Tag Archives: Lao recipes

Lao recipes from Northern Laos comprise the cook book sold here. They contain healthy ingredients, many are vegetarian and preparation techniques.

fnl224

Fermented fish sauce ປາແດກ padek, paedek

fnl223

Padek (paedek) for sale

fnl224

Best quality padek

This extremely pungent, opaque fermented fish sauce incorporates chunks of fish. It is eaten raw or cooked in a variety of Lao dishes; it is used extensively in Thailand’s Isaan province, home to many Lao. It is also made and used in northern and central Thailand. Padek’s odour is so intense that tam mak hoong (papaya salad) made with nam padek (padek liquid) can be detected a room away. When the correct amount of padek is added to a Lao dish, however, the sauce magically transforms it, adding a depth not replicable by substituting fish sauce. The main ingredients of padek are salt, fish and rice bran or rice husks. The addition of other ingredients depends on preference, but is based on scale. The best padek has fermented for at least six months – a year is better – and comes from the North, according to northerners. It should be made in the dry season (around April) when the danger of spoilage is less.

Fresh water fish such as glass fish, Siamese mud carp or giant Mekong catfish, bpaa kao, are commonly used. Padek made from Mekong fish in the South has the danger of containing liver flukes. There are no known ways to remove liver flukes from padek. Boiling it for 15 minutes may kill bacteria but cannot be guaranteed to kill the liver flukes, so it is best to avoid padek from southern Laos unless the fish origin is known to be safe. If using the fish pieces in the sauce, wash the bran or husks off first. Commercially produced padek, such as that sold in Isaan, is rumoured to sometimes have formalin added.

Bottled Lao or Isaan padek or Thai pla ra can be bought from some Asian food supply stores.

Another substitute is anchovy sauce or paste. Do not use one with vinegar. Alternatively, stew tinned or bottled anchovy fillets in fish stock until disintegrated. If desired, this mixture can then be sieved for a finer sauce.

Preserved or fermented fish from various Asian countries also makes a good substitute, for example Filipino fermented or preserved gourami fish.

Here is a recipe for authentic padek from Boutsady Khounnouvong who learned it from her grandmother when she was young.

3 kg of fish/3 portions of fish

1 kg of salt/1 portion of salt

1/2 kg of rice bran (eg, half the amount of salt)

Scale, gut, wash and drain the fish. Put the drained fish in a large bowl and add the salt. Mix together, and then leave to sit, covered, for 12 hours.

After 12 hours, add the rice bran and mix again. Shift the mixture into a pottery or glass jar. Use your hand to press down the contents. A boiled rock may be used to maintain pressure on the fish. Do not fill the jar completely; leave 7 to 8 cm (3 in) at the top as there will be expansion with fermentation.

Cover the jar, and then leave it for at least six months. A year is preferable. During the fermentation, check the mixture. Use a large spoon to turn it and press it down again. It will keep two years in the jar. Store carefully as flies love padek!

Here is another recipe for padek from Madame Ny Luangkhot who devised it using sea fish when she was a graduate student in the Soviet Union.

If you have small fish, the proportion of fish and salt is one to five –1 kg(2 lb) of salt to 5 kg(10 lb) of fish. Mix the salt and fish together, and then leave for a few days. Next add 1 kg (1 lb) rice husks or rice bran. Squeeze the mixture a bit as the ingredients are being incorporated. Transfer the mix to a jar or pot. Put a clean boiled stone on top. Its pressure will create the juice over the next months. Keep the pot well closed for at least a year. If you are making padek with large fish – 7 to 8kg (16 lb) per fish – the proportion of salt to fish is one to three. Before salting, hit the fish firmly several times on both sides so that the flesh can absorb the salt.

Here is how the Kalom (Tai Yuan) people make padek in Luang Namtha.

Big fish are preferred, but small fish are also used. Use 3 kg (7 lb) fish, including heads. Slice fish and bones into 4 cm (1½ in) pieces. Put in a bowl, and then leave three or four days until the fish smells—the smellier the better. Pound a thumb-size piece of galangal and 6 – 10 chillies together and add ½ cup rice bran, ½ kg salt and ½ cup alcohol, such as lao Lao or whiskey. More salt may be used if a very strong sauce is desired. Add the fish, mix and put in a ceramic pot to ferment. Cover with a plastic bag and weigh down. Leave untouched for a year, although it may be eaten after two months. Two-year-old padek is very nice.

