Monday, February 15, 2010

Pho Cong Ain't Got Nothin' On Me!!

I never thought I would title something using a play on words that combines one of my favorite restaurants with a Denzel Washington quote, but that's how my mind works.

Thanks to the famous Tamarind restaurant, Mariana and I became master chefs of Lao cuisine in just 6 short hours for the low-low price of $56 USD. That is a small fortune in Luang Prabang and could have covered our hotel room for two nights, but the money was well spent. I am not sure if there is any culinary equal to a Southeast Asian chef. They create the most incredible flavors by delicately blending fresh herbs, spices, produce, and meats. Even a stroll through a local market can make you realize why foods from this region of the World are so sought after and enjoyed. I am of course excluding the butcher section of the market, which can be downright nauseating and awkward for people with weaker constitutions. Fortunately, I am not one of those people, so I cherished every moment of our tour through the vast daily market located 10 minutes outside of town. The closest HEB is 2,500 miles away, so most locals have to visit these types of markets twice a day to prepare fresh meals for their families. They purchase fresh vegetables ranging from the widely used aubergine (small eggplant) and the all too familiar cilantro to exotic fungi and durian fruit (large, spiky, and smells like body odor). These fresh ingredients are then chopped, diced, squeezed, and blended to add flavor to anything that walks on four legs or is found swimming in a body of water. No natural resource is wasted and the Lao people use EVERY part of EVERY living item they harvest (I will spare you details).

After the tour of the market, Mariana and I joined our 10 new friends and headed out to the remote country side for a hands-on cooking class. We prepared 6 traditional dishes that included sticky rice, eggplant and tomato chili dip, steamed mekong fish wrapped in herbs and banana leaves, fried minced chicken mixed with herbs and stuffed into shoots of lemon grass, pork stew with fresh vegetables, and sweet sticky rice served with a variety of diced fruits. Jealous?? You should be.

All of the dishes were made by hand and without the use of any electric appliances. When everything was finished, we sat down together and enjoyed our meal in a family style setting (along with a few BeerLaos), and our master chef supplied us with a copy of each recipe. We are going to have a Lao-style party at the Kuhl house when we return for all those who are interested.

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