I have to admit, I have a soft spot for anything French: mostly food, wine, cheese, and literature. Did I mentioned I love French pastry? I have lived an important part of my life in France, split between the rainy city of Le Havre in Normandie and the cultural and fashion mecca that is Paris. From elementary school to high school, I breathed and lived French. French was my second language. I suspect that I even dreamt in French.
Laos was added to be part of Indochina in 1893, a French Colonial Empire in Southeast Asia, along with Cambodia and Vietnam, and was governed by the French until 1949. There were plenty of souvenirs left by the French, from baguettes to architecture and even an inspired Arc de Triomphe monument in the heart of Vientiane. Even before I left the country I grew up surrounded by French influences: my father was educated in France, and my mother sent me to French classes at an early age…
I vaguely remember my young tutor, but know she was beautiful. I recall that she lived by ‘Vat Inpeng’ (ວັດອິນແປງ or Inpeng temple). I can still see her navy blue felt cloth clipped onto a real black board with stands where the cut-out characters and objects with some type of Velcro on their back could be displayed as we learned to say them in French. My favorite cut-out guy was given the name Jacques. Though the class was supposed to have several other kids my age (my mother’s friends’ children) I often found myself being the only one there facing the board and repeating endlessly words that I could barely understand. Being young and adventurous, I decided one day to do what the rest of the kids did: skip class to play on the banks of the Mekong and watch the sun go down as people watered their jicama bends. After what I thought was about an hour, the amount of time I spent twice a week learning to pronounce the alphabet and words correctly, I hurried home on my bicycle to find the household in turmoil and my father at the bottom of the stairs at the back of the house, holding something that looked like a very long ruler. Apparently, a phone call or some sort of report was made about my absence. My cousin, euay Vanh, was sent looking all over for me, tracing my steps. My mother’s ultimate fear, because we live so close to the river, was that her children would be so naughtily curious about it, that we would do the forbidden and swing from tree branches to jump in it: during the monsoon season, the undercurrents could be very strong and since we couldn’t swim we might drown. I don’t remember much else about the incident, except that the ruler was just a threat, and that Jacques and I learned quickly to become good friends after that, two times a week!
Because of all the above mentioned reasons, one of our family’s cuisine of choice for our gatherings is… French. Surprise, surprise! Since my parents are going back to Laos in a couple of days, my sister, euay Toui, who is a French culinary trained chef, cooked a sit-down nine course meal for our family get together this past weekend, as a send off until we see them again in Vientiane soon. We raised our glasses to the chef, toasted to good health and for my parents’ safe journey home. Even the kids had their own table. Unfortunately, not everyone was able to make it, but we did eat for those absent with great pleasure 😉 The fresh Northwest ingredients combined with French techniques, sauces, and wine reductions were an amazing treat. Each course was very delicate, with wine pairing, and sorbet to clean our palate between dishes. Since we didn’t know what kind of cuisine was waiting for us, my mother made sticky rice in coconut milk with mangoes to bring over. We gluttonly joked about how we needed the sticky rice to seal the deal at the end of the nine course dinner – for ever Lao will be!
Here is the menu:
- Crab Cake for Appetizer
- Choice of Tomato or Butternut Squash Soup
- Sole Meuniere with Rice Pilaf and Green Beans (Lemon Sorbet)
- Chicken with Thyme, Roasted Fingerlings and Brussels Sprouts (Raspberry Basil Sorbet)
- Boeuf Bourguignon with Baby Carrots
- Cheese and Bread
- Assorted Desserts
- Tea and Coffee with Biscotti
Sole Meuniere with Rice Pilaf and Green Beens
Assorted Desserts – See the sticky rice and mango?
I chose Flourless Chocolate Lava Cake and…
…Thai Tea Ice Cream