Tamarind’s Or Paedek (padek) ເອາະປາແດກ

_MG_8856

Morn cooking or paedek

The Tamarind Restaurant – A Taste of Laos in the Old Quarter of Luang Prabang is one of our favourite Lao restaurants. Besides their scrumptious food and the best cold drinks in Laos, what we love about Lao-owned Tamarind is Joy and Aussie wife and partner Caroline’s philosophy behind its creation and operation. Recently moved to new premises over looking the Nam Khan river, the restaurant has grown in reputation and popularity, yet still retains its essence – making Lao food accessible to people unfamiliar with the cuisine, not by dumbing down the food, but by providing delicious tasting platters and other dishes aesthetically presented in a stylishly simple dining setting. Staff relish the opportunity to explain the dishes when asked, and having observed the scrupulously clean but essentially Lao kitchen, I can vouch that no shortcuts are taken in producing the carefully selected dishes. Tamarind also sells kitchen ware, books about Lao food, and Lao ingredients packaged in a way to not get seized by Agricultural Security in countries concerned about protecting their bio-security. Naturally arising from their philosophy, Tamarind also runs an excellent cooking school set in beautiful lakeside gardens. Not surprisingly, the restaurant is one of the favourite lunch and dinner haunts for local expats.

 

_MG_8879

Tamarind's Lao kitchen staff

For this visit, Caroline had asked Joy’s sister, Morn, to demonstrate their Or paedek for us so that Kees and I could record the process (and then eat the results for lunch)!  Or padek uses the fermented fish from the padek pot to form a chunky sauce-like dish eaten with sticky rice and simmered vegetables. It has lots of herbs and other favourite Lao flavouring agents, a little minced pork and eggs. The mix sounds odd, but the resultant flavour is salty, hot and redolent of grilled garlic, lemongrass and herbs, buffered by the eggs and pork. Altogether saep lai!  If you are close to an Asian market, it’s a dish that can be made easily around the world, you just have to get your hands on padek or a substitute. This dish would normally be eaten by at least four people with sticky rice and maybe another simple dish.

_MG_8872

Or padek detail

 

Or Padek Recipe

Ingredients

1 large bulb garlic

1 handful brown or red shallots

4 stalks lemongrass

10 long red chillies

1 tablespoon pea eggplants mak keng waan on their stalk

1 cup padek fish

Water

1 cup minced pork

1 teaspoon Knorr stock powder (optional, otherwise use part fresh stock for the water when simmering the fish)

2 tablespoons galangal, (check if grilled)

2 stalks dill

3 sprigs lemon (hairy) basil pak I tou Lao

3 – 5  spring onions (lao size, not the hulking great ones in the West, in which case use only one)

Method

Note: All the steps are shown in photographs on the left. Just scroll down as there are more photos than text.

  1. _MG_8663

    Roasting garlic and shallots at Tamarind

    In a fire or on a grill, roast the whole bulb of garlic and shallots, add the lemon grass to the grill.

    _MG_8677

    Grilling lemongrass and chillies

  2. Thread the chillies onto a skewer or toothpick and add to the grill. The pea eggplants only need 30 seconds to grill, just enough to bring out the flavour. Turn as each ingredient slowly roasts and blackens. Remove as each ingredient is softened – the garlic will take the longest. Set aside to cool.

    _MG_8693

    Grilled ingredients for or paedek

  3. In a wok, dry fry the padek fish a few minutes until aromatic and then add 1½ to 2 cups of water, stir to break up and mix in fish and simmer for 5 minutes. Sieve over a bowl to remove the liquid.

    _MG_8692

    Cooking the paedek fish

  4. _MG_8702

    Morn straining the paedek

    _MG_8714

    Dry-frying pork

    Dry fry the pork in the wok until white and broken up and then add the strained padek water. Add the Knorr if using and more water. Simmer while you do the next step, adding more water if needed.

  5. _MG_8724

    Simmering the paedek and pork after water added

    _MG_8762

    Skinned grilled ingredients

    Remove the black and blistered shin from the chillies, clean up the lemon grass of blackened outer sheath, and remove the garlic cloves from their blackened papery covering and peel the shallots. Destem the pea eggplants. Rinse by pouring over some water to rinse. Discard water containing the excess blackened bits. (I’d never seen this step done before, but maybe Westerners were alarmed by black specks in their food.)

  6. _MG_8788

    Slicing lemongrass

    Slice the garlic and shallots crosswise and the chillies vertically into strips, removing the seeds. Slice the lemongrass finely from the bottom up the stalk until if feels a bit tough, then stop. Discard the tough green bit.

