Rattan from Luang Namtha province is large and succulent; it is only mildly bitter. It is called naw boun (shoot of rattan) in Vientiane and yawt wai in Luang Namtha. Rattan from the South and Isaan, the Thai province with a large ethnic Lao population, is thin and often extremely bitter. Strip and use the steamed inner core for awm wai (rattan purée) or add pieces of uncooked core to stews such as aw lahm and gaeng bawt. Another way of preparing rattan is to char the rattan sticks in a low fire, strip the outer skin from the inner core and use the cooked, inner flesh with chilli paste, ginger and/or barbecued fish.
In Phongsaly province, also in Laos’ north, it is made into an aw lahm with dried beef. In Luang Namtha, rattan is used in a dish with dried squirrel. It is exported dried to the US from Boung Pao village in Toulakom district.
A substitute for fresh rattan is Thai bottled rattan which has been soaked for half an hour in cold water to which a squeeze of lime juice has been added. Remove from water and steam until soft. For a substitute, try parsnip or turnip; they mash similarly to rattan and hold their shape in stews. Use an apple corer with these substitutes to create rattan’s cylindrical shape.