Adventurous eating in Laos…or not

It wasn’t an auspicious start to my eating adventures in Laos when my guide, Po, brought up dogs. “Tourist always ask me,” he mentioned in passing, “do you eat dogs?” I didn’t really want to know the answer to this. “Of course we don’t eat our dogs…..we eat our neighbours’!” He laughed heartily at his joke while I chuckled uneasily. I’ve eaten a lot of weird stuff on my travels but I am definitely not up for eating a dog. We passed a rather mangy looking dog begging for food, which prompted me to comment that at least this dog wouldn’t be eaten any time soon. “Oh no,” said Po, “we don’t eat the fat ones, too greasy and oily”. I didn’t want to think about it at all.

Po is from the Hmong ethnic group, who have a strong belief in the supernatural and spiritual beings. He went on to tell me a rather complicated story I didn’t entirely understand about his father, whose spirit was taken from him many years ago when Po was a young boy, and now his father’s spirit lives on in a dog. The crux of this was that Po doesn’t eat dog because they are his good spirit guides and friends. I didn’t understand his story, but was obviously very relieved to hear that dogs were safe around him. I am also confident that no dog passed my lips in Laos.

I was lucky to have meals at a couple of Luang Prabang’s best restaurants and got to sample the non-dog local offerings. At the excellent Tamarind restaurant I started with bamboo soup, which didn’t sound that good and to be honest didn’t look much better when it arrived. A thick, green sludgy soup, it was highly flavoured with herbs, and had lots of vegetables and presumably bamboo, an was very tasty. I also had a tasting platter of a number of different Laotian dishes – fragrant lemongrass stuffed with chicken, buffalo leather (kind of like a meat jerky, but sweeter), riverweed (dried, like a thin flatbread and surprisingly tasty), a flavoursome pork sausage, and some side dishes of eggplant dip, tomato dip and chili paste. All was accompanied by sticky rice, which is balled up in your fingers and then flavours are added.

One night I had dinner at the Blue Lagoon, which curiously offered both Laos style and Swiss dishes. I wasn’t feeling very adventurous, so did not linger on the insect menu, which included ant sacs, crickets and grasshoppers. Apparently these are common in the Laotian diet, along with the tasty little worm (well that’s Po’s opinion not mine) that lives in the bamboo shoot. I passed on them all and stuck with a tried and true chicken and vegetable curry, which was delicious.
Another night I ate at Sonphao Restaurant, where I had another tasting sampler of local food. Starting with Hmong style vegetable soup, which was absolutely delicious, we also had laap chicken (minced chicken, fresh herb and squeezed lime), fried vegetable spring rolls, stir fry Laos bean and mushroom, stir fry bamboo and bean vermicelli noodle, and if all that weren’t enough more stuffed lemongrass but this time with pork. To my surprise dinner came with a show – five traditional Laotian dances, which I really enjoyed.

I also found a coffee shop, Saffron, which Po had recommended. The coffee was grown near Po’s childhood village, and was started a few years ago as a replacement to the traditional opium crop. The coffee is excellent, so they are definitely doing something right.

Walking through the markets is always a great way to get a sense of local food, and Luang Prabang was no exception. Loads of vegetables, herbs, rice of all descriptions, both fresh and dried fish, plus a fresh meat section. I sampled a delicious little pancake type dish made from rice and coconut and sweetened with what I guess is some honey. It seems that was as adventurous as I was going to get. But no dogs were harmed in the writing of this blog!

Luang Prabang

Bamboo soup – tastes better than it looks!

Luang Prabang

Tasting platter at Tamarind

Luang Prabang

Markets in Luang Prabang

Luang Prabang

Traditional dancers

Luang Prabang

Traditional dancers

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