My best day in Luang Prabang was spent taking a cooking class, taught by a young Hmong man named Ning who was accomplished and sure in the kitchen. Along with three other students (a couple from Heidelberg and a guy from Belgium who works for EUROPOL), I paid $25 for the chance to immerse myself in Lao cuisine from 10am to 6pm. We began with a trip to Phousy Market, the central shopping location for all of Luang Prabang’s residents (excluding the hordes of tourists), where we bought some necessary ingredients and snacks for break-time munching and, more importantly, had a quick but thorough lesson in some of the crucial components of Lao cooking. After a half-hour tour, we boarded a tuk tuk and headed back to the hut that acts as the classroom for the Three Elephants Cafe cooking school.
Back at the school, we started off with some palm-sugar sweets and Lao coffee while Ning and his assistant did some prep work. When the mise-en-place was set, the four of us came inside for a demonstration of the two dishes we were to cook that morning for our lunch. We began with a dish that required more composition than cooking, per se: a Luang Prabang Salad, which consisted of cucumber, tomato, hard-boiled eggs, pork and cilantro arranged over a mound of mixed lettuce greens and dressed with an intriguing mayonnaise made by pulverizing hard-boiled yolks as opposed to the traditional raw-egg base. The salad was quite refreshing, though I picked around the eggs, as the hard-boiled variety have never appealed to me–although as a child I often made my mom cook them for me just so I’d have the chance to play with our egg slicer.
The other dish that was to serve as lunch was one that I anticipate making at home not infrequently: Fried Noodles with chicken, egg, and green vegetables. This dish was not only both simple and quick to prepare but also quite delicious and distinctly more authentic than just about any Asian noodles available in New York.
After lunch we watched Ning show us how to make five more dishes, of which we were to choose three to replicate ourselves, in addition to the proper techniques for steaming sticky rice (the Lao staple food) and jaew bong chili paste, the variety of that omnipresent condiment native to the region around Luang Prabang.
We came to a consensus on two of the choices, but the other three students all agreed on the third dish, while I dissented, hoping to perfect the green bean salad that can so easily be transformed–using cucumber, green papaya, or mango–into a healthy, tasty, and versatile standby. Since everyone else wanted to make the pork and egg stew, however, and since we were snacking on longan fruit while trying to make this decision (and that after an unusually hearty lunch!), I just went with the flow.
There is a reason that we all concurred about the other two dishes–chicken laap and eggplant with minced pork are some of the most typical Lao dishes, and certainly among the most toothsome. The laap is invigorating on a hot day, and evokes the jungle with all its wild greenery, while the pork and eggplant satisfy with their savory bath of oyster sauce.
Recipes upon request–considering these photos, I’m expecting to hear from you!
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