  7. Slice the galangal, then cut across into 2 tablespoons of finer pieces.
  8. _MG_8814

    Simmering or padek after grilled ingredients have been added

    Add all the ingredients except the chillies to the simmering mixture. Top up with more water if needed.

  9. _MG_8823

    Chopping spring onions, deleafing Lao basil

    Remove the dill and lemon basil leaves from their branched and put in cold water. Chop the spring onions into a bit less than 1 cm (⅓ inch) pieces.

  10. When the or is thickening, add three eggs. Let them sit for a minute then gently mix in. Slowly cook. Add more water and when
    _MG_8834

    Morn adding the eggs to the or padek

    simmering add the herbs, then half of the chillies. Stir to mix. Just before serving add the rest of the chillies, then transfer to a serving bowl and garnish with basil.

 Accompanying vegetables

_MG_8646

Vegetables for simmering

Choose a selection of vegetables to simmer for eating with the or padek. Morn used carrot, snake gourd, choko, beans and pak choy (a type of Chinese cabbage with yellow flowers). Zucchini, and wedges of cabbage would also work.

Prepare the vegetables by cutting into pieces suitable for dipping (crudites) and soak in cold water. Add vegetables in order of cooking time and simmer in boiling water until soft but still having a bite. Drain and arrange on a plate.

_MG_8781

Simmering vegetables to accompany op padek

_MG_8867-2

Finished vegetables accompanying op padek

 

 

Pun pa

Poon Pa (Pun Pa) Luang Namtha-style

I was shown a new recipe for pun pa at the Boat Landing on our last visit. This is spicier than the one in the Cookbook and also contains mashed simmered apple eggplants. If these are not at hand, use cubes of purple eggplant.

Pun pa

Poon pa, Luang Namtha-style

Simmering fish and eggplants

Simmering fish and eggplants

Pounding

Peng pounding the fish and egpplants

Pun Pa 1.5

Pounding grilled ingredients

Pun pa 2

Peng adds pounded grilled ingredients to fish mixture

Cooking pun pa

Cooking poon pa

Poon Pa (pun pa) Luang Namtha-style, cooked by Peng

Ingredients

7 apple eggplants (or one purple eggplant, cut in 3 cm (1′) cubes
1 bulb garlic
3 shallots
5 green chillies (long and thin) threaded on a toothpick
1 small fish (cat fish, slippery stuff removed,  or tilapia)
2 C water
1 lemongrass stalk, bruised with the back of a knife
½ t salt for broth and another ½ t when frying mixture
1 T oil
1 T garlic, chopped
2 T soy sauce
Small handful mint and coriander leaves, chopped
Small handful spring onions, chopped

Vegetable accompaniment

1 thick wedge cabbage
2 wedges pumpkin or gourd
1 bunch Chinese greens (pak kaat kieow)

Method

  1. Grill the garlic bulb, shallots and chillies over a charcoal fire, gas ring, barbeque or electric over grill, turning regularly.  Each ingredient will have a different cooking time. The garlic bulb, shallots and chillies are ready when blackened on the outside and softened on the inside. Remove ingredients to a plate when ready.
  2. Heat the water in a wok or frying pan and add salt and lemongrass. Bring to the boil and add the fish and eggplants. Simmer for 7 minutes and then remove from the stock when ready and set aside. (Be careful not to cook the fish for too long or the stock will gel. If the eggplants are not yet soft continue to simmer them after removing the fish.) Transfer the stock to a bowl for later use.
  3. In another pan set the vegetables to simmer in salted water. They should take about 15 minutes on a low heat once brought to the boil.
  4. Put the cooked eggplants into a mortar and pound to a pulp. Remove the skin and bones from the cooled fish and add it to the mortar. Pound.
  5. Peel the garlic, shallots and chillies and in a separate mortar, pound them to a fine paste. Add this paste to the fish mixture.
  6. Rinse the wok, reheat and add oil. When the oil is hot, toss in the chopped garlic and sauté until aromatic. Then add the fish mixture and soy sauce. Fry for a minute and spoon in some of the broth. Continue to fry the mixture on low heat for about 5 minutes in total. Taste and add salt and more soy sauce if needed. Mix in the chopped mint, coriander and spring onions. Taste and make any final adjustment to the flavours.

