Ok, ok, I'm finally getting around to posting on our dinner at Tamarind. After attending the Tamarind cooking school, I was really excited at the prospect of dinner at Tamarind. There was one special "gourmet" dinner that fascinated me. It was called "The Adventurous Lao Gourmet", a degustation type, multi-course meal. Because the items included in the meal take a bit of what we shall term "shopping", it is imperative to make reservations for the meal. In fact, when I first tried to make reservations, the young lady hesitated, and said to come back after the cooking class. I made it a point to return to the restaurant after the cooking class, and again attempt to make reservations. Again, the young lady hesitated, and called Joy. After chatting briefly in Lao, the young lady hung up and said; "okay, Joy says you'll eat anything....."
Which is how we ended up at back at Tamarind at 4pm. (Tamarind closes at 6pm) The interior of Tamarind is much smaller than it appears from the exterior. The walls are lined with photos, and the overall appearance is clean, if a bit spartan.
Another reason reservations are required for this meal, is that either Joy or Carolyn will present the dishes, describe what you're eating (yes, you'll need that info), and answer questions. And I had many, many, questions.
Everything is served with the Lao staple, sticky rice:
The first plate soon arrived, and it was as beautiful (at least to us), as it was exotic looking:
As I was digging through my photos, I realized that I have photos of almost everything except the item in the middle right, which was a green bean and "mushroom" (cloud ear fungus) salad, which would have been fairly routine, except for the fresh tenderness of the fungus.
On the upper left, was a fern shoot salad:
I grew up eating "Pohole" (i.e. Warabi, Fern Shoots), so this wasn't a real big deal. It was very mild in flavor, but very fresh.
Next to it was something I hadn't had before, a Jeow (Lao dip) made of what they call "Lao Olive".
It had a salty-fruity-mildly spicy flavor, which was very satisfying. The Missus loved this. The Missus even went after the olive on the side....which tasted like....an olive of course. Wonderful dish. The flowers topping the olive dip are Hop blossoms, which are edible.
To the right of the olive dip was the Jeow King, the Lao Ginger dip.
This was a bracingly spicy dip, the ginger brought up the heat from the dish, as did the ginger leaves. Talk about waking you up.....
Next up was sticky rice flavored with coconut, and I believe taro, roasted in leaves.
This was more like a dessert.
There were two powders in the lower center part of the plate:
On the left was ground pumpkin seeds, nice and nutty, and good for rolling your sticky rice in. On the right, was dried and ground "bok choy", quite bitter in flavor. The ever present bitter flavor in Lao food made its appearance again.
On the lower left was sliced pork "rind", with sticky rice powder, and chilies.
I had expected this to taste like Vietnamese "Bi", but man was this good. The strands of rind almost melted in our mouths, and the flavor was excellent, a sweet-porkiness that made you wanting more. Mmmmm, pork with the texture of butter......
In the middle of the plate was a greenish-gooey substance called "Sa Thao". This dish was made with the algae genus, Spirogyra...sometimes called "pond scum". Khai Pene, the river moss that I'd been eating in all the restaurants, is made from algae genus, Cladophora glomerata. A totally different species.
The algae is pounded with eggplant, garlic, green beans, and spices, making for a wonderful savory, gooey, dip. The Missus blasted through this like there was no tomorrow. We had also blown through a container of sticky rice each, as well as a few glasses of flavored Lao Lao (rice whiskey).
We sure did some damage.
When the Missus had sopped up the last of the Sa Thao, our next plate arrived:
Joy had seen how the Missus went after the Sa Thao, so he made sure we had another bowl!
On the upper left are water buffalo patties(Buffalo Sausage), much like a very spicy-herbacious Bun Cha:
I sensed a real tingling while eating this, and Joy told me that Sichuan Peppercorns are used in the meat patties. Very nice, in fact, we tracked some down from one of the grill stands on our way out of Luang Prabang.
Pickled Pork Skin and pickled garlic:
Tasted like pickled pork skin......and pickled garlic. Nice refresher, though.
The Water Buffalo Jerky was decent, but nothing we hadn't had before.
The salted-pickled fish tasted great......
If a bit tough....think of it as Lao pickled herring if you must. Two of the basic preservation techniques, salting and pickling used to perfection.
Pickled Fish "Curd".
So well pickled that this almost tasted sweet, with a mild fishy background.
And than it was the most interesting item on the plate:
No it's not the "Pork Sung"(Rousong) on the left. It's the item to the right. When I asked what that was, Joy told me, "fish poo." "Fish poo?" "Yes, fish poo." Apparently, the fish is gutted, than all the intestinal matter is scraped out and used in preserving the fish......and you have "fish poo." Living up to it's name, the outer layer tasted quite funky, dark, and dank. The fish itself was soft, tender, and quite mild.
Each plate had given us insight to Luang Prabang food, from the various dips, to the items that used classic preservation techniques; salting, pickling, and drying, we had learned much about what what was eaten in homes, on the rivers, and perhaps even the forest. And much of it was delicious to boot. We had not been sure how much food we'd be eating, and had even thought, that this was it.....but we weren't even half way through!
Stay tuned for part 2!