A blog about food in Thailand
and elsewhere.


Monthly Archives: March 2010



Beerlao

Posted at 3am on 3/5/10 | read on
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 Beerlao, Vientiane, Laos

Recently Global Post Thailand Correspondent Patrick Winn and I got the chance to visit the headquarters of the Lao Brewery Company (LBC), the brewers of Beerlao. For those not familiar with the brew, Beerlao is figuratively and literally the beer in Laos, commanding a staggering 99% market share. It’s often also generally considered the best beer in Southeast Asia; a lot like saying Chateau de Loei is the best winery in Thailand, although I must say that the brand’s Beerlao Dark is an unusual lager and a tasty beer by any standards.

The LBC brewery is located 12km from Vientiane at Tha Duea, and on weekdays from 10am onwards offers free brewery tours and tastings. So following a brief circuit of the brewery, and not long after breakfast, Patrick and I found ourselves conducting the following ‘research’:

Tasting beer inside the Beerlao factory outside Vientiane, Laos

Much of the rest of the day is a blur, so here follow some random facts about Beerlao and the Lao Brewery Company (LBC):

-The Lao Brewery Company dates back to 1973 and was originally a joint effort between French businessmen and the Lao government

Inside the Beerlao factory outside Vientiane, Laos
Inside the Lao Brewery Company, Vientiane, Laos

-After ‘liberation’ in 1975, the Lao Brewery Company was taken over by the government, which today retains half (the other half is owned by Denmark’s Carlsberg)

At the Lao Brewing Company outside Vientiane, Laos.
At the Lao Brewery Company outside Vientiane, Laos

-In 2008 the Lao Brewery Company produced 210 million litres of beer in its two breweries in Vientiane and Pakse

Inside the Beerlao factory outside Vientiane, Laos
Inside the Lao Brewery Company, Vientiane, Laos

-Beerlao is presently available in 10 countries around the world (although paradoxically it’s still relatively hard to find in Thailand)

Inside the Beerlao factory outside Vientiane, Laos
Inside the Lao Brewery Company, Vientiane, Laos

-Beerlao’s current brewmaster, Sivilay Lasachack, studied brewing in the then Czech Republic

Beerlao, Vientiane, Laos
Glasses of Beerlao at a restaurant in Vientiane, Laos

-Of the malt used to produce Beerlao, 70% is barley from Belgium and the remaining 30% is rice from Laos

At the Beerlao factory outside Vientiane, Laos
At the Lao Brewery Company, located outside Vientiane, Laos

-In 2009 the Lao Brewery Company introduced Beerlao Gold (pictured at the top of this post), using ‘sapphire aroma hops’ from Germany

Read more about Beerlao in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal and NPR.

Han Khay Laap T2

Posted at 2am on 3/8/10 | read on
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 A dish of laap gnua, beef laap, at Han Khay Laap T2, a restaurant in Vientiane, Laos

After two weeks in Vientiane I have to admit that I’ve found relatively little in the way of Lao food worth sharing. I’ve encountered one exceptionally good Lao restaurant, a decent phở’ stall and a pretty solid night market, all of which I’ll blog about soon, but for the most part I get the impression that the vast majority of people here appear eat dinner at home, and when eating out, require little more a bit of grilled meat and Beerlao. This is unfortunate for visitors, as Lao food really can be good, but I imagine that much of what people manage to eat here is either gentrified for foreigners, or as is more often the case, just kinda crappy.

In voicing my thoughts to some local foodies, I was pointed in the direction of a laap restaurant near Vientiane’s northern bus terminal. I cycled out there this morning and amazingly found the place, which even more amazingly, considering that today was Lao Women’s Day (congratulations, Lao women), was open.

The proprietors of Han Khay Laap T2 (disappointingly, a reference to the name of the road the restaurant’s located on, not the Hollywood film) are friendly and even appear to speak a bit of English. The place specialises in beef dishes, in particular laap, which is prepared raw, par-boiled (shown at the top of this post) or fried, but also do a few other dishes including foe (Lao-style phở’), grilled beef (tongue, heart and teats), tom kheuang nai ngua (a thick broth with beef innards), koy paa (similar to laap, but made with big chunks of freshwater fish) and kaeng som paa, a tom yam-like soup with fish from the Mekong:

A dish of kaeng som paa, a sour fish soup, at Han Khay Laap T2, a restaurant in Vientiane, Laos

The laap was an excellent example of the Lao-school of the dish – tart, meaty, crunchy (from roasted and ground sticky rice) and herbal – and unlike most places, the obligatory veggies that accompany it weren’t wilted and even appear to have been washed. The restaurant also succeeded, somewhat, in alleviating my pessimism about finding good Lao food here, and made me realise that I just have to ask the right people.

