Wednesday, 24 April 2013

Food travels in SE Asia

My first experience of life in Luang Prabang was a tourist classic - giving alms to the monks, albeit in a quiet backstreet.   Monks are an essential feature - both culturally and visually - of Laos' second biggest city with its 32 Buddhist temples and are happy to be photographed and practise their English!

My second stop was the early morning outdoor food market where all of the produce was of superb quality even if much of it was unconventional to our Western eyes.   As nothing intrigues me more than foods I have never seen before, I was in my element.   I spent the best of 2 mornings there and am still only just finding out what some things were!

It took me some time to identify these as banana flowers.   DO NOT bother with imported tinned varieties - they taste of NOTHING!

Coriander is a staple ingredient in Laos food, along with coconut milk, lemon grass and chillies.   Even a modest harvest is presented with great pride on freshly cut banana leaves.

Bamboo features in almost every walk of life in Laos, particularly for the substantial hill tribe population.   Laotians build houses with it, use it for irrigation, make furniture, rice steaming pots - as held by the Khamu tribeswoman above right (can you believe it grows that big?!), chopsticks, skewers for cooking, spears for catching fish, make traps, weave baskets and eat masses of it in shoot form.   Note the regulation issue "eau de Nile" scales - they pop up everywhere!

Some of the food is so fresh it's still alive, such as this bucket of unfortunate toads awaiting their fate.
Fresh fish - still breathing...
Other unlucky creatures; partly developed chicks cooked in their shells are considered a great delicacy.   I didn't try them.

This lady with her regulation "parasol" must have developed an immunity to the heat of the ubiquitous bird's eye chillies

Traveling further north from Luang Prabang by road we stopped for lunch at Oudom Xai a busy, dusty town on the cross roads between Laos, China, Vietnam and Thailand NOT renowned for its culinary delights but I loved this photogenic restaurant interior, looking through to the cooking area at the back.

Also, its proprietor....

On the return journey - a delightful boat trip with some great rapids - we stopped off at a small but surprisingly touristy riverside town where I spotted these sausages hanging out to dry.   They earned me a Commended in the Pink Lady Food Photographer of the Year awards 2013!

Last, but not least, a theme no-one who has visited Cambodia can fail to recognise....   There seem to be people laying about in hammocks and sleeping everywhere!

Market trader, the Russian Market, Phnom Penh, Cambodia
These are a small selection from the many images I took on my travels.   They are really only holiday snaps (notice I do not indulge in the popular trend of photographing what I am about to eat!) but I thought it might be fun to share them with those of you who have food/travel interests in common.   Natacha du Pont de Bie's book "Ant Egg Soup: the adventures of a food tourist in Laos" offers a more comprehensive insight into the subject including some excellent, simple recipes.

Eventually I will be posting a more comprehensive set of pics. for those who have asked.   Let me know if you'd like to be notified...

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