I am not a chef. 3 of the 5 times I’ve attempted to cook for Lindsay, I’ve cut myself. And not just minor cuts, but cuts deep enough that I easily contemplated heading to the ER for stitches (I never did). And I once cooked for a dear friend that I made sick on multiple occasions. But I am a chef’s best friend. I love food. It’s not a passion, it’s an obsession, a meditation, a nirvana for the senses. I looked forward to the food on this trip as much as I looked forward to being on the move and site-seeing and walking. And the food has not dissapointed.
In Thailand, we gorged on heaps of Pad Thai, curries and freshly cut coconuts. Here in Laos, we savor Laap and Olam (a local salad and stew), and, well, anything that looks delicious. And good food is everywhere . . . it seems that everyone here who gets behind a stove, an outdoor grille, a hot plate, can put together ingredients with mastery. We’ve eaten at guest houses and hotel restaurants, roadside stands (yes, mother, I mean street food for my weak little stomach), and even Makphet, an incredible place in Vientien entirely run by children who would have otherwise been on the street.
Makphet was a culinary highlight thus far with its colorfully and creatively plated food using local ingredients (this must be the fruit and vegetable capital of the world). I gorged on a traditional salted fried fish accompanied by tamarind sauce, shredded lemon grass and cashews. While Lindsay enjoyed a savory bowl of Tum Yum curry/coconut soup next to a plate of noodles and tomato dipping sauce. All so good that we want back for an evening snack which turned into another meal.
And then the crown jewel of Laos . . . it’s night food markets. For 8000 Kip, the equivalent to about a dollar, you can get a plate full of food . . . everything described above in a buffet that puts the entire Vegas strip to shame (a poor analogy, I know, but that’s all I’ve got). I begged for “local” in an earlier blog entry, you want local Matt, find the night food market:
Exposed light bulbs hanging as lanterns, tattered umbrellas crackling in the evening breeze, the soft voice of a Laotian singer on a music video for a soundtrack, the chefs swishing sticks with plastics bags to entice you to their stand (okay, it’s to keep the flies away, but that’s not good food writing), and oh, have I mentioned the food? Piping hot cauldrons of broth and noodle soups and escargot, stacks of freshly rolled sausages, delicate cow tongues, jumping frogs ready for the grilles that whisk up the kind aroma of wood chips (and seasoned meats of all sorts) into the night sky, roasting chickens, trays filled with the freshest spring rolls known to this side of the earth, the sweet bite of mangoes and sticky rice, and piles of herbs and fruits to take home if nothing already prepared here appeals to you. The menagerie of all this freshly cooked and cooking and ready-to-be cooked food taunts my stomach right now and will forever forward. So thank goodness it’s 6 pm and the night food market down the street just opened.