Jeo Kapi and Eggplant Tempura…

If I had to choose something easy to cook and tasty to eat, this would be my choice: ແຈ່ວກະປິ (‘Jeo Kapi‘) or Shrimp Paste Dipping Sauce accompanied by steamed vegetables and rice. Such a simple dish yet filled with bitter sweet memory and symbolizing significant changes in my childhood…

As a result of the Vietnam War, neutral Laos fell in the hands of the popular Communist Party in 1975 and the lives of many Lao people changed dramatically, including mine. My father was sent to re-education camp in northern Laos where he stayed for about 5 years. My sisters were sent to join Pah Mani (my mother’s older sister, ‘pah’ means ‘older aunt’) and her 5 children in a refugee camp in Nongkhai, Thailand, to seek refuge in a third country in hopes for a better future and a chance at an education. Though apart, my parents made the decision together through letters they exchanged over a long period of time. They discussed it in codes, about sending my sisters to help an aunt with farming needs… I believe it was the most difficult decision my parents have had to make in their life, which was to let go of their children at such a young age. My sisters were mere teenagers…

My younger brother, Dharinthorn (aka Titi, aka Dee) and I stayed back with my mother and my grandparents at the house on the Mekong, waiting patiently and anxiously for my father’s return. Life was uncertain, pulsed by the daily drum beat of the neighboring temples, fueled by rare and sporadic news of my father, and kept alive by the optimistic thought of speedy relocation news from my sisters. But one thing remained: I was still queen, left to reign over the garden with my brother as minion, but who decisively gained by the day a much higher level of deference for insanely good behavior! Needless to say, my adventurous-self got in as much trouble for my naughty escapades as for my conviction that no one could be as docile by implicating my brother.

Back in the days traveling to Thailand was a difficult and sometimes deadly process. Either people escaped at night by boat or by swimming across the Mekong River to enter one of the refugee camps, or we had to apply for a visa and visit legally. When approved it was as easy as crossing the murky river on a shallow motorized boat from Thadeua, a small port just outside of Vientiane. I still don’t know what kind of ordeal my mother had to go through to get us to Nongkhai, but all I can remember were the steep stairs going up the Thai shore. I recall visiting a relative there, Grandma See, who took us into the camp to visit my sisters, my aunt, and my cousins. I remember feeling a tinge of jealousy: the children there did not have to go to school, and they seemed to have so much fun exploring all day! It was extremely hot under the tin roof, but people made due with attaching a large cardboard to a beam, attaching a long string to its bottom, and taking turn pulling on it so it acted as a ceiling fan. How creative is that? I remember not wanting to leave. At least they had each other. And they also had lots of salted mackerels, ration and main staple for refugees. I happen to love salted mackerels, especially when eaten for the first time there with Jeo Kapi and sautéed morning glories, surrounded by loved ones…

Since then, this salty and spicy dipping sauce has meant so much more to me than just a mouthwatering pungent sauce. It symbolizes the coming together of a family, even in need and on rationed food, to share a meal.

Ingredients:

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  • 4 fresh chilies
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • juice of half a lime
  • 2 tbs of fish sauce
  • 2 tbs of sugar
  • 1 tbs of kapi (shrimp paste)

How to make ‘Jeo Kapi’:

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In a mortar, with a pestle crush the chilies and garlic with a pinch of salt

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Add kapi and sugar, crush and mix all together

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Add fish sauce and lime juice, mix well

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Adjust to your taste by adding a little more sugar, lime juice, or fish sauce

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Serve with steamed and/or raw assorted vegetables

Through the years, I have served this dipping sauce with so many kinds of vegetables and stir fries, even experimenting with noodles and rice. But my all time favorite combination is to pair it with eggplant tempura. You will learn through this blog that I will try to add eggplant of any type to everything I cook and eat 😉

Ingredients for Eggplant Tempura:

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  • 1 cup of tempura mix
  • 3/4 cup of ice water
  • 2 Chinese eggplants, cut in medallions, 1/4 inch thick

How to cook eggplant tempura:

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Dip eggplant medallions in the batter and coat well

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Heat 1.5 inch oil in a pan on medium heat and slowly drop eggplant

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When slightly golden, flip over eggplants

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Remove from oil and let drain on paper towel

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Serve Jeo Kapi accompanied by eggplant tempura, steamed and/or fresh assorted vegetables (carrots, snake beans, cabbage, cucumber, Thai eggplants, etc.), and hot steamed jasmine rice. Enjoy!!!

Posted in Family and Life, Food | Tagged , , | 4 Comments

Coconut Sticky Rice with Mango…

April is an important month for the Lao people across the globe. It is a month of celebrations, family gatherings, and community festivals. April marks a period of renewal,  and according to ancient scholars it is a time when the length of day exceeds that of night, hence appropriate to start anew, with increasing light over darknness – a wish for what is to come. We welcomed the Buddhist year of 2555 in a three days of elaborate rituals, on April 13-14-15. It goes without saying that I’ve been really busy, not only welcoming the New Year, but also planning many community projects. This of course added much to my scattered brain as of late, and contributed to a huge writer’s block…

So, this post will have to stand on its own, a simple recipe without the usual accompanying story, nonetheless a continuation to the sticky rice segment. This is what you can whip up with left over sticky rice, a sweet and fragrant dessert.

Ingredients:

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  • 2 cups of cooked sticky rice
  • 1 1/2 cup coconut cream
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 tsp of salt
  • 2 ripe sweet mangoes
To make Coconut Sticky Rice:
Heat coconut cream in a sauce pan with salt until hot (NOT boiling), then add sugar and stir until all is dissolved
Add the cooked sticky rice and stir frequently so it doesn’t stick to the pan, and let simmer 5 minutes

20120518-170926.jpgTurn off stove and let cool 30 minutes, the rice will continue to absorb the cream

20120518-171001.jpgServe with sliced mangoes; sprinkle toasted sesame seed for added crunch (optional)

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Sticky Rice Pancake…

One of the things I like about cooking sticky rice and having it for meals is actually planning to have some left over. There are many things you can do with it. Below are some ways to use up the rice, to store it, and/or to turn it into other delectable dishes:

  1. Next day: reheat for meals by breaking up the rice into small loose clumps, and re-steam with one of the methods I covered in the previous post. This will only take about 5 minutes as the rice is already cooked and only needing a steam through. The rice will, however, be a little stickier and softer.
  2. Next morning: make ‘Khao Jee‘ or ‘sticky rice pancake’ (as our family calls it) for breakfast. See recipe at the bottom of this post.
  3. Refrigerator: break up left over rice into small loose clumps, put in Ziplog bags, and leave in the fridge: this can keep up to a week or two, depending on the level of moisture of the rice. Reheat by following one of the cooking methods for 5 minutes or until heated through.
  4. Freezer: follow the same procedure as above and keep in the freezer for up to 2 months. Reheat by following one of the cooking methods, without defrosting, for 10 minutes or until heated through.
  5. Drying: break up left over rice into small loose clumps and spread them out on a tray to dry, either out in the sun or just in a cool and dry area of the kitchen/house. Once the rice is dried (maybe 1-2 afternoons in the sun) or at least 4-5 days inside (if you live in a rainy city like me), put rice in an airtight container and keep in the pantry for future use to make deep fried rice crispies: these little clumps of heavenly crunch could be used as is for snack, to use in ‘Khiew Padaek‘, and/or to add texture to the dish ‘Pah Nem‘ (fish salad with crispy rice). I like to use them as garnishes as well.

