Ginger, garlic and fermented soybean jeow

Ginger, garlic and fermented bean paste jeow (Tai Neua style)
Ginger, garlic and fermented bean paste jeow (Tai Neua style)
Ginger, garlic and fermented bean paste jeow (Tai Neua style)

This Tai Neua jeow was prepared for us in Ban Siliheuan and bursts with flavour. The sweetness of the sugar and the sharp tang of the ginger and garlic are softened by the spicy umami flavour of  fermented soy bean paste.

Mak lod berries
Mak lod berries

It is served with very sour berries (mak lod ໝາກລອດ) wrapped in spring onion leaves and coriander (cilantro). The berry tree grows in the forest and around the homes of Tai Neua people. The berry ripens and yellows until it is too sweet to eat. Crab apples, cranberries, unripe plum slices or cape and ordinary gooseberries would easily substitute for the mak lod  – the sourer the fruit the better.


1 knob ginger, the size of three fingers
6 big garlic cloves
15 small dried chillies, not bird’s eye chillies
3 – 4 tablespoons (2 rounded Chinese soup spoons) fermented tua nao paste or substitute such as miso or Korean fermented bean paste
3 tablespoons raw cane sugar
1 tablespoon MSG
Salt, added depending on the saltiness of the khao soi paste


Pound the garlic in a mortar with half a teaspoon of salt for a minute and then add the ginger. When the paste is well integrated and squishy, remove it to a bowl and set aside. String the chillies on a skewer and roast over the fire or gas flame or under an electric grill until semi blackened but not immolated. Deskewer into the empty mortar and pound until well mixed and broken up. Then add thefermented  bean paste and pound again. Put the ginger and the garlic paste back into mortar, pound a bit and add the sugar and MSG until all is well mixed. Taste and adjust the levels of salt, sugar and MSG to suit your own taste.

Wrapping mak lod in spring onion and coriander prior to dipping the morsel into jeow
Wrapping mak lod in spring onion and coriander prior to dipping the morsel into jeow

To serve, take a mak lodt berry (which is VERY sour) and remove the pit with a sharp knife. Wrap the sour fruit with a piece of coriander (cilantro) and spring onion leaf, then dip the little bundle in the jeow and pop into your mouth. A taste explosion will ensue. Any very sour berry could be eaten this way, such as gooseberry, a slice of crab apple etc.

© Food From Northern Laos | Galangal Press

How to make Khao Soi meat sauce Tai Neua style

You cannot go to khao soi village Ban Siliheuang in Muang Sing without making the famous pork and fermented bean sauce which is the key ingredient topping Northern Lao khao soi.

Well cooked khao soi meat paste after salt and msg is added
Well cooked khao soi meat paste after salt and msg is added
The family's khao soi meat paste, naturally preserved with oil and chillies
The family’s khao soi meat paste, naturally preserved with oil and chillies

Here is how the Tai Neua make it. Our cookbook shows you how to make this khao soi sauce the traditional way, Luang Namtha (Tai Lue) style. The two ethnic groups have influenced each other over the past 200 years. There is not much difference really, just the type and form of chillies). Both groups insist that soaking and chopping the chillies from scratch gives the best results, but most restaurants and khao soi market stalls in both districts take a short cut by using dried chilli powder and chilli flakes.

Ingredients for the meat and fermented soybean (tua nao) sauce

4 big cloves garlic

1 cup fermented soybean paste (actually 3 heaped Chinese soup spoons)

3 – 4 tablespoons (actually 2 heaped Chinese soup spoons) mild chilli powder, brightly coloured – not from bird’s eye chillies

3 – 4 tablespoons (actually 2 heaped Chinese soup spoons) coarser dried chilli flakes

Mincing pork for the khao soi meat paste
Mincing pork for the khao soi meat paste

750 g fatty pork such as belly pork, minced (3 big handfuls when minced), or a mix of pork and beef which is evidently especially delicious.

1 cup palm oil (or other vegetable oil, but not coconut, mustard or olive oil)

Salt to taste

MSG to personal taste (Tai Neua use a whopping amount in everything)

2 tomatoes, sliced in small wedges

Method for sauce (soup and accompaniments are further down the post)

Put the garlic cloves and ½ teaspoon of salt in a mortar and pound for a minute.

