An Afternoon of Lao Cuisine
September 9, 2018
Full and Fulfilled After An Afternoon of Lao Cuisine
A couple of months ago, I went to a “Women In Travel” conference in Irvine, California and met many incredible travel bloggers, vloggers, entreprenuers, and business women. During the opening presentation, I met Darlene who is a travel blogger at International Cuisine. I was immediately blown away when she told me that each week, she prepares a multi-course meal (we are talking like 7 or 8 courses) and then has what most people would consider a feast while educating her guests and readers on the history and culture of the country. Her goal is “to promote cultural appreciation by cooking [her] way across the world, one nation at a time.” Here’s the thing. Darlene doesn’t just cook a meal for a few select countries; she is creating an international cuisine feast for every country in the world and going alphabetically! Darlene graciously invited Megan from Hello MeganO and me to her home to experience Lao cuisine as she is currently on the “L” countries.
When we arrived, there was a table completely covered with all sorts of delicious food items that took days to prepare. Darlene had the below menu displayed so that we could see what we would be eating. I have never been to Asia and although I love my “Americanized” Chinese and Thai food restaurants here in Los Angeles, I really had no idea what to expect.
We sat on the floor to have more of an authentic dining experience, and Darlene explained what each of the food items on the table were as well as some culinary practices and history of Lao food. Sticky rice is the staple food in Lao culture, and surprisingly contains no gluten! Furthermore, sticky rice apparently takes longer to digest than regular rice giving you more energy and subsequently keeps you fuller for a longer period of time. I was shocked to learn that Buddhist monks in Laos typically only eat one meal a day, and sticky rice keeps them adequately full throughout the day. Considering that Buddhism is such a peaceful religion, I’m very impressed that the monks only eat one meal a day and don’t get hangry! Sticky rice is also not eaten with a fork or chopsticks. Darlene told us to grab a handful and roll it into a small ball and dip it into the eggplant dip and fried chili paste. And that’s the typical way you begin the Laotian meal!
After the “appetizer,” Darlene brought our attention to the coconut noodle soup in front of us. I had imagined that this was perhaps a light second course; however, you are supposed to add meat and vegetables to the soup to create a main course. There was shredded chicken, lemongrass, limes, and other fresh greens that could be added to the soup to create a full meal.
This would have been more than enough food, but as you can see from the menu, the food kept on coming! Darlene also made a minced beef salad, grilled chicken, and a spicy green papaya salad. Speaking of spicy, I have to say I was quite surprised at just how much flavor and spice all of the items contained. The blend of flavors, another key component of Lao cuisine, is incredibly evident in these three dishes.
After the meal, Darlene led us in a discussion about the history and culture of Laos. Darlene’s attention to detail was incredible as she showed us the Buddha and bamboo she had laid out on the table as well. Most Laotians are Buddhist, leading a simple life in which they create most of their belongings from bamboo. The conversation then turned a bit heavy as we focused on the years since the Vietnam War and the incredibly large amount of undetonated ordenances (UXO’s) that plague the region. Even though there are many initiatives to help remove the UXOs from the land in Laos, there are so many that it unfortunately is not a problem that will most likely be resolved in our lifetime.
We eventually headed outside to take a look at Darlene’s garden. Since she lives in a remote area, she has built an enormously elaborate and large garden in her backyard to grow many of the ingredients she uses in her international cuisine. I was struck by the beauty of the fresh produce in her garden.
Heading back inside, we were able to see the true magic happen as Darlene deep fried the lemongrass chicken in the fryer. This was actually my favorite dish of the day as the chicken was delicately stuffed into the lemongrass stalks which created what looked like a weaving basket made from bamboo. The lemongrass chicken was served with peanut sauce which complemented each other perfectly! After some mandatory travel talk (we are travel bloggers after all), it was time to say goodbye. Of course, we did not leave empty handed as we were given tons of leftovers and our own bamboo for good luck.
If you have any interest in food or travel whatsoever (I mean realistically who doesn’t right?), you should definitely check out International Cuisine! Darlene has all of her recipes for every country in the world she has done so far as well as the history of the country and an overview of the meal consumption. Thank you so much Darlene and Dan for a wonderful meal!
Have you had Lao cuisine before? Did you like it? How does Lao cuisine differ from other Southeast Asian countries? Please share in the comments below!
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