In previous Luang Prabang post, I mentioned two personal rules that I broke during our stay in Luang Prabang. The first was buying t-shirts, the second was taking a cooking class. I had never really been interested in taking a cooking class, but because we were staying in Luang Prabang for 6 days, why not? Plus, I really didn't know very much about Lao, or Luang Prabang cuisine. I had read up a bit about Tamarind Restaurant, and thought why not? The Missus made other "shopping" plans for the day, and I made reservations for the cooking class.
Tamarind was located right around the corner from our hotel, right across from Wat Nong Sikhounmuong.
The class is pretty much an all-day affair, and cost $25 US. The fearless leader of our group of Aussies, Brits, French, and yours truly, the token Asian-American was Joy Ngeuamboupha, who, along with Caroline Gaylard, own Tamarind. Joy and his sisters work the kitchen of Tamarind.
The first part of the class was a market tour of Phousy Market, which is the largest market in Luang Prabang, and supplies many of the homes and restaurants in Luang Prabang. Phousy Market (also spelled Phosy Market) is vastly different in scale than the morning Fresh Market, the products sold are much more mainstream (relatively), and there are some pretty large vendors in the market.
We all jumped on a soon to be overloaded tuk-tuk, and headed off to market.
I'll keep the text down to descriptions, a few things I learned about Lao food and eating habits, and a few anecdotes from here on.
As with all of these type of markets, everything is separated.
Which included the all important Water Buffalo Skin.
Available in all shapes and sizes, I was most familiar with the slices used for Jeow Bong, the wonderful Chili Dip.
Of course there were dried chilies:
And Padek in many stages of, ummm, fermentation.
Joy noted: "As you can see, no flies. When it is good, the flies won't touch it!" I thought perhaps the inverse was true......
One large portion was devoted to the varied produce available in Luang Prabang.
Here's Joy with a piece of Sa-Khan (piper ribesioides), which is used in the making of Or Lam, the various Lao stews.
And of course, there were "Hops", the stuff we saw eveyone munching on. I also learned that the flowers are edible as well.
And of course chilies, like these bright little ones:
At this stop Joy asked if anyone wanted to try one of these chilies. Seeing there were no takers, I decided to volunteer. Now Mom always told me, "the smaller the chili, the hotter it is." And man were these tiny chilies hot! Even though I didn't let the chili touch my lip, I felt an almost scalding heat in my mouth. I wanted to let out a "whooooaaa", but could only let out a "gakkkk." At which point I noticed that all the women vendors had stopped, and were watching me. They just started cracking up, and laughing. Joy told me, "the ladies say, only the tourists are crazy enough to eat these chilies by themselves......"
As we walked pass the fruits, and stopped by this lovely pile of Sapodilla, Joy answered aquestion I had about fruit. We had noticed a lack of fruit in the very tropical Luang Prabang, and I was wondering why.
The reason? It is believed that fruit is for the very young, and the very old, who have problems chewing, or little or no teeth.
Eggs were another little learning moment for me.
All eggs that are produced in Laos are stamped. If there are no stamps on the eggs it means that it was probably imported. Eggs with what looks like hand written numbers on them are fertilized duck or chicken eggs (aka Balut), and the numbers indicate the gestational age of the eggs.
And soon it was off to the meat "department":
I learned that in Luang Prabang, offal is much more expensive and treasured than lean cuts.
I also learned that Water Buffalo is getting to be much more expensive. Machinery is slowly replacing the Water Buffalo for use in agriculture, so there are less of them.
I was also surprised at how many turkeys I saw.
With the Mekong River on one side, and the Khan River on the other, you knew that fish and other products of the river was quite important.
This catfish was very much alive, and even tried to bite my finger off. I was told that it can live for quite a long while out of the water.
On the outer perimeter of the market reside some of the more interesting items, like bee larvae hives.
And all manner of dried "meat".
You could make out some fish, birds, and various rodents. But I had no clue what some of this stuff was.
Soon enough, Joy met us at the tuk-tuk, with a little plastic bag filled with greenish liquid, and a little bamboo tube. I guess it was time to start cookin'!
Stay tuned for part 2!