Jun 16, 2007
City Food on One Street
This is a street I started eating at the last month I was in Laos.
We moved into a new rental over in Ban Amon, and though nice it didn't have a fridge or stove or internet connection, the basics of life for me to survive. Everyday I would take the short drive into Vientiane.
At first I was satisfied with the baguette sandwiches, with all my fellow tourists, next door to the internet place, but the bread wasn't always the freshest and after a while I had a hankering for more. Most stuff down by the river was out of the question. Overpriced and bland it's special food for foreign consumption. The push carts are good but I wanted to sit down.
I found a street out past the cultural hall off Samsenthai that fit the ticket. Lots of restaurants, not many guest houses, not over saturated with falang.
A portion of a map liberated from the ecotourismlao site, hey its for a good cause.
On the map above you can see the cultural hall across the street from the national museum. The hall is really set back from the street more than the map would lead you to believe, my food street is the one with two dead ends parallel to, and slightly south of Samsenthai. I think the first picture of this blog post is taken from in front of the hotel called "Lao" on the map. You can clearly see the stop sign on Chao Anou, and the ostentatious pillars of the cultural hall down the street.
The first day I had Kao Piak. It was ok, and it certainly filled me up, but I'm a Kao Piak snob. The broth was from pork bones, I like chicken stock, and the noodles themselves weren't as good as mama makes. I wouldn't really call Kao Piak city food, and I don't know that it was brought to Laos by the Chinese, but it sure doesn't seem "loi percent Lao", no insects, no pla dek, no roots and leaves from the jungle.
Sen for Kao Piak
Above are the soft noodles of kao piak before cooking. Most people use half rice flour, half sticky rice flour, my wife uses half tapioca flour. I like the extra chewiness that tapioca brings to the noodles. The noodles are coated with flour to keep them from sticking while rolling them out prior to cutting with a long knife. The loose flour thickens the sauce and gives it that "stick to your ribs" comfort food quality. Hard to feel hungry after eating a bowl.
Kao Piak Sen
Notice the "brown tofu" floating around, that's lueat, or in English congealed pig's blood. Pieces of cilantro, green onions, bang nua, the usual culprits. Actually this isn't just kao piak but more exactly kao piak sen, sen being noodles. Kao piak kao is kao piak rice. To round out the language lesson, kao piak means wet rice. Kao piak kao is known as conge in Chinese, (Cantonese?) and joke in Thai. Kao piak (sen) I've only seen in Laos, maybe it's a Vietnamese invention.
The next day I tried across the street at a place that looked vaguely Chinese. The restaurant could have been in Nong Khai or Chang Mai, or even Penang. I had Moo Daeng, red pork, it's sold all over Thailand at restaurants close to the bus station. It was good, and the rice was very fresh and good quality. So good I had to try the rice before taking this shot. Cucumbers on the side and a bowl of very thin soup in the background.
Kao piak, and moo daeng are fine, but I've eaten them a few hundred times, when I wandered back down the block towards the cultural hall I hit pay dirt. Notice the pot this young lady is pouring the batter on? It looked like an upside down cooking pot, except the handles are reversed, as if this is the way the pot was designed to be used. She is cooking up Bun Guan. The filling is some sort of pork, mushrooms, cilantro, onions, mixture, and the wrapper is a very thin almost translucent chewy pancake. I suspect there is Tapioca in there somewhere but I don't know.
The whole thing is served with a sprinkling of deep fried shallots across the top and a very thick peanut, lime, fish sauce, bang nuea, chillies, sauce on the side. I could gain weight eating these.
I wasn't familiar with the food. My wife doesn't cook it, I haven't seen it around at all the markets or restaurants. When I asked the girl cooking it what food it was, she replied, "Vietnamese food" of course I didn't mean where does it come from, but rather what's it called.
House above the bun stand
Looking around I noticed that the card table I was eating off of was set up by an alley leading to some very old houses. out front was an old sign advertising suits I presume, and next to it a laundry. I could barely understand the signs as they were in Lao and French, there were old paintings showing a suit. I imagined a scenario of a Vietnamese family left from the days of Indochina, surviving the various changes in regimes and wars. A Scent of Green Papayas compete with whirling fans and long lost histories.
The next day when I went back I struck up a conversation with the granny who seemed to be in charge. I noticed she was speaking Lao to the girl. She told me the reason she spoke Lao to the girl was because the girl was Lao, when I asked if the house belonged to her family she laughed and said she commuted a long way into town every day. So much for assumptions. I didn't dare ask if she was Vietnamese, I wanted to leave some of my imaginings intact.
The other food sold there was a similar food in that it was a filling wrapped with a pancake type thing they cooked right then called bun xiao. The ingredients besides including rice flour also include corn flour and turmeric. The whole thing is a bright yellow. It came with a heaping plate of mint. I know the word "home laap" means mint, but I don't know the name for the different kinds. This kind has smaller leaves and a very delicate flavour. Great for eating as a green on the side.