Our Laos VISAs have been extended again but we have less than 30 days left before we must be across the Cambodian border. We are leaving Luang Prabang and heading south.
We left the Phongsali a few weeks ago and had an uneventful trip down the river. We were just grateful to be warm again. The luxury of our solo trips in the slow boats was over as we were joined by all of the tourists heading down to Muang Noi and Nong Khiaw.
Both of us worn out from all the travel and needing to recuperate, we agreed to splurge a bit and stay in a nice new resort that had just opened in Nong Khiaw. The Mandalo Ou was very comfortable and the rooms are private bungalows near a lovely infinity pool overlooking the Nam Ou river. The owner Nick has been working for 2 years building the hotel and it came with a meditation pond, a yoga area, and high quality finishing touches everywhere.
We found ourselves feeling as though we had returned to civilization and probably told Nick and his wife so too many times. Of course, our interpretation of civilization may have changed also. We barely heard the roosters cock-a-doodle-do in the morning anymore. When the 2 ATMs in town both broke down and we did not have enough cash to pay for our hotel, we simply agreed to give the money to a bakery in Lauang Prabang where Nick buys his croissants and the owner gave the money to him with his next order. All of these things seeming normal now in Laos. we are grateful to Nick for being kind to us too
We were back in Luang Prabang at the end of November and once again had fantastic adventures. There is something about the beauty of the city combined with the Laos life that makes us feel at home here. Or if not quite at home then a feeling of returning to a place we enjoy.
If you are asking yourself what we do all day in Luang Prabang, here is a list of possible everyday activities:
- At 4am (in the distance) hear the sound of drums from the temple as the monks start their day.
- Get up each day and have a Laos coffee.Very dark strong coffee sweetened by condensed milk.
- Breakfast can be a perfect croissant from our favorite bakery or walk a little further to the local market and have an excellent Laos KhoaSoi. Laos KhoaSoi is a noodle soup with meat and salty Soi bean paste, lots of herbs and chilies.
- Walk near the Nam Kahn river or across the Nam Kahn on the bamboo bridge.
- Visit our friends
- Visit our favorite little temple across from the Royal Palace called Wat Pahouak built 1860
- Eat Duck Parmentier at the Banneton restaurant on Sakkarine we do not do this every day 🙂
- Go exploring and find something new or watch Michel take photographs
- At 4pm listen to the drums as the monks end their day.
- Walk up to the temple (about 400 steps) on the hill That Phou Si and watch the sunset over the Nam Kahn
- Eat dinner at the little restaurant across from the Wat Senesouk where the local woman makes an excellent fried noodle with vegetables or perfect Laap.
Every once in a while in Luang Prabang something truly amazing happens:
- A mother and baby elephant are brought through town by their Mahout. Even the locals come out of their homes and shops for this event.
- Luang Prabang film festival – a movie called The River Changes Course about Cambodia. This was a one of many good films at the festival.
- Hmong Festival (see our previous blog post called Now we are Hmong them)
- Festival of Lights ( see our previous blog post called Festival, Friend, and Food in Luang Prabang)
- Teaching an English class at a local college using text book curriculum to 20 students
- Learning about Ancient Art (later in this post)
- Learning how to cook KhoaPhoon (later in this post)
All in all, it’s a good life. The weather is perfect and every day we are entertained or educated in some way.
After arriving in Luang Prabang we renewed acquaintances with Virginie and Celine at KopNoi. We stopped by the HiveBar and said hello to Troy. We visited with our good friend Patrice Bleton at Pavillion de Jade (46 Sakkarine, Luang Prabang).
Michel and Patrice had worked to start a still life photography project before we left to go north, essentially building a room made of black velvet with one window to use daylight and photographing art there. Michel and Patrice continued to work on their photography and I have included some of the pieces here. I do not have precise information for all of the pictures included but it was fascinating for both Michel and I to learn about this wonderful ancient art from Patrice. He is the most knowledgeable person I have ever met in his area. He also has a wonderfully inquisitive mind and loves to read books and learn new things. We enjoyed our conversations with him tremendously.
On our last day in town we were honored when our friend Phone invited us to lunch. She is a marvelous cook and I was excited to learn her recipes.
We went shopping at the local market first. Shopping at the local market does not mean going to the grocery store to buy food wrapped in plastic that was shipped across the country. Our market was a few blocks away. The food is laid out on blankets on the street. Go to each vendor and compare to get your desired product. It was helpful to shop with Phone as she could explain what all of the unfamiliar vegetables and herbs were.
Then we all walked downstairs to the kitchen at Pavillon de Jade to cook. This recipe was taught to Phone by her mother from Phanom Village near Luang Prabang. The name of the dish is KhaoPhoon and it is normally prepared on special days such as for a new baby or wedding. It is a coconut based noodle soup with savory flavors and not too spicy.
