One morning, walking out of our hotel to watch the "River of Orange", squinting in the early morning darkness, we noticed what looked like an impromptu food stand had been set-up right next to the Chang Inn overnight and was going strong. Not paying it much mind, we had our usual walk through the morning Fresh Market, and our coffee and noodle soup breakfast at "Same-Same". Upon our return we were surprised to see that canopy had been raised on the other side of the street. And soon enough, there was some major partying going on.
Apparently, the so-called "food stand" was actually folks preparing food for the party. They had started the evening before. It was indeed a festive event, with a live band, singing, food, dancing, and I'm sure that the "laolao" (the local moonshine) was flowing freely.
During the course of the day, we would check the progress of the party everytime we returned to our room. It was fun watching the usually quiet and very low-keyed folks having a good time. We sat on the steps watching the party slowly build in momentum, hit a peak, then fade away into the evening. The folks at the hotel told me it was a big birthday bash. We watched the woman who made the food, stagger her way back and forth across the street, providing food for everyone. You really couldn't help but smile....and the local pooches loved the "slow dance."
Later in the afternoon, even the Monks stopped and stared at this extravaganza on their way back to the Wat:
This enterprising mutt, worked his way between the tables picking up scraps. It must've have been a bit salty, because he walked off looking for some water......
The party wound down at about 9pm, and clean-up went on through the next day. It was nice seeing this side of local life...... as I like to say, "we are all more alike, than different."
Somchanh is a restaurant we came across while walking along the Mekong. It is located pretty much at the end of the Luang Prabang Peninsula, where the road parallel to the Mekong slowly turns away from the river. The dining area of the restaurant, like many of the riverside restaurants, jutts out over the shore. This being pretty much the end of the road, means some very nice views. Especially of the sunset.
Even though this little restaurant, with the kitchen located in a shack covered with tarp, looked a bit makeshift, it became the Missus's favorite restaurant. We eventually visited three times during our stay in Luang Prabang. We even braved the rain, and walked the 1 kilometer for lunch. When the thunder clouds finally burst, the staff moved quickly(something uncommon in Luang Prabang), and set-up tarps over us.
As with many eateries in Laos, there's the ever present wash basin. Since your hands are the most important eating implement, it makes perfect sense.
Though this was the Missus's favorite eating establishment in Luang Prabang does not mean that everything was good. Being a small, family run restaurant, dependant not on the "Sysco" delivery, but instead on what is available for any given day, meant some interesting, and sometimes quirky dishes. Like the time we were served "brown" sticky rice, which we had never seen before. It tasted a bit more nutty, and had more chew to it.
Unfortunately, a few of the dishes will go undocumented. As you can see, it gets really dark, and the white tablecloths reflect the flash. But have no fear; there is one main reason the Missus loved Somchanh:
It was the Salat Nyam (Luang Prabang Salad - 15,000 Kip, $1.80/US). This was by far Her favorite version of this dish. She even had me try and duplicate it, after returning home. And though the egg yolk based dressing can be copied, and you can find really good tomatoes, and sometimes cucumbers. There is one item that can not be found here in the States:
It's the tender, slightly sweet, and mildly bitter Luang Prabang Watercress. Everytime the Missus sees a photo of this salad She wants to jump on a plane and head back to Luang Prabang.
This salad sometimes took a while to be delivered to our table. And we quickly figured out why, the eggs topping the salad are boiled to order. And during our visits, they were always perfect.
There was one slightly humorous exchange that took place during one of our visits. As you see on the menu, there is "Luang Prabang Watercress Salad, right above "Lao Salad". We asked what the difference was. The answer, "oh, same-same". The spelling in Lao looks different, and it is listed seperately....but I guess they are the same thing?
Another item we enjoyed was the Cucumber Salad (10,000 Kip - $1.20):
This pungent, yet refreshing salad was the shredded-seeded cucumber version of Papaya Salad, and in a way we enjoyed this even more.
The best version or "Aulam" (Orlam) we had from Somchan, was the Vegetable Aulam (20,000 Kip - $2.50):
Rich, but perhaps not as thick as I would like; this version had long beans and cloud ear fungus. The Missus never developed an appreciation for the tree bark looking, bitter-numbing-puckery Sa-Khan (piper ribesioides), but I started enjoying it.
The vegetable Patpet (Curry), was also the best of the 3 different versions we sampled (15,000 Kip).
That we found the cheapest dishes on the menu at Somchanh to be our favorites is slightly ironic. What was also interesting is that the large bottle of Beer Lao is 10,000 Kip, about $1.20. The same price as in the little mini-marts.
And did I mentioned the sunsets?