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Project Food Blog 2010: The Classics

For this second round of Project Food Blog 2010 (thanks, by the way for voting me through!), the challenge is to tackle a classic dish from another culture that is outside our comfort zone or that we are less familiar with.

I’ve chosen to introduce you all to a classic from Lao cuisine that I discovered on our trip there last summer.  Landlocked Laos is often overlooked on the South East Asian backpackers’ trail due to its lack of beaches, so whilst tourists flock to neighboring Vietnam, Cambodia or Thailand, Laos remains delightfully tourist-free (for now).

Can I let you in on a secret?  Laos is a foodie paradise. We were not expecting much from the food so it was a nice surprise to be wowed at pretty much every meal (you can read my article about the food discoveries to be had in the former royal city of Luang Prabang here).  It’s definitely not haute cuisine and the Lao way of eating is fairly laid-back.  Food tends to come all at once and is laid out on the table for everyone to help themselves.  There’s rarely much cutlery on the table as meat and/or fish are generally scooped up with a ball of the ubiquitous sticky rice which also mops up the sauces and juices, or wrapped in edible leaves.  One type of cutlery we happened upon a few times was these spoons (for noodle soup!):

After visiting the Plain of Jars, we headed out of the tourist zone to a small village where our local guide wanted to show us what the Lao people have done with all the scrap metal left from the bombs dropped on Laos during the Secret War of the late 1960s and early 70s.  It’s certainly inspiring how people who still live amongst an insane amount of unexploded ordnances can turn the situation around and show such resilience.  Here, a lady melts down scrap metal to make the spoons.

Of course, a number of these made their way home with us…

I *was* going to share a  noodle soup (which you could find everywhere across Asia), for this challenge but  decided on a newfound favourite dish from that trip -  laap (also spelled larp and larb) – a minced meat salad that is a Lao classic that I was not familiar with until that trip.  This is also known as the “good fortune” salad so I am hoping it brings me luck in this challenge!

I believe I ate it most days for either lunch or dinner (or – ahem – sometimes both!) and it became the dish that we simply had to order when it was on the menu – much like crème brûlée (when we travel in France, Neil and I always order this when we see it. We’re on a mission. To find the best).  The thing is, there was not one “best” version of laap.  Regional variations meant that every time we ordered it, it was just ever so slightly different, but always delicious and addictive.  My photos do *not* do its deliciousness justice…

(yes, yes, flash photography. Pre-DSLR. As I said in my first Project Food Blog post, I am not afraid to post imperfection, if nothing else, it shows how far my photography has come in the past 15 months..).  In any case, we ate a LOT of laap.  But I had never made it until now.

I *have* been meaning to make this for months now but had it in my head that it was very complicated.  I guess it’s the complexity of flavours but this really tastes like you have spent hours in the kitchen when in fact, it takes only about 40 minutes!! This, in my book, is a winning dish.

Typically made with beef or chicken, laap can also be prepared with other meats or fish; the meat is minced, flavoured with fish sauce and lime juice and mixed with chili and mint.  Ground, toasted glutinous rice helps bind the ingredients and the finished dish is served with sticky rice and assorted vegetables in lettuce leaves.  (I used tomatoes and cucumber to cut the heat from the chilis)

We served this with sticky rice made in the microwave from Eat, Blog, Sleep since we don’t own one of these gigantic bamboo steamers…

It was an absolute revelation, made in the microwave. Perfect texture and it was still good the next day, reheated.  I am glad I know a way of making this taste authentic without too much fuss and will be making it again soon. I imagine with a little coconut milk it would taste awesome too!

Each component was perfect on its own…

But even more perfect rolled in a lettuce leaf…

This is one Asian classic that you need to add to your repertoire. A little taste of the exotic, but so do-able, using ordinary ingredients and elevating them to the extraordinary.

Please check out my Project Food Blog Profile


I hope you will consider voting me forward to the next round. After all who else went to the country of the dish’s origin to do in depth “research”?  I also have a *doozy* of a Dinner Party menu to share with you all! Click here to vote. Many thanks!