As in other soups in Laos, there are vegetables and herbs added raw to the soup in each persons bowl. The rice noodles are also added to the broth in each individual bowl after serving at the table. Some of the ingredients listed might be difficult to find outside of Laos but I know many of you are talented chefs and can substitute when needed. Perhaps there is an oriental market nearby where we can find the difficult ingredients.
Serves about 8 people
time – a couple of hours (45 minutes to cook the rest on prep)
Coconut Milk first press – 11 cups or about 2 liters in Asia they actually press the milk from the coconut. If not in Laos it may be necessary to use cans of coconut milk with the coconut cream
Coconut Milk 2nd press – 6 cups or about 1.5 liters of a thinner coconut milk. if not in Laos remove the coconut cream from cans of coconut and then add a little water to the remaining coconut milk.
Kalanka root – looks a little bit like large ginger but very mild
Diced pork – about 2 pounds or 900 grams
Kafir leaves – 4 to 6
Cilantro – a few sprigs
Chili powder or diced Laos/Thai style chili peppers to taste but red powder needed for color
Shallots – 10 to 12
Garlic – 10 cloves
Lemon grass – 5 or 6 shoots
A little vegetable oil
A little salt
Fresh Rice Noodles for soup – enough to feed eight or if no fresh noodles then dry rice noodles for Vietnamese Pho will work. Cook them in advance and serve separately. They are added to individual bowls at the table.
bring to table fresh and add to soup
1/2 head of green cabbage sliced small
Laos lettuce or perhaps romaine lettuce if not in Laos served whole and then torn up as added to soup
Bean sprouts – a few hands full
Mint – a couple of bunches. Rinsed and served on the stem
Scallion – 10 or 12 rinsed and served whole
Fresh coriander – a bunch. Rinsed and served on the stem
Cilantro – a bunch. Rinsed and served on the stem
Thai basil – a bunch. Rinsed and served on the stem
Long bean – about 10 or if not in Laos buy a package of green beans. Steam or boil quickly to soften and chop into bite size.
Bamboo hearts – sliced small
Banana flowers – sliced small. Might be difficult outside of Asia but if you are in Florida check your banana tree.
Lime – 4 or 5
Now that all of the ingredients are assembled bring the 2nd press coconut to a boil in a large deep pot and add:
A few whole kafir leaves
A couple of sprigs of cilantro
1/2 of the Kalanka root sliced thin (1/4 inch).
Pinch of salt
Add the whole ball of pork as in the picture above. Don’t separate the pork yet, just drop it in.
Allow this mixture to simmer for about 45 minutes.
I had never used Kalanka before. It is not strong like ginger but rather a much more mild earthy taste.
While the 2nd press broth is simmering prep the paste.
10 cloves of garlic and about 12 shallots were cleaned and sliced.
Grated 1/2 cup or 12 CL Kalanka
3 leaves of Kafir and the lemon grass are sliced very thin.
Then all combined with a little bit of salt
Place in a blender for a minute if desired and then move to the pedestal and use the mortor to mash into a paste. Add the chili powder during this process.
Note the following picture. This is when you have an opportunity to determine how red your broth will be and how spicy it will be as well. Add chili powder to taste. Best if your chili powder is made from Asian chili peppers.
Do not be fooled by the picture above. Continue using the mortar until all of the ingredients have been mashed together in a paste. Now add vegetable oil to a large frying pan and heat it. Then fry the paste at medium heat allowing the ingredients to soften.
Use a ladle to spoon in two ladles full of the first press coconut milk. Allow to simmer and reduce until the coconut milk has been absorbed. Do not allow the paste to burn or stick to the bottom of the pan. Use the ladle and repeat the process of adding coconut milk and reducing 3 more times or until the color of the paste become lighter when the coconut milk is absorbed.
Add a little sugar but to quote Phone; “remember, this is not Thai”. We laughed together as she said this. We both believe that Thai food contains too much sugar. Just a couple of pinches of sugar will do for this dish.
While waiting for the paste and coconut milk to reduce finish preparing your raw vegetables and arrange for the table. Everything is served completely raw except the green beans. They are softened.
The banana flower must be soaked in a bowl of lime water to change it’s color.
All of the raw ingredients are served as in the picture above.
Remember the 2nd press coconut milk simmering in a large deep pan? We should be at the 45 minute mark now. Remove the ball of pork, herbs and Kalanka from the simmering 2nd press coconut milk.
Mash the pork with the mortar in the pedestal. Throw away the herbs that were in the simmering broth.
Put the mashed bite size pork back into the pot with the 2nd press coconut milk and reduce heat.
Now, Add any remaining 1st press coconut milk to the simmering paste in the frying pan, do not reduce. Stir the paste and 1st press coconut milk until combined and then add the contents of the frying pan to the simmering 2nd press coconut milk and pork in the large deep pan. Stir well to combine the ingredients.
Remove from heat.
This is the base for the soup. Your beautiful KhoaPhoon is ready for the table.
We had a perfect day preparing and eating this soup with Phone.