 

Our Lao cookbook wins a Gourmand World Cookbook Award

The Gourmand World Cookbook Awards have just announced the best cookbook of the year, 2010,  for 57 countries, and Food from Northern Laos – The Boat Landing Cookbook (Galangal Press) won the award for Laos. We are very happy, as the book contains heaps of Lao recipes, descriptions of ingredients etc and has Lao script, so such recognition hopefully will promote Lao food throughout the world. One of these 57 books (chosen from around 8,000 entries) will be the « Best Cookbook of the Year ». The shortlist will be announced in January, and the « Best in the World » will be proclaimed March 3, 2011 in Paris, in a glamorous awards event at the Theatre Le 104, within Le 104, the new Artistic Center of the City of Paris. In January we think they will also announce the Best Asian Cookbook award and other categories, so, fingers crossed! Whoppee!

Read about it here: Press Release, December 14, 2010 Cookbook Winners!

Visit their website Gourmand World Cookbook Awards

Blood, usually duck or pig ເລຶອດ leuat

Cutting coagulated blood

Cutting co-gulated blood

Eating blood or blood products is extremely common in Laos. Noodle soups, especially kao poon, frequently contain cubes of boiled blood cake as does a sidewalk staple, cold glass noodles with vegetables. Akha pork balls (page 109) usually contain fresh duck blood. Speciality duck restaurants serving a salad based on fresh blood are massively popular. If you are game and have access to a freshly killed duck which is far from any whisper of avian flu, here is how to make the salad.
Duck blood salad

Duck blood salad

Drain the blood from the duck and set aside. Cook the duck liver and mince it, adding a little bit of salt. Make a liver lahp by adding mint, chopped red and green chillies, spring onion greens, garlic and basil. To the duck blood, add fish sauce and 5 tablespoons of water. Mix together and pour over the lahp. Sprinkle roasted sticky rice powder over the mixture and enjoy. To ensure blood is fresh, put a drop in a bowl of water. Try to cut the drop with a toothpick tip. If the blood stays whole, the blood is fresh. If it can be cut, it is congealed and not fresh. Do not eat it! Black pudding can be substituted for blood cake.

Khmu khao poon

Khao poon (also spelt kao poon or kao pun) is a noodle dish widely made and consumed throughout Laos. This Khmu version with fermented soybean paste and minced pork was cooked by Khamsouk Philatorn, who used to make and sell it at the Luang Namtha Chinese market as a part time job while attending secondary school. The instructions below should make enough for about 30 people. Family and friends in Ban Chalensouk helped with all the chopping and shredding of the ingredients and with eating the finished product!

A serving of khao poon has four components:

  • Finely chopped or shredded vegetables, which are placed in the bottom of a big soup bowl
  • Hanks of soaked and drained khao poon noodles or rice vermicelli, which are added to the bowl
  • A spicy soup, ladled over the top to warm and partially cook the other ingredients
  • Condiments such as soy sauce, chilli sauce and lime which are added to the individual’s taste.

The whole lot is mixed together and eaten with chopsticks and a Chinese soup spoon.

Ingredients

1 large bunch yard-long beans

1 large bunch spring onion tops

1 large bunch mint

1 kg boiled bamboo shoots

1 big bunch coriander (cilantro)

2 – 4 banana flowers, outer petals removed

6 limes (2 for acidulating the banana flower water and the rest for individuals to add to their soup bowls)

3 -5 pieces  galangal root (big handful – the smaller rhyzomes are hotter and spicier)

3 heads garlic

One half to one handful of red chillies

2 onions

Khao poon noodles or rice vermicelli

1 C oil

1 kg coagulated blood or use 2 black puddings instead

1 kg minced fatty pork (You can use more mince pork if you like and cut down on the blood)

Generous half cup of fermented soybean paste (or make your own, see fermented soy bean paste)

Knorr (stock) powder and/or msg.

Prepared Khao poon vegetables

Prepared Khao poon vegetables

Step 1: Vegetable Platter preparation

(Get as many people to help as you can)
  1. Finely slice the bunches of yard-long beans and spring onion tops and  arrange beside each other on a big tray.
  2. Take 1 kg of boiled bamboo shoots, remove the tough outer leaves from the shoots and tease into fine shreds with a toothpick. Add to the tray.
  3. Chop the bunch of coriander (cilantro) and add to the tray.
  4. Pull the leaves off the mint and add to the tray.
  5. Finely shave the inner part of several banana flowers into a bowl of water to which a couple of squeezed limes have been added. Squeeze dry and add to the tray.
Pounded mixture for soup

Pounded mixture for soup

Step 2: Preparation of ingredients for the soup

  1. Finely slice several roots of galangal.
  2. Peel and finely slice the cloves of 3 heads of garlic.
  3. Finely chop  one half up to a handful of red chillies.
  4. Slice 2 onions vertically.
  5. Put the garlic and chilis in a mortar and pound thoroughly to a rough paste.