Khao Jee’ literally translated “roasted/grilled rice” or “sticky rice pancake” as our family refers to, is one of my many favorite things to have for breakfast (Khao Jee is also the term used for bread). Whenever my parents are in the States and staying with my older sister, Outamaly aka Maly aka Out (to her school friends from Laos) aka euay Air, we would often make the 2.5 hours trip to visit over the weekend. This usually becomes a 2 days of feasting on Lao food and intensive family bonding. Since we live abroad where having sticky rice to accompany traditional dishes becomes a special treat, for a special occasion, having its left over turned into “pancake”, too, becomes a grand affair. The morning before my mother left for Laos 2 weeks ago, she made this for us. There is no better aroma to wake up to than that of eggs and rice! Such a simple and filling meal, but the love that surrounds its preparation and the familial connotation warms my heart and soul.

Tradionally, ‘Khao Jee’ is made by grilling the rice formed into a patty by slowly basting it with eggs seasoned with padaek. The mixture would seep through the rice keeping it moist inside while it becomes golden and crispy on the outside. You will find these treats sold by street vendors in their small and often portable stalls any time of the day all over Laos. Conveniently they are shaped like elongated patties on a bamboo stick for easy grab-and-go. The smell of padaek and rice roasted over charcoal is simply perfect to wake you up!

Because we live in the Northwest where taking out the grill is only for 3 weeks out of the year, we have been making this special breakfast pan fried. It is quick and the crispy/chewy combination is as good! I also serve mine accompanied by a fish sauce with slices of chilies and a squirt of lime.

Ingredients:

Ingredients

  • Left over cold sticky rice made into patties about 4 inches in diameter. Freshly cooked, hot or warmed up rice will come apart during cooking process.
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • Vegetable oil for coating the pan
  • 1 tbsp fish sauce (use 1 tsp for egg mixture and the rest for dipping sauce)
  • 1 to 2 chili peppers for the sauce
  • 1 wedge of lime

How to make Sticky Rice Pancakes:

Rice PattySticky Rice made into patties

EggMix egg and 1 tsp of fish sauce

Rice in eggImmerse rice patties in egg mixture and flip for even coating

20120412-172815Lightly coat bottom of non stick pan and place patties in the pan

Almost doneFlip over once bottom of patties is golden and crispy

ServeServe with a side of sauce made from left over fish sauce and sliced chilies. Squirt lime juice in fish sauce for a more balanced and lighter taste.

Posted in Family and Life, Festivals, Traditions, and Culture, Food | Tagged , , | 11 Comments

Doing the ‘Rice’ Thing…

I love to hang out around food, whether it is to eat it or to watch it be prepared. The aroma of fresh chilies hitting the hot charcoal is enough to make my mouth water. The sound of the pestle hitting the mortar tells me, no matter where I find myself in the world, that I have in fact arrived at a Lao home and that I will have something to eat that will warm my soul. It is true that my most special and treasured memories come accompanied by some sensory recognition. For example, every time I hear the song “Cars and Girls” by Prefab Sprout, I get transported back to the late eighties, to the winding road up the French Alps, where my uncle and aunt took us on winter breaks, to ski and get away from the rainy city of Le Havre. I can still feel the cool air on my face, the crisp blue sky and bright sun above me. All 4 of us (my 2 cousins, my younger brother, and I) would have our Walkman on and cranked up all the way with our favorite tunes while snacking on sticky rice with hard boiled eggs and ‘Jeo Bong’ (ແຈ່ວບອງ or spicy chili paste), so that my uncle can have a peaceful drive. Vacations (at least twice a year) are sacred to the French, winters up in the mountains, and summers at the beach…

When I first had the opportunity to return to my motherland in the winter of 2008, I thought something would let me know right away that I was once again home, something that would hit me as I step out of the airplane and as soon as my feet could walk the Lao soil. I was waiting for that movie moment with great anticipation in the months leading up to that trip, imagining tears rolling down my cheeks in that instant recollection. Though I was immediately overcome with emotions to hear my mother tongue spoken everywhere, that scene was not in the story board upon my arrival at the Wattay International Airport. Still, I was so excited then that I even shared my home coming feelings with the officer who stamped my visa – he looked at me with a sweet smile as if he understood. It was not until a couple of days later, at the crack of dawn, that it hit me really hard: it was the sound of the wood crackling in the fire and its sparks, the smell of its smoke, and the fragrance of freshly cooked sticky rice, while roosters crowed competing with the beating of the neighboring temples’ drums. I choked up a bit. To me, that is the sight, smell, and sound of Laos.

