Luang Prabang, an UNESCO World Heritage Site, wants to be a sleepy mountain town. As of 2019 it had a population just under 50,000. While 2,00,000 people visited it in 2009, 4,00,000 visited it in 2018. We spent six days here to try to get an appreciation for Laos.
I heard about a study where Laotion people were identified as having one of the most diverse languages when it comes to describing taste and smell (click here). It follows that their cooking and flavors would be more complex.
We like to cook and peruse local markets. The market here had a different feel from the other markets we’d been to. There was a variety of vegetables, fruits, and meats. All of these were laid out nicely on tarps or mats on the ground. The pathways were narrow. Being such a small community there were more friendly local interactions, friendly bartering, and helping each other out. (We saw some of this in the Old Market in Siem Reap as well). We liked the open air feel, and I’m sure the lower temperatures and humidity helped.
We saw exotic foods that we had seen before like meal worms, snails, fish flopping around on the ground indicating freshness, cooked rats, and frogs being skinned alive. There were also things that we had never seen before: bats (fresh, skinned, and cooked), dead yellow songbirds, red-hipped squirrels, owls, coucals, caged birds, and some moving things in a basket that looked like cocoons. It was hard not to stare.
|This is a juvenile coucal. In Vietnam, our homestay host told me that locals believed that crushing baby coucal bones into soup cures a variety of ailments. It appeared that belief was shared across the border.|
|I didn’t know which type of moth or butterfly these cocoons were from, but both are great pollinators of flowers and fruit plants.|
|It’s hard to believe but I’m pretty sure this owl was for sale for eating. I came across this article about rodent infestation in Laos, hunger, and a Laotion penchant for eating owls. One of its points was to try to convince Laotion people to stop eating owls so more owls could eat more rodents. (Click Here)|
|Bats. It certainly made me wonder what was in the secret sauce! I saw an old lady buy 10 of these bats. I wonder if she knew that these bats help eat mosquitoes that spread Dengue and Malaria?|
|A long isle of greens, homemade meals in steel bowls, and rice awaited us every morning.|
|Freshly caught fish and meat were also widely available. Note the use of banana leaves. Fish guts would flow on the street, washed in center drain, then down back into the river.|
The night market was fantastic. Similar to night markets across Asia, plenty of food accommodated Westerners ranging from smoothies, fruit drinks, and fried food.
When talking to a French person who had been working in Southeast Asia for 14 years he said: “The food used to be good and healthy over here. Now there is too much fried food. And they add sugar to everything. It is you, the Americans who are to blame for this. They are accommodating you.” I can not speak for the past, but every fruit drink I ordered, I had to ask them not to add cane juice or sugar. Also deep fried everything was readily available at every corner. I especially liked the coconut powder added to the fruit drinks.
However a rich assortment of local barbecued, stewed, stir fried, and soupedified delicacies were also available. There was even quite a few vegan eateries along the way. Needless to say, we all ate well!