The Traditional Recipes of Laos

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.