Laos (Laotian) foods are unusual in
that meat and fish are often eaten raw. Silky purees, pounded from raw
meat or fish, and highly seasoned with chilies, ginger, aromatic
vegetables and herbs, are wrapped in wild fresh leaves and dipped in a
fiery chili sauce. Sometimes the pounded meat is mixed with finely
sliced raw liver. Pounded chicken generally has thinly sliced, cooked
chicken gizzards added to it. Another atypical preference of the Lao is
to eat sticky or glutinous rice at every meal. Glutinous rice, in all
other Southeast Asian countries, is kept for making desserts or snack
foods. These intriguing creamy purees are the traditional Laotian dishes
served in the home. Most Laotian live near a forest, or at least near a
wooded area, which provides a wealth of edible leaves and berries.
Laos (Laotian) food is judged by the
variety of its sauces and stuffing, the degree of fineness achieved in
the mincing of meat or fish dishes, the smoothness of the laboriously
pounded purees, and the unique combination of ingredients to produce
sauces where one or another spice or herb predominates - fennel, mint,
ginger, chilies, or citrus. Attention to detail distinguishes the truly
excellent Laos (Laotian) meal. Chili is by far the favorite seasoning,
followed by garlic, ginger, mint, turmeric, citrus lemongrass, and
onions or shallots. Pork fat is preferred for cooking, and coconut milk
for its smooth texture and sweetness. Lao fish are almost always
freshwater fish from the many rivers, lakes and streams. Most of the
protein in the Laos (Laotian) diet comes from fish, which is eaten at
least twice a day.
Laos (Laotian) catch not only fish and
freshwater shrimp from their rivers and lakes, but also water snakes,
eels, snails and several different kinds of frog. Deep green algae,
which grows on ponds, is also harvested and cooked with minced pork,
eggplant, chilies and aromatic vegetables, seasoned with nam pa -
fish sauce. Nam pa is made by layering fish and salt in big vats,
and steeping it until it ferments. The highly aromatic brown liquid is
then drained off. This sauce is available bottled all over Laos. A
similar product is padek, which is fish sauce with pieces of
fish, rice husks, and powdered rice in it. The rice dust and husks are
added to stews and similar foods. The brine, called nam padek,
and the fish chunks may be used separetly. Padek is generally
homemade and kept in large pottery jars, usually outside on the veranda.
Laos (Laotian) find it both delicious and nutritious.
Beef is hard to find in Laos, and what
little is accessible is prohibitively expensive. Water buffalo, a
much-loved substitute, is cooked in countless recipes, and also pounded
to a paste and enjoyed raw. Dried water buffalo skin is a frequent
ingredient in Laos (Laotian) cooking, as is fried pork skin. Pork is
very popular in Laos (Laotian). Laos (Laotian) cooking would not be Laos
(Laotian) cooking without three-layer pork (skin, fat and lean meat).
Dried buffalo skin, fried pork skin, three-layer pork, and spit roasted
pork may all be purchased ready to use in Lao markets.
The use of edible leaves to wrap foods,
endless amounts of which are gathered daily from gardens, riverbanks,
and forests, is one of the things that distinguish Laos (Laotian)
cooking. Almost all Laos (Laotian) households have a garden where
phak salat (lettuce), cabbages of various kinds, spinach, small
round eggplants, avocado, cassava, spring onions, many different
varieties of hot chilies, myriad herbs, lemongrass, shallots, ginger and
a banana plant of two are grown.
Mixing fish and meat in sauces and soups
is commonplace in Laos. Despite the fact that this is a Chinese custom,
as a general rule, Laos (Laotian) cooking is less influenced by the
cuisine of China than by other Southeast Asian countries such as
Malaysia, Thailand and India. Typically in Laos (Laotian) recipes, each
ingredient is fried separately, usually in lard, and set aside until
needed. Fried onions, garlic, and shallots are typical garnishes.
A much-revered festival dish for Laos
(Laotian) is lap. Expensive to make, it is a great luxury. The
main ingredient in lap is raw buffalo meat, pounded to a smooth
cream. The very thinly sliced buffalo liver is gently stirred into the
dish, along with minced garlic, shredded ginger, chilies, roasted
eggplant, and roasted, powdered glutinous rice. Laos (Laotian) cooks
create variety of taste and texture in their meat stews, fish dishes,
and sauces by blending tart and acidic flavors with wild, strongly
aromatic leaves. One of the best-loved foods in Laos (Laotian) is a
pickled sausage, called nam, made from raw pork loaded with
spices and garlic, served with yet more blistering, tiny chilies,
ginger, peanuts, and scallions.
Popular at breakfast for Laos (Laotian) is
a noodle soup, called furr, which is served topped with bits of
pork, garlic, and surprisingly, marijuana leaves. Big bunches of
marijuana are readily accessible in the markets, as in Laos (Laotian) it
is considered simply an herb. Dinner is steaming hot, glutinous rice,
surrounded with an assortment of small, cooked dishes and a platter of
salad. Fermented pork and fish dishes, made by pounding the food with
fermented rice, as well as salted and dried foods, appear fairly
frequently on a Laos (Laotian) table. Laos (Laotian) meals always
include soup, either to end the meal or to sip during the meal to
refresh the palate.
Rules of etiquette govern behavior at a
Laos (Laotian) table. For example, guests may not eat until the host has
invited each person to start eating. They must never reach for a dish at
the same time as anyone else, especially if that person is elderly or
has a higher social position. A guest cannot continue eating if everyone
else has finished, and it is essential to leave some food on the plate,
to give the impression that more was offered than could be consumed.
Chopping and pounding are the main methods
used in the preparation of Laos (Laotian) cooking. Chopping is usually
done with a heavy knife on a stout block of wood cut form a tree trunk.
A strong cleaver would also be found in a Laos (Laotian) kitchen. A
mortar and pestle is used for pounding.