Laos

Lao People’s Democratic Republic is the only landlocked country in South East Asia. I visited Laos in 2002 and found it to be a beautifully scenic, peaceful and relaxed country. However it’s had its fair share of trouble. Laos remains one of the most corrupt countries in the world and it ranks 29th hungriest nation out of the list of the 52 nations with the worst hunger situations in the world. Along with China, Cuba and Vietnam, it is one of the world’s four (or five – South Korea is disputed) remaining socialist states that openly espouse Communism. The government of Laos has been accused of committing genocide, human rights and religious freedom violations against the Hmong ethnic minority within its own borders.

Laos has been named the world’s most bombed country. Over two billion tons of bombs (i.e. more than all of the bombs dropped on Europe during WWII) were dropped in Laos by the USA during the Vietnam War. The highest point in Laos, the Phou Bia, is unfortunately not open to tourists because it is filled with un-exploded ammunition.

The tourism sector has grown rapidly, from 80,000 international visitors in 1990, to 1.87 million in 2010. The official tourism slogan is “Simply Beautiful”. The main attractions for tourists include Buddhist culture and colonial architecture in Luang Prabang, gastronomy and ancient temples in the capital of Vientiane, backpacking in Muang Ngoi Neua and Vang Vieng, ancient and modern culture and history in The Plain of Jars region. My highlights include the trip down the Mekong, white water rafting in Vang Vieng and the chilled out vibe in Luang Prabang.

Grin khao “Eat Rice”, the staple food of Lao people is steamed sticky rice, which is eaten by hand. In fact, the Lao eat more sticky rice than any other people in the world. Popular dishes include Som Tam (green papaya salad), Kaeng jeut (vegetable and pork soup), Mok pa (fish steamed in banana leaf), Khao phat (Lao fried rice), Kai Aw (Lao chicken stew) and Khanom maw kaeng (coconut custard cake). I decided to make a famous Lao dish – Larb (marinated meat salad). It was simple, fresh and completely delicious.

Rating: 9/10

Serves: 4 as a starter
Prep time: 20 minutes
Cook time: 30 minutes

1/8 cup uncooked long grain white rice
450g skinless, boneless chicken thighs
1 tbsp groundnut oil
2 shallots, thinly sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tbsp minced galangal
1 small red chilli peppers, seeded and finely chopped
2 spring onions, finely chopped
1/8 cup fish sauce
1/2 tbsp shrimp paste
1/2 tbsp white sugar
2 tbsp chopped fresh mint
1 tbsp chopped fresh basil
1/8 cup lime juice

Preheat an oven to 175c
Spread the rice onto a baking sheet
Bake the rice in the preheated oven until golden, about 15 minutes
Remove and allow to cool. Once cooled, grind into a fine powder with a spice grinder or pestle and mortar
Meanwhile, grind the chicken thigh meat in a food processor until finely ground and set aside (or get the butcher to do this for you as I did!)
Heat the oil in a wok or large skillet over medium heat
Fry the shallots over a medium heat for 3 minutes until golden, then set aside
Stir in the garlic, galangal, chilli peppers, spring onions and cook until the garlic softens, about 2 minutes
Add the ground chicken meat and cook, stirring constantly to break up lumps, until the meat is no longer pink, about 5 minutes
Season with fish sauce, shrimp paste, and sugar
Reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer until the excess liquid has evaporated, about 5 minutes
Stir in the ground rice, mint, basil, and lime juice
Just before serving, stir in the fried shallots
Serve with lettuce leaves

laos-monks
Laos Monks
mekong-river-laos
Mekong River, Laos
luang-prabang-laos
Luang Prabang, Laos
patuxai-victory-monument-vientiane-laos
Patuxai Victory Monument, Vientiane, Laos
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