Sticky rice (ເຂົ້າໜຽວ) or most of the time called glutinous or sweet rice, is to the Lao what baguettes are to the French, burgers to the Americans. There is a Lao saying that goes something like this: ບ່ອນໃດມີສຽງແຄນ ມີເຂົ້າໜຽວ ບ່ອນນັ້ນລະ ມີຄົນລາວ, “Where there is the sound of the khene (ແຄນ, national musical instrument) and sticky rice, there live Lao people”. Cooking sticky rice is second nature, a daily ritual, whether it is to make morning offering to the monks or to eat with every meal. Our dinner at the house on the Mekong always began with my grandfather taking the first bite of food, scooped up with a small ball of sticky rice from a bamboo basket, from its edge: it is considered rude and selfish to get rice from the center of the basket, as that part usually has the softest rice, versus the rice around the edges of the basket is dryer and harder.

I had planned to begin this blog with giving the recipe, more so the directions, on how to cook sticky rice the Lao way. As a matter of fact, I grew up not knowing any other ways to cook sticky rice but using a ‘huad’ (ຫວດ or cone shaped bamboo basket) atop an urn-like pot (ໝໍ້ເໜຶ້ງ or steamer pot). It was much later during my college years that I had to resort to creativity to fulfill my cravings for sticky rice: dormitory food didn’t satisfy me after a while. But the required steamer basket and pot combination is very awkwardly shaped and would have taken a lot of space in my crammed living quarters. I had to make do with what I had in the kitchen. This post led me to think about my adopted younger siblings in their small kitchens in the big cities: New York City singles, Kathy and Ranee; Los Angeles fashion student, Katherina aka Poupee; my adopted little brother Toan in Boston; and my Ivy League student/nephew, Aniran, in Providence, Rhode Island. They all have moved away from their Seattle home to do their things. I wonder how they would get their sticky rice fixes without their family and without the traditional cookware… and I know they miss it, because they would send requests for Lao food prior to their home coming. I realize that not everyone will go at length to fulfill their cravings, but fear no more!

Below are the basic directions on how to cook sticky rice, and some inventive ways to cook it. For all methods of cooking, always begin with the steps of Soaking the Sticky Rice, and end with the steps of “Fanning of the Rice”.

Soaking the Sticky Rice

  1. About 1/2 cup uncooked rice per person, though on the smaller portion. I never mind left over rice, as I can turn it into a breakfast favorite the next day, or use it as important component to various other dishes.
  2. Rub and clean rice until water runs clear. This process gets rid of the excess starch.
  3. Fill with room temperature water about 2 inches above rice and let soak for 4-5 hours. Overnight soaking will speed the cooking time, especially if making a big batch.

Traditional Method – Need steamer pot and cone shaped woven bamboo basket. Fill steamer pot with 10 cups of water and bring to rolling boil.


  1. Wet basket by rinsing as this will prevent the rice to stick to it, drain and put rice in it, put basket on top of steamer pot, and cover with lid.
  2. Cook on medium high heat for 15-20 minutes depending on the amount of rice, or until the rice turns translucent.
  3. “Flip” the rice upside down (ຊິກເຂົ້າ) by holding both sides of the basket, shaking the rice from the edges, and giving it a quick flip inside the basket. The top will get closer to the water and high steam for an evenly cooked rice, and cook for another 10 minutes or until the rice is soft.