In a hot wok or frying pan, add the cup of oil. When heated, slip in the garlic mixture and fry while moving it about until the garlic is browned. Before it burns (!!), add about 1 cup of tua nao paste and stir to mix. Continue to fry together until the oil returns.

Add the two types of chilli and keep on frying, while moving the sauce around the pan.

Add the tomato slices and stir fry until the moisture comes out. The paste is ready when it smells good and the tomato has started disintegrating.

Adding water to khao soi meat sauce
Adding water to khao soi meat sauce

Add the minced pork, 2 teaspoons more salt (or to taste) and 1 – 2 tablespoons of MSG. (Remember, this is a very concentrated sauce expected to last a few days refrigerated (hence the oil, salt and pork fat) and to serve many people). Keep on frying until the meat is thoroughly cooked then thin with water to a thick Western savory mince consistency. Then, um, add another tablespoon of MSG and stir to mix in. Sai told us “If like to live long time don’t put in water.” After a bit of pondering I figured out he meant the meat sauce, not the person eating it. Continue to cook until the oil returns again and then transfer to a deep bowl to cool. In the cold, the fat in the sauce will solidify. It is the oil, chilli and reduced water content that preserves the sauce.

Sauce finished, we proceeded to make the soup base (there was only one fire). This can be done concurrently if you have two gas rings for example.

Ingredients for the soup base

250 g pork bits (Nang Buawon used slices left over from the pork she minced by hand for the meat sauce)

Half a pot of water (2 – 4 litres depending on how many people you have to feed, ours fed four with plenty left over. Don’t worry about the quantity because all the flavour comes from the sauce and condiments added later. This bland soup is to heat the noodles and cook the pork which is added to the dish when serving.)

Method for soup base

Bring the water to the boil. Add the slices of fatty pork. I saw no salt or MSG added, but I wouldn’t be surprised if some was slipped in while I was not looking. Simmer away while preparing the accompaniments until the meat is cooked.

Accompaniments and garnish

Finely chopped or sliced spring onions and coriander leaves, 1 tablespoon for each bowl being served

Pea or soy bean tendrils (or Chinese flowering cabbage), raw or blanched, to your taste

Lettuce, fresh

Coriander (cilantro), smallest you can get, roots removed, fresh

MSG, Soy sauce (which is also made in Tai Neua villages), lime wedges or juice, and crunchy and feather-light beef rinds, also a village specialty)

About this time Sai disappeared to get some kao soi noodles from another villager while Nang Buawon set the table and sliced some of the pork. When he came back, she put two thirds of a bowl of noodles in each bowl, topped it up with the boiling stock then poured the excess back into the pot. She then added the pork, a good hit of the meat sauce (1 very heaped Chinese spoonful, 3 – 4 level tablespoons) and sprinkled over the chopped spring onion and coriander.
Each bowl was served piping hot and ready for us to doctor with any or all of the condiments and additional spicy meat sauce. (I noticed that Sai added another tablespoonful of MSG to his.) All the ingredients were mixed together and silence interspersed by slurps and grunts of pleasure ensued!

slurping khao soi noodles
Slurping khao soi noodles

The next post will be about the wonderful sweet spicy jeow (chao) made with fermented soybean paste, ginger and garlic which is served with sour fruit from a tree (mak lodt ໝາກລອດ)

© Food From Northern Laos | Galangal Press

How Tai Neua make fermented soy bean paste for Khao soi noodles

Preparing soy beans for tua nao paste
Tai Neua tua nao paste fermenting; essential ingredient of Khao soi and other Tai Neua dishes must ferment for 1 - 2 years
Tai Neua tua nao paste fermenting; essential ingredient of Khao soi and other Tai Neua dishes must ferment for 1 – 2 years

Ever since I first espied the towers of richly deep reddish brown piles of tua nao paste resting in large basins in the Luang Namtha and Muang Sing markets I have wanted to know how to make this essential ingredient of the local khao soi noodles from scratch. I did some internet research and found some information about the fermented soy bean paste made in next –door Yunnan, China, and further away in Korea.  Determined after several years of making my own pork mince and fermented bean sauce using purchased paste I decided it was definitely time to go to Muang Sing, to track down the people who made it all the time for sale in the market as a local ingredient.

