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Laotian vs Thai food -- differences?


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#1 Richard Kilgore

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Posted 18 April 2006 - 07:53 PM

I had the opportunity to eat a variety of Laotian home cooked food recently. There was a difference between these dishes and Thai food I have eaten, but I can't quite identify the differences. How would you compare them in general?

#2 OnigiriFB

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Posted 18 April 2006 - 08:55 PM

If I remember right laotian use more salt as opposed to fish sauce found in most thai dishes.

#3 Adam Balic

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Posted 19 April 2006 - 08:53 AM

More then likely depends on what type of Thai and Laotian food you are talking about. They share a long border and I would guess that along this the cuisines are going to be more similar, then say the south of Thailand and the North of Laos.

One difference would be the access to the sea and hence seafood. Loas has a big fish cuisne based on freshwater species (although many of them resemble altwater type fish).

Since we are talking about Laotian food, here is some I made aweek of so ago.

Pounded lemon grass stalks, filled with a pork mixture, then grilled.

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#4 Jason Perlow

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Posted 19 April 2006 - 09:10 AM

Laos is a landlocked country that is directly between Thailand and Vietnam, with Cambodia directly south and China to the north/northwest. Thus it is a confluence of the cuisines of all those countries, but it is most highly influenced by Isan (Northern Thai) cuisine and the food of the Mekong River delta and the Khmer people, as well as Indo-French influence from Vietnam.

Larb, which is a popular dish in Thailand, is actually the national dish of Laos.

http://en.wikipedia....Cuisine_of_Laos
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#5 Adam Balic

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Posted 19 April 2006 - 09:23 AM

You beat me to it!

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Prospect Books has published two very interesting books on the traditional foods of Laos (especially fish).

Edited by Adam Balic, 19 April 2006 - 09:24 AM.


#6 Jason Perlow

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Posted 19 April 2006 - 09:28 AM

Specifically though, Isan style-larb (Larb Nua Isan) is a bit different from the Thai larb that is eaten in say, Bangkok. Isan larb is VERY spicy due to use of a lot of crushed dried chilis and also has a lot more sourness. I've also had it made with beef, not with Chicken or Pork, but I suppose it could be made that way. Its also got mint in it, as well as diced lemongrass, which I have never seen in a Bangkok version.
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#7 Adam Balic

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Posted 19 April 2006 - 09:32 AM

I think that a lot of the beef dishes where once based on water-buffalo. The dried skin of his beast is/was used in some dishes. Game dishes seem popular also.

Also "padek" (fermented whole/large chunks of freshwater fish) is used a lot in the cuisine.

#8 aprilmei

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Posted 19 April 2006 - 10:51 AM

I think that a lot of the beef dishes where once based on water-buffalo. The dried skin of his beast is/was used in some dishes. Game dishes seem popular also.

Also "padek" (fermented whole/large chunks of freshwater fish) is used a lot in the cuisine.

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Yeah, we ate a lot of water buffalo when we were in Luang Prabang. Including some dark red water buffalo sausages. I asked the owner/cook if they were blood sausages - he hesitated until I assured him that I was fine with that, then he said yes, they did contain blood.
We also ate some delicious, beautiful river weed that had been sun-dried in sheets with sesame seeds and sliced garlic. It kind of resembled Japanese hand-made paper.

Edited by aprilmei, 19 April 2006 - 10:52 AM.


#9 mizducky

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Posted 19 April 2006 - 11:15 AM

We also ate some delicious, beautiful river weed that had been sun-dried in sheets with sesame seeds and sliced garlic. It kind of resembled Japanese hand-made paper.

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This stuff sounds really cool. How was the dried water-weed served? Used as a wrap? Slivered and put on other dishes? By itself? Wondering what this stuff is called, in case there's a chance, however remote, that I might run into it at a local Asian market at some point.

#10 Adam Balic

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Posted 19 April 2006 - 05:46 PM

Specifically though, Isan style-larb (Larb Nua Isan) is a bit different from the Thai larb that is eaten in say, Bangkok. Isan larb is VERY spicy due to use of a lot of crushed dried chilis and also has a lot more sourness. I've also had it made with beef, not with Chicken or Pork, but I suppose it could be made that way. Its also got mint in it, as well as diced lemongrass, which I have never seen in a Bangkok version.

