First, I must say again thank you to the hounds who pointed me in the right direction, validated tips I had gotten, and wished me luck. I will post in dispatches as I can manage (jet-lag still making brain like jello pudding.)
I must say that the food in Laos was a revelation to me. After our first stop in Thailand, we were already chili'd out and the comfort food of Malee in Luang Prabang was the ticket.
It was Thanksgiving and we had much to be thankful for. We had finally made it to LP, despite weather problems, and checked into the fabulous Phousi Hotel. Chowmom had been in LP the year before, and it had changed a lot since then. Many more internet cafes, many more white tourists. But still the same Lao hospitality and serene spirit of a town with 30K inhabitants and 3000 monks, collecting alms at 6 a.m. Our guide told us her 80 year old mother wakes up at 4 every morning to steam the rice for the alms. In order to facilitate, the roosters start crowing at 4 -- believe me, I know. We staggered out early one morning too and watched the spectacle of hundreds of safron robes gliding through the streets of town. Children sold us packets of rice and flowers to contribute and we bought them and offered.
We grabbed a tuk-tuk and made it to Malee the first night and it was nothing like I expected. Look in the dictionary for "hole in the wall" and you'll see a picture of Malee. Somewhat outside of town this place has a few plastic tables outside a bare-bones kitchen, and turned out the most amazing, subtle, colorful dishes I've ever had. We sampled chicken with coconut - no chile, no lime -- just tons of fresh dill. Who knew? ** Let me mention here that chicken in SE Asia is what chicken is supposed to be like. They haven't bred all the taste out of it, and it's delicious -- not like the white flabby stuff you get here. I ate chicken as often as I could.**
The mekong catfish was lovingly prepared with loads of ginger and garlic. Sticky rice to sop up the juices. Wash it down with a beer lao and you have much to be thankful for. We had another dish which the jetlag makes me forget right now. But I do remember the dill. And woodsy forest mushrooms, and delicate sauces. All of this for under $7 for two.
Next night we dined in the posh Villa Santi, the former palace of the princess of Lao. Had amazing sausage sampler plate to start, which had one charred barbecue tasting sausage, one boudin blanc studded with pistachios and one unformed pile of Lao sausage, which is a mound of cured pork that tastes of limes and the mekong. While the Santi was suberb, we prefered Malee for the heart in every bite.
For lunch one day we had simple baguettes filled with chicken and gorgeous tomatoes and onions. The bread was the best ever, the accompanying Lao coffee with a drizzle of condensed milk in the bottom of the cup was delightful. Did I mention cheap? This cost us $2 for the two of us, with a big tip.
In the market, I bought a bundle of Kaipen, the dried river weed that is studded with garlic and tomato, dusted with sesame seeds. You flash fry it in oil and munch, munch, munch. It is delicious. We ogled the piles of chiles, water buffalo jerky, chicken feet, fresh herbs plucked that morning, quail eggs, rice deftly folded into triangular packets, fists of galangal, baskets of shallots.... it goes on and on.
Coming soon, posts about Vietnam and superb fish in Cambodia....