Steamer Insert and Cheese Cloth Method – Need pot with its steamer insert (I have used a stainless steel colander before and it worked as well) and a cheese cloth to lay on top as the holes of the steamer are likely to be too big and rice will fall through. Add 3 inches of water to the pot and leave at least couple inches between the bottom of steamer and water surface.

  1. Place cheese cloth over steamer insert (or colander) and add drained rice. Make sure to leave some holes uncovered so steam can come through and cook rice from the top as it circulates.
  2. Place on top of pot with water on rolling boil, cover, and cook for 15 minutes.
  3. Flip the rice upside down with a wooden spatula, cover, and cook another 10 minutes.

Splatter Guard and Dome Cover Method -Need a pan, mesh splatter guard, and a salad bowl or aluminum mixing bowl.

  1. Put water in pan about 2 inches deep. Make sure there is enough room, couple inches at least, in between the surface of the water and the splatter guard. Bring water to a boil.
  2. Add drained sticky rice on the splatter guard spreading evenly, and cover with a dome like lid, a clear salad bowl, or an aluminum mixing bowl (whatever you have on hand). Cook for 15 minutes.
  3. Remove cover cautiously as it will be hot. Use a wooden spatula and flip the rice over for even cooking. Cover and cook another 10 minutes.

ວີເຂົ້າ or Fanning the Rice – It is important to “fan” the rice once it is cooked, regardless of the method of cooking, as this process gets rid of the  steam, so that when stored, the rice doesn’t sweat too much and become soggy by the time it is served.

  1. Pour rice onto a traditional woven bamboo tray or large bowl.
  2. “Fan” the rice (ວີເຂົ້າ) by flipping it around with a wet wooden spatula to cool off the rice.
  3. Put the rice in the traditional woven bamboo basket to keep warm until serving. This container gives the rice breathing room through the basket weaves, instead of trapping its moisture inside, making the rice soggy and too sticky.

Which ever method suits you, I hope you will find these easy cooking steps helpful, as we will embark on an exciting journey of preparing more delectable dishes from this very sticky rice!

Posted in Family and Life, Festivals, Traditions, and Culture, Food | Tagged , , | 7 Comments

Dangerously Good Green Papaya Salad…

Until the early eighties, I was raised in Vientiane, the capital city of Laos. I was just about ten then, but I still vividly remember so much about my childhood and my favorite things to do and eat. Meals were/are a sacred bonding time. We were asked to sit around the traditional ‘pah khow’ (ພາເຂົ້າ or low round woven rattan table) with our legs to one side on a mat spread over the wooden floor. It was an unwritten rule that we never get scolded during dinner, as it was a time to truly enjoy the meal, to feed, and to replenish our body and mind. My parents believed that it was more important we received the nourishment that we needed to grow, than to be lectured about something and not finish eating. Our ‘pah khow’ was really big, enough to fit 10-12 people around it. As far in time as I can remember, our household had always comprised of extended family members: cousins who moved in to pursue higher education from far away villages and districts, relatives from as far as the southernmost province of Attapeu who came and stayed for work and/or do businesses, etc. There were people coming and going, and we were receiving guests all the time. So there was always something interesting going on in the kitchen: it was a full day worth of activities, filled with chopping, slicing, grilling, and pounding sound, and the aroma that emerged from there always made my mouth water. Feeding the big family was a serious affair.

Growing up, my grandparents were the supreme authority, but the management of the household was placed in my mother’s hands. She was a working woman with a career at the Development Bank (ທະນາຄານພັດທະນາ), situated next to Vat Mixay (ວັດມີໄຊ or Mixay Temple) and she was running the house with ease and caring for its inhabitants with great tender love. She was quite progressive for her generation if you ask me! She was really busy, usually getting home only in the early evening. We were expected to have had snacks, finished homework, and showered by the time she got home and before dinner. One of my cousins, a daughter of my father’s sister, came from Banh Geun (ບ້ານເກິນ) to live with us and to pursue an education: she later attended medical school and became a doctor. Euay Vanh automatically became my parents’ eldest daughter, and my mother’s right hand woman. She also became my second mom, taking care of my needs after school, always letting me off the hook when I was in trouble, and consoling me when I felt my younger brother was getting preferential treatments for being the only and youngest son of my father, who is also an only son. She also held many other roles, such as student, weaving apprentice, but to me, her coolest role was as my co-conspirator and partner in crime.

