Food adventures in Laos… because they always are an adventure!

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.

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The most authentico!

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.

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Cafe Lao

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.

local-sttc-cafe

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I think that might be me! 

 

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.

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Not my house – under the table at Teacher’s Day!

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.

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Making do for breakfast!

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 dsc_0753meat 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.shopping5

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Yummy mango-steins!

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shopping1shopping7shopping6

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Often, dsc_0766my 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.dsc_00131

 

 

 

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Trying to reciprocate the sharing with my vegemite sandwiches – not a hit with locals or foreigners alike!

 

 

 

 

 

 

white-house

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!

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A #T1D Diabetic in Laos for a year

Diabetes is damned hard work and a persistent pain.  It can be hard enough moving to a new country, new language, new ways of understanding the world, and new food options, without the blood sugar levels (BSLs) going completely  and utterly crazy!

I managed to travel with no problems carrying a whole case of medications as hand luggage (+helmet, +laptop, +essentials).  The case was only checked once in Bangkok, by a very efficient airport official who checked through and opened some packets with her rubber gloved hands.  I had my explanatory letter ready and it really was no problem.

When I got to the hotel I filled the bar fridge with my insulin and other items needing refrigeration, and let the staff know not to turn the fridge power off.  Still living in (another) hotel I haven’t yet been able to properly unpack and consolidate my supplies so I still don’t really know what I’ll run out of – but as per my earlier post #T1D diabetic supplies for a year  I know I will.

So my blood sugar levels and insulin requirements have plummeted since arrival.  I try to surmise why this might be, and whether it is transient, or more longer term.  Some possible reasons:

  • Constant state of excitement and joy!
  • Low level but constant underlying stress
  • The heat and humidity
  • Food – eating less, and changes in diet
  • Beer Lao – insulin replacement therapy?
  • (Slightly) more exercise, exertion

Really though, it could be anything!  Hormones?  Body trying to cure itself?  …

So being on an insulin pump, where I have a constant set basal level of short acting insulin, onto which I would bolus a dose if I eat carbohydrates, or to correct a higher bsl, I have already lowered my basal (24hr dose) from 20 to 17 units of humalog, and hardly bolused at all, even when I do eat, because my bsl is already too low.

To cut a long story short, I need to constantly monitor my bsl using my meter and my precious supply of blood testing strips – of which I was only permitted to order 11 boxes from NDSS when I left Australia.  So the saga continues and I’m still pissed off about it – that my short and long term control over my health is hampered by my own country’s medical system that would not allow or assist me to get the supplies I needed before I left.  Again, still a work in progress … T1D and its persistent struggles …

 

Mihn Mihn – review

I said I’d give a review of the most accessible Lao restaurant for Eastern Suburbs – Minh Minh in Victoria St, Richmond.  Sandy is an incredible host and certainly is a great representative of her home region – Paske, in Laos.  She was very helpful in organising the night, and giving me a quick intro into how to prepare’sticky rice’ and a delicious salad – I got to go into the kitchen and have a go with the mortar and pestle (helpful for my planned lunch party coming up this Sunday), and somewhat reminiscent of my cooking class in Siem Reap, Cambodia.  Those flavour combinations are incredible!

When the food came, I don’t knominhminh photo2w whether it was the beer and/or the company, but I was overwhelmed by a constant supply of rather carelessly served delicious dishes and mostly I had no idea what was being served.  I felt for my friends with various food preferences – does this have meat?  MSG?   What is this one?  I have to say, a bit disappointing after the great welcome and introduction to Laos specialties, when it came, I only managed a few gulped mouthfuls of who knows what…  Not the relaxed and instructive serving I was hoping for, particularly as my party was the majority of clientele on the night.

We were served a banquet which was a good choice – but it would have been good to have been given more of an idea what to expect.  After the mains, a few of us were left waiting in vain for a non-existent dessert.

I don’t know why, but I was left with a surprising bill after a number of my wonderful friends and colleagues made a point of leaving extra $$ to cover my kids.  By that stage I was honestly not up to questioning it, and Sandy did say she’d given me a discount ‘for going to help people in my country’, but it seemed quite excessive and unexpected.

So I’d say yes, good food and service, but next time I’d be more wary about what was ordered and what I was eating/paying for.

Lao Food Collection

Looking online for a local restaurant serving Lao food to invite friends and family to before I go.  Most establishments seem to offer combinations of Vietnamese-Thai-Lao-Burma.  Salivating now…  Here are some excerpts (+source links) from what I found:

1.  Minh Minh

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Lao restaurant Richmond

https://www.zomato.com/melbourne/minh-minh-richmond

Google Map Directions

Mmmmm, yum – central, easy to get to, mostly good reviews, this is it!  … Stay tuned for review!

Minh Minh menu

https://www.zomato.com/melbourne/minh-minh-richmond/menu#

2.  LAOS  (foodie excerpt from Radio show transcript)

I don’t think I ate ANYTHING in Laos that I didn’t enjoy. The nicest surprise was the absence of oily, wet curries, and the much bigger emphasis on fresh, light, spicy salads or meat/seafood dishes; lashings of supremely fresh herbs, a huge array of vegetables, and a good variety of meats and fish.

Common dishes
Laap (Larb in Thailand): Minced chicken, pork, fish with onion, chilli, mint.
Papaya Salad – Always spicy, even when you ask for the mild version! Strips of green papaya, garlic, chili, peanuts, sugar, lime juice and more chili.
Pho – From Vietnam, that tasty broth with beef or pork, meatballs, thai basil, Sprouts, chilli – awesome for breakfast.

Sticky rice – that glutinous version served with almost every meal in Laos – be it salad, stirfry or soup. The idea is to take a couple of fingers full, roll it into a ball, and dip it into your dish to eat the two together.
My best meals in Laos:
Eggplant and fish with thai basil at Vilayvak restaurant in Vientiane – mushy and tangy and wonderful.
Breakfast Pork Pho at Kungs Café in a hidden little laneway in Vientiane.
Dried, fried beef with sesame seeds and spicy salsa at Spirit House by the Mekong River.

Where you can get it here:
YIM YAM – 12 Margaret Street Moonee Ponds   http://www.yimyam.com.au

A busy restaurant just off the buzzing Puckle Street, Yim Yam is an absolute gem. The highlight here is without a doubt the Yum – warm salads with bags of herbs, spices, vegies and texture.  The Goy Guy Chicken Salad is basically a laap, so a good one to try, but the stand out is the signature dish – Yum Yim Yam. Available with either Prawns or Tofu, it’s a dish full of strips of carrot, lettuce, red onion, spring onion, with toasted coconut and garlic and banana blossom. Absolute bliss.

Other good Laos staples to try include the spicy Laos sausage, Laos Beef Curry; and you can get sticky rice here. Importantly, Yim Yam offers unbelievable value for money, with most mains between $13 and $18. (Note: they have a sister restaurant in Ballarat Street Yarraville).

3.  Lao Food Blog

Lao food blog

 

http://www.foodfromnorthernlaos.com/

4. …National Dish of Laos – with live crabs!

Check out the complexities of preparing Laos food flavours – mmm, yum, I’d forgotten.

http://laosforums.com/viewtopic.php?f=14&t=229