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In "Traditional Recipes of Laos" by Phia Sing (published by Prospect Books), who was the Chef at the royal palace at Luang Prabang half a century ago mentions three 'Lap dishes, of water buffalo, fish and chicken.

Interesting stuff, as there is so little published on the food of Laos it would be very interesting to know how these older recipes compare to what is made now? Did these recipes survive the revolution? Have dishes changed in a significant way, in a similoar way to the use of pork in souvlakis in Greece for instance.

#11 Richard Kilgore

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Posted 19 April 2006 - 06:11 PM

Thanks for the interesting discussion, Adam, Jason, aprilmei. More info than I expected. The wikedpedia entry is helpful.

I ran across the Prospect - Alan Davidson books last year, but had forgotten about them. I'll have to order them. The stuffed lemon grass looks great, Adam.

Does anyone know if "padek" is exported? Available in Asian markets in the US? Or is this made at home rather than processed and sold commercially?

#12 H. du Bois

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Posted 19 April 2006 - 06:13 PM

I've eaten (and seen prepared) a lot of Lao food, and they do use fish sauce (Tiparos) in lots of things. They will use MSG in soups, but as they are assembled dish by dish with broth poured on top, you can ask for it without. I find that the food the Lao people prepare for themselves is far spicier than Thai food - and I love that spicy kick. :wink: They make a hot sauce for dipping things in, called Jao (I have no idea how it's spelled!), which has, as I vaguely recall, lots of fresh red pepper (ground by mortar and pestle), lime juice, Tiparos, and ground peanuts.

They accompany all their meals with sticky rice which is cooked in a bamboo basket and steamed on top of the stove, then put in a two piece woven basket for cooling and serving.

Wonderful regional cuisine.

#13 aprilmei

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Posted 19 April 2006 - 08:30 PM

I remember that dipping sauce. I asked what was in it and it contained something unexpected - water buffalo!

I just looked back at my notes of my trip; here's what I wrote:
A recent visit to Luang Prabang in Laos yielded some surprisingly delicious food: excellent grilled water buffalo sausages seemed to be available everywhere; salads and soups perfumed with juniper (juniper berries are used to make gin) and lots of fresh watercress in salads. The local food market is huge and fascinating. There were unusual items such as fried rats and other less easily identifiable creatures, tomatoes the size of large peas and piles of exotic fruits. Dried goods are the best foodstuffs to bring back, especially local specialities of kaipen (riverweed), which is sprinkled with sesame seeds, garlic and other flavourings before being dried, kowkiep or sweet-potato wafers that look like pappadums and which are deep-fried before eating, and a buffalo and chilli paste called jau bong.

Theres's a Hong Kong company called California Food and Wine Consultancy; the guy (Mark) imports the riverweed; I believe he sells to some chefs in the United States. If you're interested, PM me and I'll give you his contact details.

#14 Austin

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Posted 20 April 2006 - 08:35 AM

Great post! There are actually significant differences between Lao and Thai. Thai has been very much influenced by Chinese as well as Muslim cooking. Lao food is more like "original" Thai: no stir-frying, few dried spices, more grilled food, soups and dips. Buffalo has been mentioned here, and last time I was in Laos I was really astonished at just how much of this meat is eaten there, and how little it's consumed in Thailand.

This post comes at a great time, as I was just thinking of adding a recent article of mine to my blog, and have now have a real reason to do so! The piece was in a recent issue of Intermezzo magazine and is all about Lao food. It adresses many of the things that were mentioned here.

I'm also going to work with a writer here to do a magazine piece about the food of Luang Prabang, a historic city in northern Laos, sometime in the near future. Will keep you posted.

Austin

#15 H. du Bois

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Posted 20 April 2006 - 05:59 PM

I remember that dipping sauce. I asked what was in it and it contained something unexpected - water buffalo!