My 2 older sisters, my younger brother, and I grew up with guidelines and regulations strictly enforced, even forbidden activities, such as swimming in the Mekong unsupervised, and eating spicy ‘Tum Maak Houng’ (ຕຳໝາກຫຸ່ງ or green papaya salad) from street vendors. Once I had a serious case of diarrhea after having it: my stomach was turning and twisting, hurting me for a week. I also developed a chronic eye infection, undiagnosed or not given a scientific name, but suspected to be caused by food allergies (‘padaek’ was believed to be one of the culprits) triggering me to rub and scratch my eyes, adding the infamous red dust from unpaved streets, and my eyes took turn getting swollen shut and produced a thick white discharge. I had to wear an eye patch and miss school, which gave me time to hang out in the kitchen and be spoiled with treats. Back in the days, the ‘padaek’ (ປາແດກ or fermented fish sauce) was not always the cleanest, and the dust raised from the roads added to the questionable sanitation of this favorite dish by my favorite vendor. I guess those were valuable enough of reasons why I should not be allowed to eat this all times favorite Lao snack. It was OK though for me to eat it, if it was prepared at home. Unfortunately, it seldom made it as part of our daily meal. To me, something was fishy about the whole thing…

As serious as dinners were, snack times were more flexible, an adventure for me, free and unsupervised by the higher up authorities. I would often have a big ball of freshly steamed sticky rice sprinkled with salt while I roamed and reigned over our big garden, fenced in by mature trees producing year round fruits and flowers: star fruits, fragrant plumeria and champi flowers, mangoes, rose apples, jack fruits, guavas, coconuts, ‘milk fruits’ (ໝາກນໍ້ານົມ), bananas, climbing betel leaves, kaffir limes, and all sorts of herbs. On special days, Euay Vanh would give in to my begging and craving for ‘tum maak houng’: those remain some of the most thrilling moments of my life. After I promised not to tell and get rid of the smell of garlic and padaek in my breath and on my fingers by thoroughly washing, we would walk over to the banks of the Mekong and ask the vendor to make her spiciest batch. When chili peppers were in short supply, out of season, and expensive, the vendor would try to cheat me by not putting enough. I would always insist that she added more. “How can such a small person eat so spicy?” she would cry out. The finished product would be put in a clear plastic bag along with some fresh vegetables as accompaniments, tied up with a rubber band. I knew exactly how much time I had to enjoy the snack before my mother got home.

Something was exciting and exhilarating about breaking rules. Was I borderline delinquent? If cravings for the sweet, sour, salty, and spicy taste were a crime, I was willing to take the risks of being caught. I still get a rush from telling the story. One day, as I was savoring every bite of the tum maak houng using my fingers as chopsticks, wiping my tears, sweats, and nose on my sleeve because it was so humid and so spicy. I was the only one left to finish it up: everyone else took a couple of bites and gave up. Suddenly I heard euay Vanh running towards me, and telling me in one breath that my mother was home early and was about to walk through the front gate. Panicked we both looked at each other, not knowing what to do and where to run. With an unspoken understanding, she walked swiftly to greet my mother and possibly delay her from catching me red handed. I ran towards the back of the house, as fast as my short legs could allow, with the plastic bag swinging on the rubber band hanging from my left hand, and holding in my right a small bare branch of the morning glory (ຜັກບົ້ງ): its leaves have been used to wrap the papaya salad and eaten earlier. I glanced over and realized that there was some sauce left in the bag, and this batch was yet one of the tastiest I’ve had. I turned a corner and when out of sight, I stopped running. Out of breath, I found my favorite hiding spot, squeezed myself behind the huge jars of homemade ‘padaek’, my back against the wall, right underneath the kitchen. I bit off both ends of the knotty parts on the morning glory branch, and what remained was a long green straw. I stuck it inside the bag, and with all the will and breath I had left, sucked up the remaining sauce. In the hurry and fear to get caught, I sucked too hard and too fast. I coughed uncontrollably. The very spicy sauce went down the wrong pipe and straight up to my brain, and I almost choked!

