The delectable food of northern Laos is given its full due by the people of The Boat Landing Guest House and Restaurant who have distilled Luang Namtha Province’s culinary highlights into a menu that presents the rich flavours and aromas of local food.
The recipes from this ecolodge’s kitchen have been shared by Patsanee (Joy) Khantisouk, Nouanchan (Chan) Khantisouk, Kulamany (Tuey) Kulavady and their colleagues with culinary researcher and dedicated foodie, Dorothy Culloty, who presents them in Food from Northern Laos: The Boat Landing Cookbook.
Packed with regional culinary detail and photographs taken in local kitchens, the cookbook records the restaurant’s salute to the special cuisines of a number of the area’s ethnic groups as well as recipes from local villages. These little-known recipes make the most of natural resources from Luang Namtha province’s mountain forests and lush riverine valleys.
Luang Namtha is one of the most Northern provinces of Laos, bordering on Yunnan province of China and Burma. It is home to the largest variety of ethnic groups in Laos. Preciously fairly isolated and difficult to get to, recently the province was made more accessible to tourists and traders by the opening of a new road from the Thai border and a new airport.
Nestled on the bank of the Namtha River, the ecolodge is the pride of the Khantisouk family who are of Tai Yuan ethnicity. The cookbook, which tells their story, shines though Kees Sprengers’ vivid photographic portrait of the province and its ethnic groups. Although food holds pride of place in this volume, it is also a loving and learned record of northern Lao who preserve their culture through their kitchens.
Eighty-eight recipes form the core of the book. Included are special dishes from Kmhmu’, Tai Dam, Tai Yuan, Tai Lue and Akha cuisine. Each recipe documents how it is prepared locally. Clear and simple directions will let readers replicate the dishes in non-Asian kitchens. The stunning food photography throughout, taken as recipes were being prepared in a village or at The Boat Landing, show the dishes in their indigenous setting.
Aspiring cooks and armchair travellers will find further assistance with
- An illustrated glossary of ingredients and substitutions (28 pages)
- A directory of Lao preparation and cooking techniques (10 pages)
- An explanation of traditional cooking equipment (3 pages)
- A bibliography, including web links (2 pages)
- A comprehensive index in English, Lao transcription and Lao script (18 pages)
The Boat Landing Guest House and Restaurant is a Tai Yuan ecolodge on the banks of the Nam Tha River, in Luang Namtha province, Lao PDR. It was set up, owned and run by a young local family, Sompawn (Pawn) and Joy Khantisouk, with lots of involvement from their extended families and Bill Tuffin, a visionary American development worker, who has a long-term friendship and mentoring role with the young couple. The Boat Landing has a warm family atmosphere, green and keep-everything-local values, along with a proud desire to expose outsiders to the region’s cultures and natural wonders (www.theboatlanding.com). To help guests who are limited by time and lack of familiarity, The Boat Landing’s restaurant has distilled Luang Namtha Province’s culinary highlights into a menu that presents the rich flavors and aromas of local food in a way that is easily understood and palatable. This is one of the over-arching goals of The Boat Landing Guest House: to present local culture in a way that is accessible. The local villagers initially laughed at the ‘peasant’ dishes that The Boat Landing offered. Naturally, they wouldn’t go to a restaurant to eat their own ordinary food; they would want something more exotic like Thai or Chinese food. But sophisticated and worldly foreigners do indeed appreciate northern Lao ‘peasant food’. The food looks and tastes delectable!
The cookbook arose from Bill Tuffin’s vision and Joy’s desire to make Luang Namtha’s cuisine more widely known and valued for its rich cultural diversity and to disabuse people of the notion that Lao food is but a poor stepchild of Thai cuisine. Laos has a culinary tradition that is vibrant, distinct and unique. It can easily stand on its own and deserves recognition.
Since 2002, Kees and I have worked to help make this dream happen. In that year, we (Kees Sprengers and Dorothy Culloty) arrived on the local scene and were soon welcomed into the embracing arms of The Boat Landing. Our initial visit resulted in deep involvement with regional friendships, photography and cuisine which now exceeds seven years. Since then, Kees has photo-documented the everyday life and rituals of the local ethnic groups and much of the rapid, on-going social change in the province, gifting many printed photographs to the villagers. I have worked with Joy, her restaurant staff and local villagers to record the food of Luang Namtha. For half of these last seven years, I also worked as an advisor with the Rural Research and Development Training Center, Vientiane, Lao PDR. For Kees and I, it was important to document the local ingredients, preparation and cooking techniques, and recipes as they are prepared locally, and to make this cultural knowledge available to people interested in South East Asian food. This has meant documenting local produce and suggesting substitutes where ingredients are not available, without compromising flavour. I also wanted to use Lao script, Lao transcription and indexing as well as English so that Lao and English readers could use the book as a communication tool – this information is not readily available in Laos. The book is intended as a tool for Lao and Lao expats as well as for the international market. All recipes have been tested in my Western kitchen and the measurements, ingredients and methods translated into clear instructions for this book. Both US and international measurements and terminology are used.
Since the tragic kidnapping of Sompawn in 2007, from which he still hasn’t returned, a shadow has fallen over The Boat Landing. Heart-sore and deeply concerned for his friends’ wellbeing, Bill made the reluctant decision to leave the country that had been his home for seventeen years. Joy and the family in the meantime continue to run the guest house and restaurant.
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