Preparing the noodles

Preparing the noodles

Step 3: Preparation of the noodles

  1. If you are using dried noodles, soak the khao poon noodles or rice vermacelli in warm water until soft. (khao poon noodles will need hotter water and will take linger than rice vermacelli.)
  2. When soft, use a chopstick to line up and remove a small hank of noodles from the water. Let drain, then use your hands to make into a tidy oval hank. Repeat, lay one hank overlapping the other to form a circle in a colander lined with banana leaf. Set aside. This step can be done while the soup is simmering.
  3. If using fresh noodles already in hanks, pour some warm water through them to refresh them, arrange them to suit on a banana leaf-lined sieve, and let drain until serving time.

Adding pork to the soup

Adding pork to the soup

Step 4: Assembling the soup

  1. Heat 1 cup of oil in a big pot.
  2. Add the pounded chili mixture and fry until golden and smelling sweetly fragrant.
  3. Add the galangal and onions and continue to brown.
  4. Add the minced pork and fry until it is well mixed, then add the fermented soybean paste. Brown all together, then top the pot up to two thirds with water. Bring to the boil and simmer for 15 minutes. Taste, and add Knorr and msg to suit. Continue to simmer for 30 more minutes.
  5. Adding the blood to the soup

    Adding the blood to the soup

  6. Cut the coagulated blood or blood sausage into 3 cm (1 1/4 in) cubes and add to the soup. Simmer for 10 – 15 minutes more until the blood has changed to a dark colour.

Step 5: Serving

  1. To serve, for each diner, place a small amount of all of the vegetables in the bottom of a deep soup bowl. Add one or two hanks of noodles. Spoon over the soup, making sure some of the minced pork and blood product are included.
  2. Make soya sauce, chili sauce, msg, salt and ground white pepper are available on the table so people can adjust their portion to suit their own taste.
    (N.B.: The family made their own weak soy sauce by boiling salted black soya beans in water, mashing them and decanting the liquid).
Khamsouk's younger brother eating khao poon

Khamsouk's younger brother eating khao poon

Yanang leaves ໃບຍານາງ bai yanang

Yanang leaves

Yanag Leaves

A food from the forest, yanang is used throughout Thailand and Laos. The juice extracted from the leaves is used in all sorts of Lao recipes for bamboo dishes, especially bamboo shoot soup, gaeng naw mai. A moke may be made with fresh rock algae and yanang juice. Tinned yanang juice is available from Asian food suppliers.

Tinned yanang juice

Tinned yanang juice

To extract the juice from yanang leaves, bruise the
leaves with either a mortar and pestle or on a chopping board with a pestle or the back of a cleaver. Place the leaves in a bowl with 2 cups of cold water. Rub the leaves together to extract the aromatic juice. Alternatively, place the leaves and the water in a blender or food processor and mix until the liquid foams. Strain the resultant juice off and throw away the leaf remnants.

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.

Ingredients

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)

Method

  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.

Kmhmu fish dishes (Khmu)

Food preparation by the men

Food preparation by Ban Chalensouk men

This article describes various Khmu fish dishes prepared by the men of Ban Chalensouk the morning after the party.
The farmed fish used are small tilapia – a sweet tasting freshwater fish much used in Laos and bought from the market that morning.

Three dishes were prepared and served with sticky rice – grilled fish flavoured with local herbs and chilli, a sour fish soup and a stew of spicy fish innards. The only thing not used from the fish were the scales. One bowl of fish thus served 20 plus people generously.

Fish for lunch

Tilapia - enough for 3 Kmhmu dishes

The fish were first of all scaled and gutted. The quantity was divided in two, one half to be grilled and the other half to be made into a soup. The guts were set aside for the stew.

Seasoning fish for grilling

Seasoning fish with pounded herbs for grilling

The fish to be grilled were plastered on one side with a pounded mixture of lemongrass, green chillies, galangal, lemon (hairy) basil (pak i tou Lao) and finely chopped spring onion. Salt and msg were added. After seasoning, each fish was folded crossways to enclose the filling and secured between two pieces of split bamboo (mai heep neep) ready for traditional grilling over the open wood fire.