To this day, tum maak houng remains one of my favorite dishes and all times snacks, except that I don’t have to make it a secret obsession, and hide from my mother to enjoy it. I invited one of my adopted younger sisters, Phonetip, who co-founded “Kinnaly – Lao Traditional Music and Dance Troupe” with me and 4 other amazing young women, to make it. Because it is such a loved and uniquely Lao dish, making good tum maak houng is a sought after skill. A woman who makes a good batch is believed to have mastered the secret of Lao cooking. I often tease Phonetip that she is still single because she does not know how to make good tum maak houng. So I gave her my recipe to test out 😉 The result was pretty good. I like mine a little on the sweet side. She almost broke my mortar though… 😉

Tum Maak Houng – ຕຳໝາກຫຸ່ງ or Green Papaya Salad Recipe:

There are many ways to make this dish and ingredients vary. Sometimes I add slices of small eggplants, noodles, and/or dry shrimps. The combinations are endless. This is my most basic version. I do not use garlic as it tends to turn the salad bland if it sits out for too long. I also find that its smell overpowers the rest of the ingredients. But if you like it in yours, please use one clove. You can add a generous sprinkle of MSG. You can also substitute dried chilies with fresh ones, and adjust the amount according to your level of spicy preference. This is pretty fire-y!

Ingredients:

Ingredients

  • 6 Dry Chilies
  • ½ tbs of kapi  or Shrimp Paste
  • 1 tbs of Sugar
  • 1 tbs of Tamarind Paste
  • 1 tbs of Padaek or Fermented Fish Sauce
  • 1 tbs of Fish Sauce
  • 10 Cherry Tomatoes
  • 2 cups of Shredded Green Papaya
  • 1 cup of long beans, cut 1.5 inch long
  • 2 Wedges of Lime
  • Need a Mortar and Pestle to mix it in

How to Make Tum Maak Houng:

PhonetipHere’s my little sister, Phonetip, following my recipe and directions 😉

Chilies and KapiPound chilies with kapi

Crush green beansAdd long beans and crush lightly

Add cherry tomatoesAdd the shredded papaya and sliced cherry tomatoes

Lime juiceAdd padaek, fish sauce, tamarind paste, sugar, and lime juice

MIxingMix thoroughly with the pestle and a spoon

DoneServe as is…

thum maak hoongor with wedges of cabbage and/or pork rinds. Here I left out the green beans, and replaced them with slices of small eggplants, and added some pickled crabs with padaek.

Flat shredIn recent years, there is an overwhelming innovation in the tum industry! In the Luang Prabang region, I have found the papaya shredded wide and flat, some of my friends have dubbed this the “fettuccine” of shredded papayas: they don’t soak in as much of the liquids, hence leaving the papaya with more texture and are crunchier.

Tum FruitsTo let you know how passionate I am about this tum tradition, I have made it with unripe fruits as well! Here I used kiwi, blueberries, grapefruits, strawberries, and mangoes. Instead of following the steps in the recipe, I mixed all the ingredients to make the sauce first, then I added the fruits last and just tossed them as you would in a dressing. Guava, green apples, pineapple are also good candidates. Just remember to choose them firm.  I topped it off with peanut. The result is rather refreshing with differing texture!

