Ah day three in Luang Prabang was one of my favorites of the trip. We took a cooking class at Tamarind! It was so much fun and I loved it! Plus we learned how to make so much tasty food! I really loved the food in Laos, it is perfect for hot weather, and so easy to make. We took the full day class which started off with a tour of the Phosy Market which we wanted to check out anyway so why not with someone who can tell us what everything is that we don't recognize? Really it was very helpful and informative. The teacher was really nice and telling jokes the whole time. Above he is telling us about all the produce. Just to the left of the lady in the photo is some wood - he said that is to make dishes "Lao spicy". You just put a piece of the wood in your dish while it is cooking...
Herbs and pumpkin vines - I never knew you could eat them! Also a lot of the herbs and greens come from the jungle. People pick it and then sell it at the market.
The black disks are glue disks made from ant hills - you take out the ants and mash it together and this is what you get apparently. Odd. This place also had lots of bamboo steamers and this scraping tool to make long, thin slices of papaya and cucumber and such for salads so I picked one up. They were made by the villagers and was only €0.50 so why not? Plus I love kitchen tools. I have used it since and love it! Shredding my carrots is super quick now. Super easy to use and well worth the €0.50!
We were at the tail end of bamboo season. This is some of the last of the year. When it is in season there would have been huge piles of it everywhere. And lots of peppers!
Lots of snacks that we got to try. We never would have known what this stuff was and probably would have just not tried any since we wouldn't be sure if it was vegan, but with someone who speaks English it was perfect. The last photo is a bamboo chip. They were super tasty! Much better than I expected. We also tried some mushroom chips which were good - I don't have the texture thing with them so I could eat them - and some rice powder snacks. They were like little logs and super sweet, but really good.
Then we stopped by the rice stand. So many different rices. We were told the purple sticky rice was used mainly for desserts since it is more expensive. There was steam rice and sticky rices and very interesting. The teacher was telling us there are three groups of people in Lao - Lao who live down by the rivers, the Khmu who live in the hills, and the Hmong who live up really high in the hills. He was saying that Lao love sticky rice, but the Hmong eat mostly steamed rice. He is Lao so he eats sticky rice. Steamed rice just doesn't fill him up.
But what really stuck with me was the difference above. The top photo is "old" sticky rice - over a year. The bottom photo is "fresh" sticky rice - less than a year old. It is so much clearer than the "old" rice. Then it was off to wander through the meat section (not for me!) and fish before heading off to the school for our class. What really stuck out to me is that they really do use everything - bile from an animals stomach, the skin, everything. They don't waste parts, they don't throw things away, they find a way to use it. Like the meat. They sell it in the morning, then as it gets later they put it on ice and it gets cheaper, then whatever doesn't sell gets sold in the morning for really cheap and you can let it sit in the sun for a few days to dry out or ferment it or whatever. I am not quite sure how that all works, but even after sitting out forever they still use it for stuff. At least if you are going to eat animals they are not wasteful. Really I don't think they can be wasteful with food, they don't have the funds to just throw things away, but I enjoyed learning about all the ways they use everything they can for food.
Raymond is ready to cook!
The place where the school is at was really beautiful. Open air with a lily pad pond and a river on the one side.
The table with all of our fresh herbs and spices and produce. At the bottom there are shallots, then garlic from China, then the small ones are Lao garlic. The teacher said Lao garlic was better, but it is more expensive. We started by making sticky rice.
The rice had been soaked overnight, so then you give it a little massage. That was really nice for your hands!
Then you drain it into the bamboo steamer and pour some water over so it steams nicely and then on the fire to cook. I did a good job of getting all the rice out of the bowl, but afterwards the teacher said how the remains are gifts for the spirits. Apparently I didn't leave them much...
Then it was on to our jeow's - spicy pastes or dips that you eat with the sicky rice. We could choose to make either tomato or eggplant so we made one of each. I made the eggplant one. They don't use ovens in Lao - they just don't have them. They might have a hot plate at a restaurant, at least the ones we have seen, but the people just use things like the above where they cook everything over the fire. And that is how we cooked everything. Roast your eggplant or tomatoes, shallots, peppers, and garlic on the fire until they are a bit charred. Yum!
