Getting a ‘good’ (in the taste of the consumer of course) coffee is quite an adventure. Whilst in Vientiane I regularly went on missions to get myself a ‘café Lao’ – now you would think that whilst in Lao, do as the Laotians do – well every time I asked for one it seemed they would look at me in confusion, usually say no, and no, we don’t know where you can get one. Even places that proudly had their “coffee” signs displayed.
I thought I’d hit a jackpot when I asked this man, and he nodded, and proceeded to offer me a seat and make me a coffee in the ‘traditional’ way. I would ask for ‘café dam, bo namtarn’ – black coffee – no sugar. *I also found later that ‘no sugar’ meant nothing, I need to say bo sai namtarn – no take sugar – for it to make sense* Now what he made me was certainly drinkable, but I was starting to wonder if my stomach would ever settle, and had to wonder about the ‘quality’ of the coffee he was serving. But I did enjoy the ‘tea chaser’ a refresher served with every cup of coffee.
My also newly arrived friends were looking for ‘real coffee’, like back home so we had some enjoyable but rather pricy cups of decent coffee at a few of the better establishments. Once we arrived in Savannakhet we had to renew the search. After a while I wasn’t craving it any more anyway, so I often stop by a little place near my work for a morning café Lao, and even reverted to agreeing to a dollop of sweetened condensed milk at the bottom – I actually needed a bit of a sugar fix at the start of the day. So that is now my regular and I get to meet all sorts of interesting people – usually blokes who are sitting around, usually drinking tea, but always agree to me sitting with them at the table.
Our little ‘Avalon Café’ close by also now knows how we like our coffee (hot!) and treat us well, if with a bit of bemusement after we had a few of our Lao language lessons in there.
Of course coffee is but a small part of our culinary experiences. I’ve also fully briefed (and will continue to do so) any reader of my predilection for local beers, in this case ‘Beer Lao’. Taken to buying it by the crate load now that I have my own house and fridge to keep them in (12 bottles for 95,000 kip – $AUD15.70 – compared to the ‘normal’ price of 10,000 kip – $1.65 – per bottle from just about any random store). Very happy with my Beer Lao – as most local people are getting to know.
In Vientiane our hotel was very close to a fruit stall that served freshly cut ripe fruit.
Once in Savannakhet, we discovered that it was actually hard to find ripe (souk) fruit, especially cut up and ready to eat. But the market is great and there are many choices of fresh produce available. I tend to avoid the meat section and have never bought any – the closest I get is a tin of tuna. Any meat dishes I save for going out – or the occasional nibble at a party or event. But I do
love my fresh produce – oh the biggest juiciest
avocados and limes are heavenly! Tomatoes and cucumbers are a hit, and a variety of greens and different types of fruits and vegetables.
Often, my Lao work colleagues share their lunch with me. They find my tastes pretty amusing, and my horror at some of their dishes. I will try anything, but I won’t pretend to like it! The fish was a winner, the frog and bamboo (image – thanks BouaKham) was not! Sticky rice (the Lao specialty) rolled up with fingers and a bit of whatever is going is the regular offering.
Had a meal out with Bob (I’ve had many meals out with Bob…) at the ‘White House’ – so named because it is, well, White! And clean white is pretty rare around here – an upmarket establishment sure but we have to try them all out! Felt like a great place to drink Gin and Tonics on the terrace but it was lunch time so we made do with delicious icy cold fruit smoothies (no sugar added!). We had a delectable salad with salmon, bacon, egg and greens, and a fabulous pizza – the best part being the buffalo milk mozzarella – delicious!