Thum MuaThe latest craze is tum mua (ຕຳມົ້ວ or loosely ‘tum mix’) in which you add anything and everything into the mortar, from noodles, all kinds of vegetables, to even meat and seafood. If you are a true fan of the tum flavors like myself, I guarantee that you will still love (almost) every combination and every bite of it! So go out and find your best combination, and have fun ‘tum-ing’!

Posted in Family and Life, Festivals, Traditions, and Culture, Food | Tagged , , , | 8 Comments

The French Fare…

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:

  1. Crab Cake for Appetizer
  2. Choice of Tomato or Butternut Squash Soup
  3. Sole Meuniere with Rice Pilaf and Green Beans (Lemon Sorbet)
  4. Chicken with Thyme, Roasted Fingerlings and Brussels Sprouts (Raspberry Basil Sorbet)
  5. Boeuf Bourguignon with Baby Carrots
  6. Salad
  7. Cheese and Bread
  8. Assorted Desserts
  9. Tea and Coffee with Biscotti

Crab Cakes

Tomato Soup

Sole Meuniere with Rice Pilaf and Green Beens

Chicken with Thyme, Fingerlings, and Brussels Sprouts

Boeuf Bourguignon with Baby Carrots (Raspberry Basil Sorbet)

Salad

Assorted Desserts – See the sticky rice and mango?

I chose Flourless Chocolate Lava Cake and…

…Thai Tea Ice Cream

Posted in Family and Life, Food | 8 Comments

What’s in a name?…

As my parents prepare to make the trip back to Laos where they now spend half of their retired time, my older sister Sirisone cooked up a storm over the weekend. Euay Toui is her nickname – euay = older sister, and Toui… well, means ‘chubby’, though my parents gave it a spin by using a higher intonation. She was born with chubby cheeks, but the nickname does no longer describe her physical appearance.

Lao children are usually given long, complicated (especially when you add the French spelling), and beautiful names derived from the Sanskrit or Pali languages, intended to give strength of character. They are named after flowers, precious stones, war heroes. Siblings’ names typically rhyme and/or share a theme. They begin with the same letter or syllable. They have meanings such as kind hearted, artistic, spirited, power, etc. carrying the parents’ wishes for their long and happy life.

But Lao people will seldom use or be known by these lovely names. Instead they will be called by nicknames that will stick to them like superglue all throughout their life. The nicknames are usually shortened from their full names, derived from terms of endearment, (such as ‘Air’ meaning ‘Baby’), rank or number in the birth order (‘La’ for the youngest, ‘Yai’ for the first born), descriptive words for how they look when they were born (‘Joy’ meaning ‘Skinny’, ‘Lae’ meaning ‘Dark’), or simply names that are easier to pronounce, and to remember (particularly when families tend to be big, with several children). It is like having a double (triple for those who have opted to change their name to an easier on the tongue all American one when they became US citizens) or secret identity: one for work in official papers, and the other for family and close friends.

My Lao friends and I have tried to change the tradition when we get together by calling each other by our full names. The challenge would last about 5 minutes, enough to recall each other’s mouthful and pretty names. But for me, these friends will forever be: Yai (aka Sinnakhone), Noi (aka Sinlapakone), Deng (aka Pinkeo), Dum (aka Pinkham), Mui (aka Souphaphone), Oud (aka Viphavanh), Aod (aka Boupha), and Aoi (aka Douangmala)… You should be able to tell if some are siblings, an/or how they look when they were born 😉 These names are either the opposite of how they grew up to be, or surprisingly a total and perfect match. I often wonder how much taller I would have been had my parents given me a nickname that meant ‘Long’ or ‘Tall’ instead of ‘Short & Round’.

Anyway, I totally digressed… Next post will be about my sister’s sit-down nine-course meal over the weekend 😉

Posted in Family and Life, Festivals, Traditions, and Culture | 11 Comments