Figuring we would continue our streak of learning to cook different types of cuisine in Southeast Asia, we booked a class in Luang Prabang. Many people – locals and friends who’ve visited alike – recommended we go to Tamarind for dinner, so when we saw they offered a cooking class we knew it must be great.
We booked the night class and met at the restaurant at four o’clock where a tuk tuk picked us up and drove us about twenty minutes out of town to the facility where the class was held. It was set about one hundred yards back on a dirt road in the middle of the jungle – picturesque!
The class was fast-pased, fun, and interesting. Our instructor, Sit, began the class by telling us about three tiny bowls of spices at each cooking station. One was salt, one chicken salt powder, and one was MSG. “It’s like opium in Laos,” he said, “we cannot stop.” The MSG was optional – we left it out and thought the food was fantastic.
Out of the three classes we’ve taken so far, this one had the best setting. Down a flight of stairs deep in the jungle, the pavilion we cooked under was surrounded by palm trees, a lily pond, and a rushing waterfall. It was magical! Unfortunately we were only really able to enjoy the views for the first hour of the class until the sun set, but we appreciated the sound of the waterfall throughout the night.
Another thing that set this class apart from the others was the manor in which our instructor gave us directions for prep and cooking. Instead of performing each step alongside us, he front loaded all the instructions at the very beginning and then told us to go ahead and do what he had explained. Some of the dishes were incredibly complex: wrapping fish in a banana leaf tied with bamboo! lemongrass stuffed with chicken! Alas, with the help of each other we figured it all out.
Lastly, one of the most unique aspects about the class was that we cooked over an open fire. We watched as our instructor magically arranged the coals under our food in order to ensure they were cooked just right. It was very hot, but fascinating to see how our meals progressed on the fire and to taste the chargrilled vegetables and meats afterward.
Here are some of the dishes we enjoyed:
- Jeow – Similar to sambal in Balinese cooking, Jeow is the fundamental Lao dipping sauce. It’s made using red or green chilis (or both for a little extra spice!), either eggplant or tomato, shallots, and a pinch of salt. Jeff loved it so much and says he’s going to make it “all the time” at home!
- Sticky Rice – Simple yet delightful. It is steamed in a bamboo basket over the fire, served in individual cylindrical baskets, and eaten by hand in little balls. Most Lao dishes were designed to accompany sticky rice, so it’s something we ate almost every day while in the country.
- Mok Pa – Fresh fish from the Mekong river marinated in a mixture of shallots, dill, lemongrass, kaffir lime leaf, red chili, and basil leaves. After marinating it is wrapped in a large banana leaf that is tied together with bamboo sticks and placed over the open fire. Possibly the best seafood we’ve had in our travels.
- Lemongrass Stuffed Chicken – This was such a uniquely prepared dish. We used pounded chicken that we mixed with shallots, lime, coriander, and a bit of salt. We then sliced the stock of lemongrass very precisely to create an opening to stuff the chicken inside.
- Black Rice Pudding with Coconut Milk – Dessert! I never thought I’d like rice for dessert, but this is surprisingly sweet and satisfying. We placed fruit on top for added flavors.
Before coming to Laos we didn’t know anything about the food and we certainly had never eaten it. Now we love it! Like always, we hope to recreate these meals at home and reminisce about our time in this lovely country.