Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Laos

After Chiang Mai, Thailand, Charlie and I set off for Luang Prabang, Laos.  We took a 5 hours bus from Chiang Mai to Chiang Khong, and then took a boat across the Mekong River and the border to Laos.  Then we took a 12 hour night bus from Huay Xai to Luang Prabang.  

We quickly fell in love with Luang Prabang and Laos.  We arrived in Luang at around 5 am and came across a morning market with locals selling everything from live frogs to noodle soups.  We tried a few different restaurants in Luang, but our favorite was a little outdoor place called Morning Glory.  

On our first visit to Morning Glory, Charlie ordered the Luang Prabang sausage fried rice, and I ordered a chicken panang curry.  His fried rice was delicious and we were really excited to try the sausage that we saw hanging in the sun all over town.

My panang curry was really spicy and full of fresh green beans.  I fell in love with panang on the streets of East London on Sunday mornings, and was so happy to see it on the menu in Laos. 

In Luang Prabang, we also had the chance to experiment with street foods.  During the night market each night a food market sets up down a narrow side street selling everything from spring rolls to barbecue kebabs.  We tried fresh and fried spring rolls for about 10 cents each.  Each was served with a small plastic bag of dipping sauce that was thrown together before our eyes.
Fresh Spring Rolls
Fried Spring Rolls
We wanted to try some traditional Lao food while we were in Luang Prabang so we went to a restaurant called Cafe Toui of which I had heard good reviews.  We ordered a traditional dish called laap, which is made of any of a variety of ground meats and spices tossed with lime juice, fish sauce and herbs like mint.  Laap (or larp) is regarded as the national dish of Lao.  We had pork laap and it reminded us of ceviche.
We also ordered Tom Yum soup with duck and banana leaves stuffed with chicken.  The tom yum was mildly spicy and sweet and Charlie didn't like it as much as I did.  The banana leaves were steamed and the chicken stuffing was kind of a weird consistency but I thought they were good and every time I saw them around they reminded me of the zong-zi that I had in NYC.
One of our final meals in Laos was one that I will never forget.  By the time we got to Don Det in the Si Phan Don area on the Cambodian border of Laos, Charlie and I had both been sick to our stomachs for a few days due to the low quality of food throughout the middle of Laos.  I was finally able to eat again when we got to Don Det after 3 days of misery, and besides eating at our guesthouse restaurant neither of us wanted to take any unnecessary risks.  However, we kept hearing from other travelers that Jasmin's Indian Restaurant was really good and cheap.  We tried it out for dinner one night, and we were so satisfied that I dragged Charlie back the next day for lunch.  We ordered a few curries the first night with a side of garlic naan and some exceptional vegetable samosas, but on the second occasion I went straight for the chicken korma and the garlic naan.  The naan was the best I have ever had.  It was crusty on the outside yet still fluffy and moist on the inside.  There were large chunks of sweet garlic on top with just the right amount of oil.  I will never forget this naan.
Garlic Naan and Chicken Korma at Jasmin's

One of the most quintessential experiences in Laos was the beer.  Throughout the whole country, we only noticed two local types of beer: Beerlao and Namphong.  I saw Namphong once; the rest was Beerlao.  Many Lao natives, including our 8 hour long mini bus driver, only knew how to say one word in English: "beerlao."  Beerlao awnings and tarps sheltered every house from the sun and the brand donned every restaurant and guesthouse sign.  It was between $1 and $2 per bottle, and it was pretty damn good.

Writing about all of this food brings back great memories, even though my trip only ended a week ago.  You can expect a post about Cambodia soon.



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