Han Khay Laap T2
Thanon T2 (Located roughly across from Khounxai Hotel)
020 551 349
8am-3pm Mon-Sat


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The Traditional Recipes of Laos

Posted at 2am on 3/10/10 | read on
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The Traditional Recipes of Laos, written by Phia Sing and edited by Alan Davidson

Not from me of course, but from Phia Sing, a former royal cook in the palace of Luang Prabang. The 115 recipes, originally written on notebook paper by Phia Sing, and later compiled and edited by former British diplomat, Alan Davidson, comprise what must be the most fascinating cook book I’ve ever encountered. Fascinating not only for the scope of obscure and delicious-sounding recipes (many of which were palace recipes and involve intriguing ingredients such as freshwater stingray, fish egg membrane and deer), but also for the vibrant and entertaining writing (Davidson also wrote the Oxford Companion to Food), Davidson’s interesting background on Lao food culture and ingredients, not to mention the context in which the recipes were obtained (Davidson was ambassador to Laos from 1973-75 and explains that he was probably the last Westerner to meet with the final king of Laos, King Sisavang Vong, who personally lent him Phia Sing’s hand-written recipes).

Lending the book a fairy-tale air is the fact that it was allegedly Phia Sing’s dying wish that his recipes be published. This mood is also evident in the endearingly anachronistic way Phia Sing describes measurements, examples of which include minced pork ‘the size of a hen’s egg’ and fish ‘the size of a man’s hand’. Some of Phia Sing’s recipes can be seen online here. I’m particularly keen to try the jaew bong (a chili paste associated with Luang Prabang) and the khoua sin fahn, a seemingly rendang-like dish of deer braised in coconut and a curry paste.

Highly recommended. If you’re not in Laos, the book can be purchased here.

Vientiane, February 28, 2010

Posted at 3am on 3/10/10 | read on
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Praying at Wat Si Muang, Vientiane, Laos
Praying at Wat Si Muang, Vientiane, Laos

Vientiane, February 28, 2010

Posted at 10pm on 3/11/10 | read on
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Boy near Pha That Luang, Vientiane, Laos
Boy near Pha That Luang, Vientiane, Laos

Another pic from earlier the same day.

Phở Dung

Posted at 1am on 3/17/10 | read on
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 A bowl of beef phở at Phở Dung, a restaurant in Vientiane, Laos

Phở, Vietnamese-style rice noodle soup, is probably the most popular noodle dish in Laos, but a few things set it apart from the dish of its origins. Firstly, the noodles used in Lao phở generally aren’t very high quality, and tend to be somewhat coarse and pasty. And Lao phở broth often lacks the deep meatiness of its Vietnamese counterpart (I suspect they attempt to remedy this by adding heaps of MSG). But I reckon the thing that makes Lao phở most different than the Vietnamese style is the number of condiments:

Condiments at Phở Dung, a restaurant in Vientiane, Laos

Which, contrary to the other differences, is not necessarily a bad thing. Eating phở in Laos you really get the chance to customise your bowl with a seemingly endless variety of bottled condiments, and I love getting a stack of fresh herbs, not necessarily even to put in my phở, but simply to munch on.

Thus, unless you’re a phở purist, you’ll most likely enjoy Phở Dung, probably the most popular phở restaurant in central Vientiane. The noodles are OK, as is the broth (the meat slightly less so), but the condiments, which include heaps of fresh herbs and veggies, fish sauce, soy sauce, pickled eggplants, a slightly sweet peanut-like sauce, chili sauce, sugar, MSG, and more, just about make up for its other faults.

Phở Dung
158 Th Heng Boun
021 213 775
6am-2pm


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Vientiane, February 28, 2010

Posted at 1am on 3/17/10 | read on
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Selling CDs near Pha That Luang, Vientiane, Laos
Selling CDs near Pha That Luang, Vientiane, Laos

Vang Vieng, March 15, 2010

Posted at 6am on 3/18/10 | read on
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Fishing on the Nam Song, Vang Vieng, Laos
Fishing on the Nam Song, Vang Vieng, Laos

If he was fishing for assholes, he’d be a rich man.