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72 Responses to Project Food Blog 2010: The Classics

  1. Jenni September 24, 2010 at 16:32 #

    I love your wee wooden bowls! Sounds like a great dish w/endless possible variations. That’s the kind of meal I love:)

    Best of luck in Round 2! I’ll be back when voting begins!

  2. Barbara Schieving September 24, 2010 at 17:33 #

    I knew you’d make it to the next round. This post is fabulous too! It sounds like I love this style of eating. Great ingredient pics!

  3. saltyseattle September 24, 2010 at 17:49 #

    Well you’ve done it now- went ahead and caused me to drool on the keyboard. I am seriously considering canceling dinner tonight to make this instead. This is a strong entry with an evocative tale which is why I love reading your work. The spoons, oh, the spoons!

  4. Daydreamer Desserts September 24, 2010 at 17:50 #

    What a fantastic post Mardi! Extremely well researched, well written, and fabulous photography, you’ve definitely got my vote! I can’t wait to see what you have planned for the dinner party. ;)

  5. The Wife of a Dairyman September 24, 2010 at 19:57 #

    Congratulations on making it to round two, but I knew you would:) Lettuce wraps is what I would call your dish and they look delicious! Good luck going to round three. And isn’t it funny to look back at photography skills?! Your photos are great!

  6. K A B L O O E Y September 24, 2010 at 20:55 #

    Powerhouse post. Spectacular photos, delicious looking food and sounding recipe, blast from the past travel details including still evocative spoon story as well as humorous creme brulee fixation. And shots from the olden days. The thrilling pre-DSLR days of yore. (I’m still mired in them, btw.) PS: voted for you

  7. SippitySup September 24, 2010 at 21:13 #

    WOW! You are freaking me out! I have not even decided what I am doing and you have it posted. You are GOOD. Tomorrow is #CampblogAway, so that kills the whole day. Which means I am cooking and posting on Sunday. Which is exactly how I work best, but still. Also, I always use a point and shoot camera for the blog (after all it’s a BLOG) but now you are making me think I need to pull out my D-SLR for the next challenge. I never really considered doing that before. All this blurb blurb really means I am impressed with this post. I am just so shocked I am having trouble expressing myself. GREG

    PS I must have one of those spoons. Send me one immediately. I’ll use it in my next challenge. GREG

  8. Ethan September 24, 2010 at 21:26 #

    great story Mardi! I not only want to visit Laos now but I want to travel through the country to taste all the different regional differences you spoke about.
    Your dish sounds great and all your pictures (point and shoot included) look delicious.
    Ta toujours ma vote, bonne chance!

  9. Joan Nova September 24, 2010 at 21:29 #

    Great entry. Interesting and beautifully photographed. Looking forward to seeing what you have planned for Challenge 3.

  10. sara @CaffeIna September 24, 2010 at 21:32 #

    What an amazing post! You totally got my vote! Beautiful pictures!

  11. Tracey@Tangled Noodle September 24, 2010 at 21:32 #

    Congratulations on making Round 2 of Project Food Blog! This is a wonderful entry for Challenge #2, highlighting such a relatively unknown cuisine. I love how the rice is made in bamboo(?) basket – I’ve seen them at Asian markets but would not have the first clue as to how to use one.

    Wishing you continued success throughout the PFB challenges!

  12. Dan Clapson September 25, 2010 at 01:44 #

    Mardi, this post was amazing. How could people not vote for you? You have, yet again, made another fantastic post. In my eyes you are a top competitor in this competition. Congrats, and you have my support as always.

  13. Belinda @zomppa September 25, 2010 at 04:02 #

    Beautiful photos and the only thing is…can I go with you next??

  14. Jenn September 25, 2010 at 05:17 #

    Beautiful!! And what a fantastic trip! Perfect post for challenge #2!

  15. Brian @ A Thought For Food September 25, 2010 at 07:00 #

    A good fortune salad indeed! I loved this post and the stories you shared. You will no doubt be moving on to round 3.

  16. merry jennifer September 25, 2010 at 08:07 #

    What an amazing dish! I’m amazed at your food experiences from Laos, and it’s great that you’ve been able to translate those experiences into such a fantastic dish for this post. Wonderful story!