Then mash them in the mortal and pestle with all of your fresh herbs and oh it was super tasty. Mine was pretty spicy which I actually really liked. Before I would have said I don't like super spicy, but after this trip I realized I can handle more spice than Raymond now! Crazy! But so good.
We also made banana leaf parcels with mushrooms instead of fish. Again mash all the herbs in the mortar and pestle then add the mushrooms and wrap in banana leaves and put in the steamer over the fire.
Then stuffed lemongrass! At first I was just like how in the world is that going to work? Lemongrass is not very thick, but you just cut some holes in the bottom and it makes this cradle for all the goodness you put inside. Ours were potato and herbs - the ones above are pre-fried. They will get coated with a starch mixture and fried in oil. So good, looks really difficult, but not very hard to make.
And last up for our lunch was tofu laab. Oh so tasty! You cook the tofu briefly, not very long on the fire, then add in a bunch of fresh flavorings. The teacher had shown us how to cut a lime so you could easily squeeze out the juice and not get any seeds. You cut it into three sections, but don't detach them completely. When we were going over the laab recipe he said you could put as much or as little lime in as you want. Maybe you only want the juice from one section, maybe you want the whole thing. So of course I went with the whole lime as lime is tatsy and he was walking around and saw that and was just like oh! You don't have to put that much in! I was just like but it is so good!! And it came out delicious.
The food I made
It was so much food as you are supposed to just eat everything with sticky rice. Except the lemongrass. That you just pick up and eat. But everything else you should make a little ball of sticky rice then use that to pick up the food. We ate lunch sitting across from a couple from Hawaii and a Swiss couple, some girls from the Netherlands, and some from the Philippines. They were all very nice and we had fun discussing our travels so far and other places in the world everyone loved to visit. The couple from Hawaii actually was on the train into Lao at the beginning of our trip so they had been traveling just as long as we had. The guy from Hawaii did say once how everything was cheap there except beer. Like beer was so expensive, which I didn't really get. It was only maybe €1 for a bottle. Even at the cooking class, where things were much more expensive, a giant beer wasn't more than €3...He was saying that they were buying vodka and fruit smoothies and mixing them together. I was just like a smoothie is like the same price as beer so that can't be cheaper...it was odd. Once we were all full they told us we still had dessert to make!
Which was sticky rice with fruits. The top photo is cooking the purple sticky rice and fresh coconut milk (mixed coconut with hot water and squeezed until milky then strained the coconut out) over the fire with a little sugar. Then add whatever toppings you want. There were bananas, papaya (I didn't have of course), fresh tamarind which is oh so good, rambutan (the one in the crazy half shell) and two types of longon. There were bigger ones that we saw being sold all over, but they look like little potatoes on a stick so I was glad to learn what they actually were. Prior to this I was just like why would I want to buy so many small potatoes?? The peeled one is the bigger one right next to the spoon and was really good. It was in sections like citrus and super yum, the smaller one behind it is the smaller one and not as good. There is a big pit in the center for one thing and it was just not as tasty.
After eating all our food it was back to town to get our bus ticket for the next day and hang out in our room for a little bit until close to sunset.
Once it got close to sunset we walked up Mt Phousi to watch the sunset. It's not that high, but the highest place around so you can look out over the whole city. There were a lot of people up there, it is quite popular, but it was gorgeous with really nice views. I imagine in prime tourist season it is just packed with people. So now the rest of the photos are from the way up and the beautiful sunset.
And a last wander through the night market on the way to get some dinner. That was it for Luang Prabang. We could have used an extra day just to do the last little bits of things, like explore the other side of the river, but three days was enough to do everything we really wanted to. If you ever go definitely take a cooking class. It was probably my second favorite day of the whole trip. It is not that expensive, you get to make and eat tons of tasty food, explore the market, and come home with a cookbook of recipes. Next up my favorite stop of the trip - Nong Khiaw!