Fish ready for grilling

Fish secured in mai heep neep ready for grilling

Fish grilling over embers

Fish grilling over embers, Kmhmu-style

The second portion of the fish was made into a mild sour fish soup (gaeng som pa) which had lemon grass, a few green chillies, onions, tomato, salt and msg added.

Sour fish soup

Sour fish soup and grilled fish Kmhmu-style (eyes included)

Preparing innard stew

Adding pak i tou Lao to stew

The guts were made into a stew flavoured with pak i tou Lao (bai manglaek (Thai),  lemon or hairy basil), chopped galangal, garlic, chillies, spring onions and fresh mak ken (a local version of Sechuan pepper).

Herbs all added and mixed together

Herbs all added and mixed together

Small cubes of coagulated pork blood were  added later.

fish dishes

Grilled fish, innards stew and sour fish soup

In all three dishes, msg and salt were the flavour-enhancers rather than fish sauce and Knorr stock powder, which are more recent influences. The food was delicious – the best grilled fish I’ve tasted!

Fish lunch in Ban Chalensouk

Fish lunch in Ban Chalensouk

Baci at Ban Chalensouk

Baci at Ban Chalensouk

Baci at Ban Chalensouk

In my last article I described the preparation of Khmu food before the baci ceremony, held in October 2010 at Ban Chalensouk, Luang Namtha province in Northern Laos. Kees and I were happy to be honoured guests and to help our ‘grand daughter’, Khamsouk, celebrate her graduation from college and triumphant return to her village.

The Moh Pohn ties the first string on Kees

The Moh Pohn ties the first string on Kees

Spiritual and ritualistic practices are important to most Lao people. The baci, also called sou khuan, is an ancient pre-Buddhist ritual traditionally conducted by Tai speakers, now widely practised by other Lao citizens, including Kmhmu, who have their own spiritual beliefs and way of doing things. The baci is the most popular Lao traditional ceremony celebrated at special events, whether a marriage, a homecoming, a welcome, a birth, a welcome or even to help cure sickness. Tom Butcher and Dawn Ellis, in their book ‘Laos’, London, a wol book: Pallas Athene, 1993, describe the baci ceremony in detail. This particular baci was held in Khamsouk’s new shop/house. It’s wired for electricity ready for when the power is hooked up. That won’t be for some time yet, though.

Tying strings

Kees trying strings on Khamsouk

The baci ceremony includes the ritualistic tying of cotton threads to ensure blessings of the spirits on specific persons, activities, or places. It is also an important gesture of reconciliation and is believed to restore the natural order of things (Source: LNTA).

After the baci, we adjorned to the tables outside for the feast and lamvong dancing to a local (highly amplified) live band. Lamvong is a circular folk dance, with the women on the outside of the circle and the men on the inside, and each couple dances slowly around each other while progressing around the main circle.

Dancing the lamwong

Dancing the lamvong at Ban Chalensouk. Khamsouk's mother (on the far right) dances with her husband.

Young people dancing

Khamsouk and friends dancing lamvong

Its certainly not hip-hop.  Messages are far more subtle. But it IS a dance of courtship and building of social relationships (without looking at each other or touching, however). It certainly holds people’s interest, old and young – the dancing went on for 7 hours, mainly lamvong, with maybe half an hour of line dancing interspersed! Its a bit risky doing line dancing in Laos for too long!

Lao hai Kmhmu

Lao hai Kmhmu

In the afternoon the lao hai was opened and we imbibed. This is home made Lao rice wine fermented in a pottery jar (hai). Its very tasty and never drunk alone, always at least two people suck the equivalent of 2 glasses full from straws (or these days, IV leads). The jar is then replenished with the same amount of water, and two or more other people take over the drinking. The people who get first crack at the jar get the strongest alcohol, because the water dilutes the brew over time. Occasionally it is stirred with a stick to mix in the water.

Drinking lao hai at Ban Chalensouk 2

Drinking lao hai at Ban Chalensouk - Khamsouk's Dad on the right

Lao hai drinking

Dolly and friends enjoy Lao hai. Both men touch the IV line so the drink is shared.

With Beer Lao, toasts of Lao lao and Lao hai, it is very difficult to remain vertical after a while. Naps are highly recommended throughout the festivities, which gaily continue regardless of where the guests are for a while!  Starting at 11 am, the band packed up at 7 pm. So a slow fade out on this article The next blog will cover making khao poon, Kmhmu style ‘the morning after’.

Party at Ban Chalensouk

Party at Ban Chalensouk - still doing the lamvong at 6 pm!