  17. 5 Star Foodie September 25, 2010 at 08:11 #

    That was a fantastic trip and this is a very yummy specialty that I would love to try! Great post for the challenge #2!

    P.S. Posted early for the iis so I can start working on my dish for challenge #2 (it’s not done yet, wish me me luck!) :)

  18. Sharlene (Wheels and Lollipops) September 25, 2010 at 08:27 #

    Bravo Mardi ! What a captivating post and that encompasses everything from the writing style, story, photos and of course the recipe :) I can almost taste this salad. You’ve set the bar extremely high for round 2 :) Can’t wait to see what you have planned for round 3 !!!

  19. Ken September 25, 2010 at 08:51 #

    Laos is a fascinating and joyful place I’ve travelled to and definitely a foodie must. Glad you brought it to light. Good Job!

  20. penny aka jeroxie September 25, 2010 at 09:45 #

    Congras on the next round! Go all the way!!

  21. Evelyne@CheapEthnicEatz September 25, 2010 at 10:36 #

    YAY we both made it to round 2. And you were prepared ahead of time for this one he he. Really nice classic ethnic recipe, it looks great. A great post. OK of to hunt a recipe for mine.

  22. Shirley September 25, 2010 at 11:37 #

    What a great challenge! I know nothing about Lao cuisine and never heard of the plain of jars. The dish sounds really good.

  23. Big Boys oven September 25, 2010 at 13:18 #

    this is truly awesome. i just love your exploration into Laos! just amazing to read, nice recipe too! :)

  24. Casey Angelova September 25, 2010 at 14:08 #

    Many kudos for your in depth research. How did you end up in Laos? Great food and photos! Looking forward to seeing round 3!

  25. Jun Belen September 25, 2010 at 15:41 #

    As usual, beautiful photos, Mardi and lovely post! Laos is definitely on the top of my list of places to visit. Laos, Cambodia and Vietname — because of the fish sauce and the food!

  26. Christine @ Fresh Local and Best September 25, 2010 at 16:40 #

    These are all wonderful savory flavors that I grew up with. I love that the entire thing can be rolled up in a leaf lettuce.

  27. Barbara | VinoLuciStyle September 25, 2010 at 20:39 #

    Nice article about a part of the world I will most likely never visit so loved reading about your experience.

    These sound not only delicious but easy; a Laos lettuce wrap!

  28. Deborah Dowd September 25, 2010 at 20:43 #

    This looks like a great dish and while you can often find Vietnamese dishes, I have not seen Lao before this! Great job!

  29. Geoff September 25, 2010 at 21:00 #

    Great post, Mardi. You have a knack of being able to tie in apparently disparate and unconnected facts and present an interesting whole picture that makes sense. Spoons from melted ordnance to a recipe – it’s a leap, but you spanned the distance easily.

  30. Anna Johnston September 25, 2010 at 22:02 #

    Laap, Larp, Lard – whichever way its presented its amazing I agree with you Mardi. Best of luck in the comp, may this good fortune dish bring it on for you.

  31. RJ Flamingo September 25, 2010 at 23:31 #

    Love a dish that’s never quite the same way twice!

  32. My Restaurants Melbourne September 26, 2010 at 07:00 #

    What a great adventure your going on with the project food blog. Good luck for the next round

  33. Serena @ Seriously Soupy September 26, 2010 at 08:47 #

    what a delicious recipe with gorgeous pictures – pre-SLR and post SLR. It’s great that you show how far you’ve come in the past 15 months. Best of luck in Project Food Blog – you’ve got my vote.

  34. Conor @ HoldtheBeef September 26, 2010 at 10:41 #

    Mardi, I love how you’ve fully embraced the spirit of this next round challenge. You’re definitely more than deserving of making it through to the third round. What I want to know is, which round involves a fight to the death using kitchen utensils?

    I think this recipe will have to join the rotation of my summer salads.

  35. Roz September 26, 2010 at 13:16 #

    After spending 2 summers in Thailand conducting research (I’m also in academia), I fell in love with Laab salad. I have clipped and saved several recipes to replicate what I had in Thailand and so I’ll add yours and try it too. Congrats on making the second round of the challenge.