Like in a modern day Wild West, we drove slowly down the main street at sundown in our bright red Honda Jazz as town was wrapping up its business. We were about as conspicuous as a whore in a nunnery so to speak. As soon as we got out of the car Kees recognized a former guide who had accompanied him to photograph the opening of the Akha Experience trek for Exotissimo and GTZ. Well, it turned out that his family made tua nao paste, so at 8.30 the next morning we (Kees and I plus ‘intrepid camper in the freezing cold’, Sharon) set off to find that the font of fermentation lay in a Tai Neua village, Ban Nam Khao Hong.

Tua nao paste for khao soi
Tua nao paste for khao soi

Our guide, Than  Sai Kuatong (Kees’ mate’s little brother who needed to practice his English) took us to the village where we met his Mother, Nang Jantee, elder sister and hairdresser, Nang Buawon, Paw and their elderly next-door neighbour who makes the most superb fermented beancurd – but that’s another story!)

This family IS tua nao paste. At least twice a year they make the paste using 100 – 150 kg of dried soy beans, and set it to ferment in ceramic jars and Chinese plastic tubs for 1 – 2 years (up to 4 years). The older the better. They start selling it at 4 – 5 months.

Nang Jantee with tua nao paste
Nang Jantee with tua nao paste

There are only five Tai Neua villages in Muang Sing and only 9 in the whole of Laos, and this paste and the associated dishes is THEIR local dish. They take their noodles and paste down to Luang Namtha to sell at the market. They also tell us that in Luang Namtha they make a different type of rice noodle (round sheets that are then cut) and that the Tai Neua way is the proper way. (Again, that’s another story.)

The night before, Nang Jantee had dry fried 10 kg of soybeans until the outsides started to blacken until nearly burned but the insides were yellow. She then set the dried fried soy beans in a big pot with water on the fire at around 7 pm , where they simmered until the fire went out. Nang Buawon got up early and reset the fire so they continued to cook. By the time we arrived, they had been simmering for about 12 hours. They were soft but whole and certainly didn’t look burned.

Preparing soy beans for tua nao paste
Preparing soy beans for tua nao paste

The next step usually is to set the beans and their liquid aside in a covered pot for 3 days to start the fermentation process. This step produces the best fermented bean paste. Sadly, we didn’t have three days because of commitments in Luang Prabang. However, our demonstrator said you could do make the paste without the 3 days fermentation but it would not be the best although we would be able to learn all the steps involved. Deal. Also, not wanting to condemn all the beans to becoming inferior paste by skipping the three days, we only used a big bowl of beans, probably about 1.5 – 2 kg and gave the rest to the family.


Using a dipper, Mother transferred this smaller quantity of beans into a colander to drain and we trouped over to the pounder at the next house to pound the beans while adding the extra ingredients of chilli, and then salt.

It took about 25 minutes in total to pound the beans because they had not started their fermentation process. When the beans have been left for 3 days they break up faster and more easily to form a sticky, gooey paste which is darker than the paste in the photos.

After the beans are pounded to initially break them down, chilli powder is added in the proportion of 1 : 10 (1 kg chilli powder to 10 kg dry beans) and pounded throughout the beans. Then salt is added, which is done by taste. Some pastes are saltier than others according to personal taste. Our small tua nao paste sample had half a large packet of salt added (about 500 g), a ratio of 1: 20. The salt was then thoroughly pounded in. Finally three ladles of bean cooking liquor were added, pounding between each so that all ingredients were mixed into a smooth paste. The consistency was a bit wetter than either smooth peanut butter that has been newly opened or a Thai chilli paste.

The finished paste was transferred to a bowl and covered with a plastic bag to keep out the air. It had begun its 1 – 2 year journey of fermentation. I now have it in a plastic lidded container in the back seat of the car and we will take it to our home in Bang Saray, Thailand where it can happily ferment away. I learned that although the family say the fermentation process is one to two years, they were using 5 month old paste themselves and had taken some out of a big tub to sell at the market while the paste was still a teenager by tua nao paste chronology!

Here a spoonful of the sample batch we made after a few years fermentation – its much darker than paste made with the traditional 3 days fermentation.

