Thursday, March 20, 2008
A Few Thoughts on Vientiane, Laos
Upon entering the very touristed center of Vientiane, the capital of Laos, one is struck by an eerie absence of Lao people. Look around and you'll see tourists whiling away their days in French style cafes sipping very nice coffee and enjoying very good croissants. Many a traveller will tell you that there is nothing much to see and do in the capital, and they're partly right. There are not many must sees and or must dos for the casual tourist, so there's a lot of relaxing being done by the world's fortunate in this poor republic.
Changing gears, I want to show you what I ate and drank; this is a food blog after all. The first thing I wanted upon arriving in Laos was the fabled Lao coffee. From pictures I had ascertained that Lao coffee was prepared like Thai coffee, but how different it was I did not know. My first cup did not disappoint. As a matter of personal preference, it fell somewhere in between Thai and Vietnamese coffee. The coffee was stronger than the Thai version, possibly owing to the fact that Thai coffee is filled out with other ingredients, leaving the coffee less strong tasting. It was certainly strong and sweet, but not as mind blowing as the ineffable Vietnamese version.
The next thing I was excited to try was the Lao version of the sandwich. I really enjoyed bánh mỳ in Vietnam and had a couple good sandwiches in Cambodia as well.
A sandwich with pâté, some of the usual suspects, green papaya, and topped off with herbs did not disappoint.
A sandwich with an omelet makes a rather excellent breakfast.
I found the Lao sandwich excellent for a meal or a quick snack. The selection of herbs and veggies make this western snack, very Lao. Unfortunately, only in the capital did I find the sandwiches up to snuff. The very spicy sauce we enjoyed in Vientiane was nowhere to be found elsewhere.
One thing I really enjoyed was eating and drinking on the (very dry) Mekong river. Here many Westerners, Thais, and even a few Lao people eat and drink away the evening hours.
One thing that many a visitor to Laos invariably celebrates is the very good Beer Lao. Although I already miss this brew, I am inclined to think that after a couple years of drinking the very malt-liquor-like Thai beers, the very drinkable Beer Lao tastes better than it might otherwise. Westerners like this beer so much that a full 70 percent of them will buy a Beer Laos t-shirt during their stay in Laos.
We occasionally eat jim-jum on the streets of Bangkok and they served the same thing along the river in Vientiane. The evenings were cool and the coals were hot making this familiar dish all the more comforting.
The flavors were familiar, if not maybe a little subdued compared to what I eat on the streets of Bangkok. This is not a complaint though. Very delicious.
The meat selection seemed, for the lack of a better word, very safe. No guts, no chewy bits, just lean cuts.
Bring the pot to a boil, add meat, veggies, and noodles. The real challenge is to not scald yourself while serving up a small bowl.
We also ordered spring rolls. More of a drinking snack really, but as we were doing just that, it made perfect sense.
The highlight for me was the banana flower salad. It was spicy, sour, and perfect with the obligatory sticky rice.
Grab a small pinch in your hand, grab some salad, and enjoy.