  36. Noelle September 26, 2010 at 17:17 #

    Looks fantastic. Glad you could make something from a region where you have been. I want some now.

  37. Baking Barrister September 26, 2010 at 19:17 #

    Yes yes yes! I traveled SE Asia August/September 2009, and fell in love with Laos. More specifically, Luang Prabang, where I spent 4 days. The food is amazing–and the Larb! I’ve been wanting to make this dish for my dad since I’ve been home but it’s kind of hard to trust recipes online if you aren’t sure the person has been and tasted the real stuff. Totally excited to try this out now

  38. Jerry (CbsoP) September 26, 2010 at 19:19 #

    Awesome recipe. Love everything about i, especially the fish sauce! Unfortunately, Asian is one of my staple cuisines, so I went Turkish for this one :)

  39. maybelles mom September 26, 2010 at 20:03 #

    I love that you posted early pictures, and owned them. I had a Laotian friend as a kid, and I do think it is so unknown but shouldnt be. Lovely post.

  40. Lawyer Loves Lunch September 26, 2010 at 20:34 #

    This dish looks so fragrant! Thank you for introducing me to it. I love reading food tales from people’s travels and this one is amongst the best. The bamboo steamer alone wins my vote! :)

  41. Winnie September 26, 2010 at 21:13 #

    Beautiful job Mardi. The photos of your trip and of this wonderful recipe are so lovely- thank you for sharing and fabulous job on this challenge.

  42. Carol (CGtheFoodie) September 26, 2010 at 21:35 #

    I love your photography and the story. Yum!!!

  43. Jen @ Tiny Urban Kitchen September 26, 2010 at 21:40 #

    Beautiful post! And you’ve totally tackled such a unique dish. That actually looks pretty delicious – makes me want to try it since it seems pretty easy. My husband loves cilantro, so this would be totally up his alley. :)

  44. Shelly Borrell (Nibbles of Tidbits) September 26, 2010 at 23:15 #

    Mardi — Your posts always set the bar. I know you’ll make it far! Good luck in the competition.

    Shelly :)

  45. Jan/Thella @ I Love. Therefore, I Cook. September 26, 2010 at 23:45 #

    i agree, every component of the dish was perfect on its own. i could just imagine the marriage of all those flavors :) congratulations and best of luck!

  46. Xai @ ObviouslyOmnivore September 27, 2010 at 00:52 #

    i’ve had laap before and it was really really good. i could almost taste it again just by looking at your photos! everything looks wonderful!!! good luck on PFB!!!

  47. Megan September 27, 2010 at 10:37 #

    I have never had this….or been to Laos…however I have had some some dishes yet generally stick to the noodle dishes or soups. I am ready to venture and try something new. Beautiful post and wonderful photos…

  48. Delishhh September 27, 2010 at 11:22 #

    Laap is some of my favorite food and i make it all the time because it is quick and easy. Nice work! You got my vote.

  49. Evelyne@CheapEthnicEatz September 27, 2010 at 11:35 #

    Voted :-D

  50. Gastronomicduo September 27, 2010 at 11:51 #

    We love this salad! Nice job.

  51. Diana@Spain in Iowa September 27, 2010 at 11:55 #

    Mardi, what a beautiful post! Wow, like Greg… send me a spoon, lol! What a treasure. I really appreciate how honest you are and yes, the end photographs are beautiful! Best wishes onto round 3 Mardi!! Besitos!

  52. Eddie@CulinaryStudio September 27, 2010 at 12:50 #

    I love larb! Lao cuisine really is interesting; very fresh, clean flavors, and the foods have the perfect combination of salty, sour, spicy, and sweet. I’m jealous that you got to visit the country; it’s high up on my list.

  53. Skylar September 27, 2010 at 12:55 #

    The freshness of everything just looks incredible. Good luck, I hope you make it to the next round. I voted for you!

  54. Tara @ Smells Like Home September 27, 2010 at 15:50 #

    such a great post! it was wonderful to read how you came to love laap so much throughout your trip and that you were able to find a great recipe to make at home. good luck in Round 2 – you’ve got my vote!

