People travel for many reasons. While some travel for the tranquil and relaxing experience, others travel for the luxury of leaving all their beliefs and certainties at home and seeing everything you thought you knew in a different light and from a crooked angle. In that regard, Laos is a country that gives us many rewards from not only the incredible Laos cuisine in our last blog, but also new interesting and sometimes ewww dishes.
1 Pepper Wood
In northern Laos, they use a specific type of wood as an ingredient in soups, which is called “pepper wood” in English. The wood is cut into small cubes roughly 1 square centimeter and cooked in the soup. Not only does the wood enhance the soup with a piquant flavor somewhere in between black pepper and cinnamon, but the bark actually softens to the point that you can chew and eat it. In fact, it has a pleasing flavor – though it briefly numbs your mouth and causes a tingling sensation. The center of the wood is too hard to eat though, and you can spit it out.
2 Giant Water Beetle
Almost foreigners freak out when they see the green papaya salad are served with friend giant water beetle on top in any Laos restaurant. The water beetle had a crunchy toughness that no amount of chewing broke down. Its shell has too tough and chitinious shell that people have to eventually just swallow with some water, having never felt like it was chewed enough. As regard flavor, it not really good or bad, but you will be overwhelmed by the amount of chewing necessary.
3 Silk worm poo tea
This one is clearly tea – how strange can tea be? You may sample this tea at an artisanal cloth making shop in Luang Prabang called Ock Pop Tok Living Craft center. They have a small amount of silk worms which they use to make their own silk and they actually harvest the worm excrement and use it to make tea. They call it silk worm poo tea. The flavor was very mild and pleasantly earthy.
4 Frog meat
When visiting the capital of Vientiane, you should take chance to have dinner with a fried mixed vegetable with frog meat and an omelet prepared with ant larvae. Frog meat tastes almost identical to chicken, but it has an enormous number of bones that require spitting out, which is really a huge hassle. A hypothetical “de-boned frog would be quite nice but the hassle of bones doesn’t justify the small amount of meat if you’re eating solely for pleasure.
5 Ant larvae
The eggs are tiny and embedded in the omelet. The flavor of the ant larvae is too mild to describe – Let’s say a very mild earthy flavor. They gave a pleasant pop when chewed. They went well with the egg flavor, and you would happily add them to a variety of dishes if they were available at a reasonable price at home.
6 Water buffalo sausage
Admittedly, sausage in and of itself isn’t really that strange. It was the flavorings that made these sausages unique; they were strongly spiced with kaffir lime, lemongrass, and spicy chilies. Fried water buffalo skin was a dish offered in several restaurants in Laos. While the flavor of the meat was vaguely baconish, and the dipping sauce was tangy and spicy, the meat itself was as tough as tire rubber. You had to let the meat soak in the saliva in your mouth for a minute first and then slowly start chewing. Several minutes later the meat might be starting to loosen. Eventually, and if helped along by a big swig of water, you may be able to swallow the partially chewed meat.
7 Roasted bee larvae
In Luang Prabang, roasted chunks of bee hive are quite popular at the market. Have a closer look, you may notice that Laos vendors are not just selling roasted honey in the comb, they even sell freshly roasted hive with bee larvae in side. And how to eat bee larvae? The simplest method is just to break off a small piece and eat it, a bit like eating a Brownie, taking care to scoop up any larvae that may fall out.
Another method is to wrap pieces of the bees nest in banana leaves and roast them in an oven or on a BBQ, or put them in a steamer. The banana leaves will make the bee larvae aromatic and help stop them from drying out. Many people ask ‘what does it taste like’. The answer is a bit difficult as it doesn’t really taste of much, maybe it is like cow’s milk.
Padek is fermented fish. It is used in a lot of Lao food. Sometimes it is used just to add a little flavor to soup and sometimes it is the predominate ingredient to a dish. Once you have tasted and smelled Padek you will always be able to identify it.
Padek is enjoyed by all in Laos. It is made by taking whole fish from the river and mixing them with salt, garlic, rice husks and water. After mixing you place the ingredients in a jar. In the countryside this would likely be a clay jar with banana leaves tightly tied by vine around the tops. In the city it is now held in plastic and glass jars and bottles. You then leave the jar in the kitchen area for about 2 weeks. After 2 weeks it is then edible and sold at the markets. The Padek is good for about one year (as long as it is enclosed).
9 Lao Lao with Nok Kwuak (Lao bird moonshine)
Lao Lao is homemade rice whiskey or rice wine- basically it is moonshine. Lao Lao is another lovely, pungent fermented delight. When you head into a Lao Lao Whiskey village, you know it. You can’t escape the smell. And if you think the smell is harsh, wait until you taste it! It is like gasoline. It will deliver quite a punch and it only takes a few shots to not be able to walk straight.
10 Bamboo Worms
Once writing the word worm, you must automatically think slimy and gooey. Well, these worms happen to be crunchy and crispy (when fried). You can’t find them everywhere. In Laos you don’t see street vendors selling insects as snacks. They are found only in particular local spots and not all the time. That’s because someone has to go out and find them.
Bamboo worms are found in young bamboo stalks. You have to trek out into the forest to find them. You know that the bamboo is infested with theses worms if the stalk is brown at the top and not the normal green. You then cut the bamboo in half and collect the worms into a bag or basket. Then take them home to cook!
According to Laos, they are a great source of protein and are the tastiest when coupled with an ice-cold Beer Lao. It’s their equivalent to bar food, but much healthier! The worms are usually served fried with oil, lime leaves and chili. Do you get the courage to try all those dishes in our Laos tour packages?