fry until the moisture comes out. The paste is ready when it smells good and the tomato has started disintegrating.

adding water

Adding water to khao soi meat sauce

Add the minced pork, 2 teaspoons more salt (or to taste) and 1 – 2 tablespoons of MSG. (Remember, this is a very concentrated sauce expected to last a few days unrefrigerated (hence the oil, salt and pork fat) and to serve many people). Keep on frying until the meat is thoroughly cooked then thin with water to a thick Western savoury mince consistency. Then, um, add another tablespoon of MSG and stir to mix in. Sai told us “If like to live long time don’t put in water.” After a bit of pondering I figured out he meant the meat sauce, ot the person eating it. Continue to cook until the oil returns again and then transfer to a deep bowl to cool. In the cold, the fat in the sauce will solidify. It is the oil, chilli and reduced water content that preserves the sauce.

Sauce finished, we proceeded to make the soup base (there was only one fire). This can be done concurrently if you have two gas rings for example.

Ingredients for the soup base

250 g pork bits (Nang Buawon used slices left over from the pork she minced by hand for the meat sauce)

Half a pot of water (2 – 4 litres depending on how many people you have to feed, ours fed four with plenty left over. Don’t worry about the quantity because all the flavour comes from the sauce and condiments added later. This bland soup is to heat the noodles and cook the pork which is added to the dish when serving.)

Method for soup base

Bring the water to the boil. Add the slices of fatty pork. I saw no salt or MSG added, but I wouldn’t be surprised if some was slipped in while I was not looking. Simmer away while preparing the accompaniments until the meat is cooked.

Accompaniments and garnish

Finely chopped or sliced spring onions and coriander leaves, 1 tablespoon for each bowl being served

Pea or soy bean tendrils (or Chinese flowering cabbage), raw or blanched, to your taste

Lettuce, fresh

Coriander (cilantro), smallest you can get, roots removed, fresh

MSG, Soy sauce (which is also made in Tai Neua villages), lime wedges or juice, and crunchy and feather-light beef rinds, also a village speciality)

Khao soi noodles

Noodle soup base ready for garnishing with spicy khao soi paste, herbs and vegetables

Preparing khao soi

Nang Buawon preparing a bowl of khao soi noodles

About this time Sai disappeared to get some kao soi noodles from another villager while Nang Buawon set the table and sliced some of the pork. When he came back, she put two thirds of a bowl of noodles in each bowl, topped it up with the boiling stock then poured the excess back into the pot. She then added the pork, a good hit of the meat sauce (1 very heaped Chinese spoonful, 3 – 4 level tablespoons) and sprinkled over the chopped spring onion and coriander.
Each bowl was served piping hot and ready for us to doctor with any or all of the condiments and additional spicy meat sauce. (I noticed that Sai added another tablespoonful of MSG to his.) All the ingredients were mixed together and silence interspersed by slurps and grunts of pleasure ensued!


slurping khao soi noodles

The next post will be about the wonderful sweet spicy jeow (chao) made with fermented soybean paste, ginger and garlic which is served with sour fruit from a tree (mak lodt ໝາກລອດ)

Indigenous food of the Bunong people

ma's mother

Ma's mother transferring stew from the bamboo in which it was cooked

This is not Lao food, but this post describes how to cook food in a bamboo tube, as was common in Laos. While in Mondulkiri province, Cambodia, we were lucky enough to visit a Bunong village about 12 km from Senmonorom. Here Ma and her mother demonstrated two indigenous Bunong dishes for Birgitte (a local social anthropologist), Bill Tuffin (our dear friend), Kees and I.

Bunong food

Bunong food that has been cooked in a bamboo tube

The first was Trau prung plarn (food bamboo eggplant), in which chunks of eggplant and pieces of pork stewed in a long piece of bamboo (a process called lahm in Lao). I’ve always wanted to see this style of cooking but these days many Lao simply use a pot, as do the Bunong and other Cambodians.

Bunong Trau bpai goray! beltum

Bunong Trau bpai goray! beltum

The other dish, Trau bpai goray! Beltum (bpai is pounded soaked rice, goray! is rattan and beltum is pumpkin)) featured prahok, the fermented salted fish so beloved in Cambodia. This flavoured a thick soupy stew of rattan, beef and ripe pumpkin, thickened with soaked rice which was pounded with a variety of aromatic greens, chillies and garlic.

Both dishes can also be made with fish, but in this case the fish is cooked first and the bones are removed before adding to either dish.


Bunong pottery jars for wine and preserves storage

The kitchen of the house was separate to the sleeping and living building. Most of the floor was a raised platform where large jars of rice wine and spirits, and fermenting preserves are stored. The home-made alcohol is used in traditional ceremonies and there is a strict protocol about what is used when.


Bunong fireplace

Food preparation is done on the platform, where of course no shoes are worn and it is kept spotlessly clean. Above in the rafters are bamboo baskets and other objects kept in the smoky atmosphere for preservation, and some ceremonial objects that must also be kept in the kitchen. The single cooking fire was on the dirt floor in a corner. Water was kept in a big pot on the platform, refreshed from well water daily.

When we arrived Ma set to washing and preparing the vegetables and meat for both dishes.

lahm preparation

Stuffing eggplant into bamboo tube

For the Dtrau prung plarn, Ma peeled strips of skin off three long eggplants and cut them into wedges and put them to soak in some cold water along with 11 de-stalked green birds eye chillies. I didn’t see any salt get put into the water, but I think it was quite possibly added. Normally, apple eggplants would be used instead of the long eggplants, but there were none in the garden or market that day. Ma stuffed about two thirds of the cut eggplant down the bamboo tube along with the chillies, thumping the tube to get the eggplant to slip down to the bottom. She then finely sliced a palm-sized piece of pork tenderloin with a little fat and stuffed this down the tube. Ma also did not have gee salabob, a green leaf that normally goes into this dish so she added two pounded cloves of garlic instead on top of the pork. She said that finely sliced spring onion and lemongrass can also be added at this stage. Ma then topped up the tube with the remaining eggplant.

lahm 2

Poking the water and eggplant down

Once full, she took about a cup of water and poured it slowly into the tube, using a long stick so that it could pass by the pork and eggplant pieces.
After topping up the tube with water, her mother placed it slanting over the fire propped up by a y-shaped stick.