  55. nancy@acommunaltable September 27, 2010 at 21:01 #

    Mardi – I really enjoyed reading your post – I love this dish and you are right – everyone seems to have their own version!!

    I have no doubt that you will be in round 3… and 4 and….5…

    You definitely have my vote!!

    Looking forward to seeing your entry for the next challenge!!

  56. The Duo Dishes September 28, 2010 at 01:25 #

    Our version of this dish didn’t come out so well for one of our last Ethnic Explorations. It’s probably worth another try. :) Definitely voted for you!

  57. Jason Phelps September 28, 2010 at 09:32 #

    This looks amazing. It sounds familiar but I can’t think of anytime I have ever has Laotian food. Gonna have to make it then!!

    Jason

  58. Fuji Mama September 28, 2010 at 14:02 #

    Laos was on our list of countries to visit, but we never made it there! I’m so hoping that we get to move back to Japan at some point and make it to Laos. This dish looks amazing. I’ve already printed it off. Thank you for educating us!

  59. Fuji Mama September 28, 2010 at 14:03 #

    P.S. WHERE did you get those awesome wooden bowls? I’m coveting them!!!!

  60. Liren September 28, 2010 at 19:13 #

    Wow, who knew that Gourmet had a recipe for Laap? Fantastic! I love what you did with it, and this reminds me of just how wonderful it is to eat with the fingers. All the senses come together and make for a delicious way to enjoy food! Good luck, Mardi!

  61. Daily Spud September 28, 2010 at 20:50 #

    Laos is one of those places on my wishlist. I was in Vietnam years ago and, at the time, Laos wasn’t that easy to get into or travel around, though the few intrepid people I knew who had been there loved it. This post has me dreaming about Laos all over again…

  62. Jen @ My Kitchen Addiction September 28, 2010 at 21:40 #

    Great choice for this challenge… Love the recipe!

  63. Mardi@eatlivetravelwrite September 28, 2010 at 22:21 #

    Dear everyone, I wish I had the time to respond to each and every one of your comments individually but this week, time does not allow for that…

    Coming back to this post tonight after a long hard day at work, it warms my heart to see so many comments and so much support. One of the things that brings me the most pleasure is to recreate special eating experiences from our travels at home and I am pleased that I have been able to to that for my in real life friends as well as you, my readers.

    Thank you so much for your words of encouragement and your votes – I really do appreciate it and if you are competing in PFB, I am trying to get to all your posts too but forgive me if I don’t get to comment – it’s a short turnaround time!!!

    I really do have fab things planned for the next couple of challenges at least so I hope to stick around to compete against many of you all.

    Mardi xox

  64. Grace September 28, 2010 at 23:20 #

    Congratulations Mardi, well deserved. My daughter is going to love this dish, thank you for sharing. She will be quite surprised when we sit down to dinner I’ve never attempted something like this, hope I do it justice, thank you for sharing!

    p.s. love the spoons

  65. Bonita September 29, 2010 at 13:31 #

    This is so simple and looks so delicious! Thanks for sharing the recipe. Looking forward to trying it out!

  66. A Canadian Foodie September 29, 2010 at 19:17 #

    Beautiful photos, lovely story, fresh, delicious and nutritious food.
    :)
    Valerie

  67. Rachel Joyce September 29, 2010 at 21:08 #

    So bright. So flavoful. So easy! Laos has my foodie heart, and so do you! When I make it to Toronto, can this be on the menu. Good luck love. <#

  68. Lora October 2, 2010 at 16:34 #

    I ❤ Laos. Spent every night I was in Luang Prabang at the night food market and mostly ate from the street vendors during the day. Laap is wonderful. Thanks for posting the recipe.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Tweets that mention Project Food Blog 2010: The Classics -- Topsy.com - September 25, 2010

    [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Ethan Adeland and Kim Bingham, Mardi. Mardi said: Here is is folks: #pfb2010 Challenge 2. I went to Laos and back to make this dish! http://bit.ly/ahhojI #fbz [...]

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