Laos – Tamarind

After Cambodia, the next stop on my South East Asia adventure was the city Luang Prabang in Laos, a UNESCO world heritage site since 1995. The small city was filled with shimmering, golden Buddhist temples and home to many Buddhist monks. We climbed Mount Phosi to watch the sunset over the village and spent an afternoon swimming at the stunning Kuang Sii Waterfalls.

With temperatures easily reaching over 35 degrees in the afternoon, our tour guide planned our days to end at 2pm and pick up again at 5pm, avoiding the sun’s peak. Both The Hubby and I appreciated the mid-day break and usually retreated back to our air conditioned hotel room for a well deserved nap before heading out to explore the city during the much cooler evening hours.

Tourism in Laos is still a fairly young industry, with the country only opening up to tourists in 1989. The country is still recovering today from their turbulent history. Today, only 55,000 locals live in the area of Luang Prabang and many still in mountain villages. Of all the cities we visited, Laos felt the most peaceful and hadn’t yet been invaded by a deluge of tourist buses.

For dinner on our first night, we asked our hotel for a recommendation of local cuisine and was directed to Tamarind, just a short walk away. Really, everything in Luang Prabang was a short walk away from our centrally located hotel (Villa Santi Hotel Our concierge was able to make a reservation for us at the popular restaurant, which is often filled to capacity. Tables were available outside on the patio or inside where ceiling fans cooled the air. We opted for inside. The dining room was clean, furnished with sturdy wood furniture and decorated with photos of local ingredients and landscapes. We had no issues conversing with our server in English and asked lots of questions. Since this was our first meal in Laos, we didn’t really have an idea of what to order and relied heavily on our server’s’ recommendations.

We started with an order of Make Your Own Miang wraps, that came with fresh lettuce, noodles, nuts, garlic, lemongrass and sauces. All of the aromatics were super fragrant. One sauce was sweet and savoury while the other packed seriously heat. Each bite was refreshing and light with the raw ingredients. Although my tongue was burning, I kept building in spoonfuls of the addictive spicy dip in my wraps.

Our other small dish was the Luang Prabang Tasting Platter that was served with sticky rice. The platter came with 4 dishes, which were Khai Pene (dried river vegetable snacks), Jeow Bong (spicy sweet chilli paste with buffalo skin), Orlarm (stew with chicken, eggplant, chilli wood and local vegetables), Sai Oua (pork sausage) and Soop Pak (steamed local vegetables with sesame seeds and herbs). This was a great option to taste a variety of flavours.

I could not get enough of sticky rice in Laos. The steamed grains of rice were chewy but firm and had the perfect texture to soak up sauces. Generally, sticky rice is eaten with one’s hands and, being sticky, it was easy to pick up a ball without losing any grains. This quickly became my favourite part of every meal and I could easily eat a bowl by myself.

My favourite dish was the Barbecued Marinated Buffalo, Ping Sin Kwai. The meat was incredibly tender, savoury with a touch of acidity, well seasoned and had a hint of gaminess. This is a dish I would love to see imported to Toronto.

Dinner ended on a more adventurous note with a bowl of Aromatic Pork stew, which included cured fermented fish sauce (padaek). I didn’t find the dish fishy and couldn’t pinpoint the sauce itself, but I’m a big fan of fish (skin and all) and am not the best judge. By this point of the meal, I was full and we could have skipped this dish if not for my curiousity.

While I chose order a la carte (after our experience in Bali), Tamarind does offer a variety of set dinners and runs Cooking Classes during the day.

Laos – TamarindLaos – TamarindLaos – Tamarind

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