Cooking in a bamboo tube (larm or lahm in Lao)

There it simmered away. After about 20 minutes, a long thick stick was inserted into the bamboo and the eggplant was pulped and pork mixed in. It was left to continue cooking and was removed from the fire when it was making a sizzling glopping noise.


Stripping outer layer from the rattan


Slicing pumpkin for Trau bpai goray! beltum


Smashing the garlic

The second dish, Trau bpai goray! Beltum, was more complex to make, so I’ll list the ingredients:


1 cup rice, soak in water for at least 20 minutes

3 cups of peeled and deseeded pumpkin or orange coloured gourd (like a butternut)

1 bunch of rattan (or one jar of Thai rattan)

3 large cloves garlic or two finger-widths bunch of spring onions

1 handful of forest leaves (salek rannyow)

2 T lemongrass leaf or 1 T of fresh stalk (to be finely sliced)

5 green bird’s eye chillies

2 cups beef leg meat with some fat, sliced into 1 cm pieces

1 tablespoon salt

2 teaspoons msg

1 tablespoon prahok fish



To prepare the vegetables: Strip the rattan and add the soft inner core to cold water to prevent from discolouring. Cut the rattan into 2 cm pieces. Slice the pumpkin wedges into the water. Finely slice the spring onions and pound two garlic cloves, and set aside for the bpao. Drain the vegetables.

In a pot, cover the vegetables with fresh water to one finger joint and set on the fire to simmer.


Slicing spring onions into the bpai being pounded



Adding the dried leaves to the bpai


pounding bpai

Pounding the bpai

bpai 3

Stirring the bpai mixture

Drain the soaked rice and add the green leaves (salek rannyow), I have not been able to identify the scientific name. They are also called bpao leaves, and are becoming scarce as the forests are chopped down. Ma used dried ones that had been given to her by a friend that still had access to the right sort of forest. Transfer to a mortar, and finely cut in the spring onions and lemongrass leaves.
Pound, then add the chillies and two whole garlic. Pound until well blended. Remove to a bowl big enough to also add 1 cup of water to the mixture. Stir to mix and remove any lumps. Leave to swell.


The final touches: After the vegetables have softened add the meat, salt and msg. Simmer, skimming any scum as necessary.


Prahok fish

Put a small piece (about 1 T) of prahok in a bowl and add half a cup of water.
Pour off the water to remove saltiness. Add some of the vegetable broth to the fish and squash the fish to make a sauce. Set aside.

Stir the rice mixture into the stew and keep stirring until well mixed. Cover with a lid. Simmer, but stir often so the rice does not burn on the bottom while thickening.

bpai 4

Adding the bpai to the stew

Finally stir in the liquid of the prahok, holding back the fish sediment. Discard the sediment. Let the stew sit for a few minutes and transfer to dishes to serve.

Serve with plain rice.

Bunong Meal

Bunong meal cooked by Ma and her grandmother

Jeow Bong ແຈ່ວບອງ Luang Prabang Chili Paste

I was wandering along Thanon Sakarin in old Luang Prabang when I chanced upon jeow bong being made on the street. This is the signature chilli paste of Luang Prabang.


Making jeow bong

Jeow bong is eaten with fried or grilled river algae sheets kai paen or kai phene, grilled dried beef gee sin lod or steamed vegetables. It is also served as an accompaniment to sticky rice or added to stir fries. One type includes simmered finely sliced buffalo or beef skin (traditional) or pork skin which adds a rich chewy texture. The other omits the skin and is more akin to the  sweet Thai chilli paste such as Thai Mae Pranom brand.

I was offered to stir the jeow – it was very thick as it had been slowly cooking for 2 hours. No wonder the young man stirring


Jeow bong close up

looks knocked out! I also tasted the thickening brew – a wonderful mix with flavours of garlic, galangal root, sugar and chillies predominated. It probably also had chopped shallots and salt.  The skin had already been prepared and the warm salted water had just been poured into the street gutter. I think that had been being prepared for the same amount of time as well, but I’m not sure that I heard the Lao correctly.


Pre cooked skin for jeow bong

I haven’t got a recipe for the large scale making of this jeow but there are several recipes for making small quantities.

Here is a link about jeow bong:

Here is my jeow bong recipe

Luang Prabang chilli paste ແຈ່ວບອງ jeow bong

3 large heads of garlic (about 1 cup)
½ cup shallots
1 thumb-size piece of galangal chopped into small pieces
½ – 1 teaspoon salt
1 – 2 tablespoons dark red, roasted chilli flakes
2 teaspoons sugar
Water or fish sauce to thin, if needed

  1. Roast or grill the garlic and shallots until cooked through. Meanwhile, in a mortar pound the galangal.
  2. Peel the garlic cloves and shallots, add to the mortar along with the salt and pound to a paste. Stir in the chilli flakes. Add the sugar and pound to mix. Taste and add water, fish sauce (or soy sauce for vegetarians) or more chilli flakes.
  3. Transfer the mixture to a small frying pan and dry fry on a very low heat for 10 minutes until rich, dark and aromatic. The flavour develops over time.

I need to make this again, because I think that it would be better to make a syrup of palm sugar instead of using ordinary sugar and then cook this down for longer.