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 (find directions here) 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.

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72 thoughts on “Project Food Blog 2010: The Classics”

  1. 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!

    Reply
  2. 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!

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  3. 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. 😉

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  4. 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!

    Reply
  5. 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

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  6. 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

    Reply
  7. 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!

    Reply
  8. 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!

    Reply
  9. 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.

    Reply
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  11. 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!

    Reply
  12. 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!) 🙂

    Reply
  13. 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 !!!

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

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  15. 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!

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  16. 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!

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  17. 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.

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  18. 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.

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  19. 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.

    Reply
  20. 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.

    Reply
  21. 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

    Reply
  22. 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 🙂

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

    Shelly 🙂

    Reply
  24. 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…

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  25. 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!

    Reply
  26. 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.

    Reply
  27. 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!

    Reply
  28. 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!!

    Reply
  29. 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!

    Reply
  30. 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!

    Reply
  31. 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…

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  32. 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

    Reply
  33. 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

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  34. 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. <#

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  35. 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.

    Reply

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