Sticky Rice (khao niao) and Stuffed Lemongrass (ua si khai)Sticky Rice, also known as glutinous rice, is the mainstay of Lao cuisine. I read so many descriptions of its textures and qualities before making it, and I must say that making it, touching it, and tasting it are truly the only ways to really understand how it differs from other rice varieties. It is definitely sticky, but in a way that it sticks to itself, the steamer, the serving bowl…but not one’s hands while rolling it into a neat little ball to pop it in the mouth. I steamed it in a bamboo steamer lined with parchment paper. (Banana leaves would have been more authentic but I didn’t have any in the freezer.) While it is not as fragrant or flavorful as Jasmine rice, it does have a slightly aromatic flavor. Interestingly, in addition to steaming this rice, Lao also toast the grains, grind them, and add them to dishes for a nutty flavor.
and sticky rice
Green Papaya Salad (tam mak hoong) and Duck Laap (laap ped)
|green papaya salad|
- Both Thai and Lao versions include green papaya, garlic, peanuts, and chiles.
- Lime juice is downplayed in the Lao version and sometimes not included at all. Instead, a mortar and pestle is used to mash the shredded green papaya which releases some of its juices into the salad.
- Lao salads generally include two types of tomatoes: a larger, pulpier fruit and a small juicy one. One should be sweet and the other a bit sour.
- The Thai version generally includes palm sugar for a flavor profile of sweet, sour, and spicy, but Lao versions are more often only salty and spicy. The saltiness comes from padek, Lao fish sauce.
- Lao versions often include raw crabs seasoned in the fermented fish sauce.
mortar and pestle
Laap, also known as larb, is an herb-infused salad made with chopped meat, fish sauce, lime juice, and toasted glutinous rice powder. The flavor profile is sour, salty, and spicy. While in Laos the dish is most commonly made with raw meat, it is also served with cooked meat. The choice of meat used in this dish ranges from fish to fowl to wild buffalo. I opted to make my laap with cooked duck and followed a recipe that included the following ingredients for seasoning: fish sauce, sugar, lime juice, roasted glutinous rice powder, roasted chili powder, fresh mint leaves, fresh scallions, and fresh cilantro. I served it with wedges of cabbage, blanched long beans, and Thai red chiles. The flavor combination was really nice, but then again, I am a big fan of duck. The only indiscernible ingredient was the rice powder. I tried to taste its supposed nuttiness, but it just wasn’t there; however, I think it aided in binding and thickening the mixture, which is a definite positive. Overall, it was a nice dish, and I can imagine that the flavor combination of these herbs and seasonings with a raw gamy meat, or even raw beef, would be even better.
My week of Lao cuisine was quite interesting. While the dishes were nice, the most enjoyable part of the week was considering each dish and its place in Southeastern Cuisine. Considering how a dish has influenced other neighboring countries or how those neighbors influenced it motivated me as I read about the history of Laos, its geography, and it cuisine. All in all, a thoughtful week.