The price of a meal

Posted at 7am on 3/18/10 | read on
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Jungle animals for sale at a roadside market in Pha Hom, north of Vang Vieng, Laos

Driving along Rte 13 about 25km north of Vang Vieng, I passed by this roadside market, bordered by a stream and shaded by tall limestone cliffs:

A roadside market selling jungle animals, Pha Hom, north of Vang Vieng, Laos

I learned later that the area is known as Pha Hom, ‘Fragrant Cliff’, but ironically there was a foul smell when I passed through and I continued without stopping.

On the way back, a fluffy silver tail caught my eye and I stopped to investigate.

Jungle animals for sale at a roadside market in Pha Hom, north of Vang Vieng, Laos

A closer look revealed that Pha Hom was clearly the home of a market specialising in ahaan paa, ‘jungle food’.

Jungle animals for sale at a roadside market in Pha Hom, north of Vang Vieng, Laos

There were at least 20 stalls, and in addition to the large mammals, most of which I couldn’t identify, and the organs and bones thereof, there were birds (both dead and alive), crabs, insects, frogs and snakes.

The vendors clearly didn’t want photos taken:

Jungle animals for sale at a roadside market in Pha Hom, north of Vang Vieng, Laos

But I played stupid and continued to snap away until a middle-aged woman told me to stop. Our conversation (me speaking Thai, her Lao) went like this:

No pictures!
Why not?
Some foreigners took a video, put it online and we got in trouble for selling jungle animals.
What’s wrong with selling jungle animals?
Well, if we sell them, they’ll all disappear.
Then why do you keep selling them?
We need to earn money.

This conversation took place less than 30km from one of Laos’s largest tourist destinations, which also happens to be both a fertile valley and a busy travel crossroads; I’m pretty sure there’s other work to be done, but maybe there’s not, and anyway, who am I to tell her what’s right and wrong?

But this wasn’t all. The very drive to Pha Hom had taken me through landscapes like this:

Burnt fields and smoke near Kasi District, Laos

and this:

Burnt fields and smoke near Kasi District, Laos

I’d been through this area in July 2008 and the contrast of the sharp gray limestone mountains, occasional stands of dark forest and emerald green fields made it one of the prettiest places I’d seen in Southeast Asia. Now, at the height of the dry season, the farmers were burning their fields to prepare them for planting, and the hillsides were either deforested or black, huge fires burned, seemingly uncontrolled, at the roadside, and one could barely see the mountains in the distance due to the smoke. I imagined that the countryside probably didn’t look much different than when it was carpet-bombed by the Americans in the ’60s and ’70s.

Obviously people in Laos need to eat, but it’s depressing to witness the direct and savage impact this need has. At about 5 million people, the population of Laos is relatively small, yet the Lao seem to have an inversely large impact on their environment. This is surely helped by the fact that Laos’s neighbours are virtually free to pluck what they need from the country, whether it be logs, animals or hydropower (at present more than 30 hydropower projects were either being built or were in the advanced stages of planning in Laos, eight of which would dam the Mekong mainstream). If things continue this way, the Lao will certainly get their meal, but stand perilously close to losing their country.

Sam Euay Nong

Posted at 1am on 3/20/10 | read on
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 Naem khao at Sam Euay Nong, a restaurant in Vientiane, Laos

Sam Euay Nong (‘Three Sisters’) is a cheery, tidy family-run place in central Vientiane. They do a handful of simple Lao/Vietnamese dishes, ranging from tam mak hung, Lao-style papaya salad, to khao poon nam jaew, thin rice noodles in broth with pork and bamboo, all of which are full of flavour and well executed, but my favourite dish of theirs is probably naem khao.

The dish, shown above, is an unusual combination of deep-fried balls of rice and sour pork skin/meat, the former shown at the bottom of the pic below, and the latter, wrapped in banana leaf, at the top:

Ingredients for naem khao at Sam Euay Nong, a restaurant in Vientiane, Laos

The rice and pork are mashed together with seasonings including fish sauce, lime juice, MSG, sugar and peanuts, and served with a platter of greens and herbs. The greens are very Lao, and include butter lettuce (very popular here) cilantro, an unidentified sour leaf, banana flower and phak hom laap, an herb that, to my mind, combines the flavours of both mint and Thai basil. Wrapping the rice mixture in a lettuce leaf along with the herbs and a bit of chili, you get a bit of everything: meat, crunch, spice, salt and greens. Brilliant.

Han Sam Euay Nong
Th Chao Anou (next door to Lao Orchid Hotel)
8am-8pm


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