I just looked back at my notes of my trip; here's what I wrote:
A recent visit to Luang Prabang in Laos yielded some surprisingly delicious food: excellent grilled water buffalo sausages seemed to be available everywhere; salads and soups perfumed with juniper (juniper berries are used to make gin) and lots of fresh watercress in salads. The local food market is huge and fascinating. There were unusual items such as fried rats and other less easily identifiable creatures, tomatoes the size of large peas and piles of exotic fruits. Dried goods are the best foodstuffs to bring back, especially local specialities of kaipen (riverweed), which is sprinkled with sesame seeds, garlic and other flavourings before being dried, kowkiep or sweet-potato wafers that look like pappadums and which are deep-fried before eating, and a buffalo and chilli paste called jau bong.

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Wow! Well, the Jao (jau?) I had definitely had no buffalo in it - it was made before my very eyes on a number of occasions in the U.S., and that wasn't even available as an ingredient. I do wonder, based on what little I know of the language, if the word jau refers to the chili, and bong to the buffalo. E.g., nam sa is Lao for tea, loy nam means to swim - nam is the root word for water. I'd guess that Jao is a generic word for chili sauce. But I'm no linguist!

Your trip sounds fascinating. Hope I get over there someday.

#16 Austin

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Posted 20 April 2006 - 06:28 PM

Jaew simply means dip or chili sauce, and can take many, many forms. What aprilmei is referring to is a specialty of Luang Prabang called jaew bong. This kind of jaew features strips of dried buffalo skin, and is usually taken with the previously mentioned sheets of Mekhong River weed, known as khai phaen.

Oh, and by the way, loy naam means "to float"! Swim is waay naam. I'm not sure what the "bong" in jaew bong means, but I'm pretty sure it doesn't mean buffalo (khuway in Lao).

Austin

#17 H. du Bois

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Posted 20 April 2006 - 07:12 PM

Oh, and by the way, loy naam means "to float"! Swim is waay naam. I'm not sure what the "bong" in jaew bong means, but I'm pretty sure it doesn't mean buffalo (khuway in Lao).

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Thanks for the Lao lessons! I learned the "loy nam" phrase from a Lao 4-year old, so clearly, my linguistic sources weren't very sophisticated. :smile:

I loved the Jaew, whatever its contents - so deliciously hot, sour and savory all in the same bite. Wish I could remember the names of all the other wonderful dishes I've eaten.

#18 aprilmei

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Posted 20 April 2006 - 07:46 PM

Yes, I should have added that there's probably more than one type of dipping sauce than the one I tasted; it's not like there's only one type of nam prik in Thai cuisine.

#19 SuzanneW

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Posted 25 April 2006 - 02:56 PM

Yes, I should have added that there's probably more than one type of dipping sauce than the one I tasted; it's not like there's only one type of nam prik in Thai cuisine.

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Yes, as Austin said, jaew is a generic term, as is bong -- I am somewhat sure it means "pickled" (dong in Thai), although jaew bong in Luang Prabang is not actually pickled. Jaew bong is the food that first led me to chowhound about 7 years ago -- I got some raised eyebrows suggesting I was making up the term (it does inspire stoner-like adjectives). This is my favorite ad in the world for insta-jaew-bong at home: http://plara.velocal...pd991892606.htm.

But on the Lao/Thai debate, I have had virtually identical jaews in Thailand near Laos, most notably in the nortwestern part of Loei province, where I swear the jaew tasted exactly like I had first tried in Luang Prabang. And the laap I got in the northern parts of Nan province (Thailand) was very different than elsewhere in Thailand--far darker in its spicing, and less herb-like--and probably is quite different than you'd find in southern Laos.

I also associate the use of dill and certain aromatics more profoundly with Lao cooking than with central/northern/southern thai, and with a more bitter quality also found in northen Thai food, but others disagree with me on this bitterness point, and I don't have enough data to say.

Also, someone asked how kai, the river grass, is served. Cooked in sheets with sesame sprinkled on top seems the most common way. In Nan, I also ate it in a a powder into which you'd dip your sticky rice, or made into a dip. I don't like most seaweed, but I think this stuff is very tasty and I am told quite nutritious.

#20 misstenacity

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Posted 07 January 2007 - 10:25 PM

One item that I thought I've heard mentioned as a "typical" Laotian dish is beef jerky that is deep-fried until crisp/chewy with chilies and served with a spicy tomato dipping sauce....

Does this fit it to the regional cuisine, or are my sources just misleading me?

Andrea
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