Tua nao paste
Tua nao paste without the three day fermentation period. it is much darker than the paste which is fermented first.


miang kham peanuts

I had a request for a recipe for miang, which is basically a plate of small tasty bits and pieces such as ginger, garlic, roasted peanuts, shallots, lemon grass, dried shrimp, Lao sausage, star fruit, lime, toasted coconut, chillies, round eggplant, thin rice noodles, etc and some salad leaves to wrap up your personal selection before dipping it in a spicy sauce. I make a hot salty sour sweet sauce by simmering tamarind juice, padek or fish sauce depending on mood, chillies, salt and palm sugar, and diluted with water if its too strong and thick. Usually I just fling the dish together with whatever I have handy, but I decided to check out a few recipe books and websites for other food writers’ take on this highly variable snack.

My earliest recipe on file was a printout from the web back in 2001, from The recipe was translated by Aketawan Manowongsa from Mom Luang Nuang Nilaruttana; 1994; 14,28.

Miang Lao (Pork version from

Pork with slight amount of fat. Big dried shrimps, pounded or chopped and fried. Roasted peanuts. Fried shallots, Fried garlic, Ginger, Finely chopped tamarind, Fish sauce, Palm sugar, Oil, Tea leaves or Pickled lettuce, Hot chilies, Fried crispy rice, and Crisped pork fat. (I think he missed out either salt or fish sauce/padek as there is no salty ingredient in this list DLC)
Dice or coarsely chop the pork, then fry it in the pan and add some sugar, palm sugar. When the pork is done, put it in a bowl and mix it with finely chopped tamarind until it tastes sour. After the pork tastes 3 flavours; sour, salty and sweet. (Here’s where I think the salt or fish sauce would come in). Then mix it with pounded roasted peanut, finely pounded-crisped pork fat, finely pounded or fried dried shrimps, ginger, fried shallot, and fried garlic. When it has 3 flavours; sour, salty, and sweet, it is then ready for serve. Wrap it with Chiang Mai tea leaves or pickled lettuce but, surely, it doesn’t taste as good as wrapped in tea leaves. Eat it with fried crisped pork or, if preferred, chew it with hot chili.

 Next I looked up the heavy hitters of the cookbook world (well, in my opinion), Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid’s superbly put together “Hot Sour Salty Sweet: a culinary journey through Southeast Asia” Artisan, New York, 2000, which, by the way, is a MUST HAVE book for your bookshelf, and you can buy it on Amazon. Yep, they did not disappoint, featuring Hot and Spicy Leaf Wraps (miang kham, pp 264-5), Beef and Lettuce Roll-ups (Miang neua, p 68) and Green-wrapped flavor bundles with pork (miang lao, p 269). Phia Sing (Traditional Recipes of Laos), also available from Amazon  has a recipe for Miang Som Khai using fish eggs, pork, shrimp and fish. He describes how to make lacy egg skins, but if that is too much hassle suggests using salad leaves instead

From Eating Asia (Robyn Eckhardt, Freelance Food and Travel Writer and David Hagerman, Photographer, comes this wonderful blog about Thai miang, including a recipe for miang Lao.

Lao Voices features Luang Prabang miang muang Luang: . The post by LV has good photos of how to dry sticky rice for the miang. Below is an abbreviated version of the post, without the photos.

Miang Muang Luang (Sticky rice version from Lao Voices)

Preparing the sticky rice

For this recipe LV assumes that you know to cook sticky rice. It needs to be dried completely. This should take a few days when you are drying the rice inside. Start by breaking down the cooked sticky rice into tiny pieces on a bamboo tray or any tray and let the rice dry out. You’ll know when the rice has turned clear, it is ready to be deep fried. When you are ready to fry the dried rice, sort out the big pieces and using the mortar and pestle, gently break down the rice into smaller pieces. By doing so the rice would be easier to fry and taste better in the end.

 Making the Miang Mixture

  1. Deep fry the dried rice using vegetable, corn, or sunflower oil (your choice) until golden brown and let cool completely. Then using a blender, grind the rice popcorn into fine pieces.
  2. You’ll need the following ingredients: 2 cloves of garlic, two shallots, sugar, fish sauce, salt, monosodium glutamate/MSG (optional). Chop or grind the garlic and shallots. Add a teaspoon or two of oil (vegetable, corn, or sunflower) in a wok and fry the garlic and shallots until golden brown. Remove them from the oil. Add a tea spoon of sugar to the oil. When the sugar is golden brown, add water to the wok. The amount of water depends on the amount of ground rice that you have. This should be a 3 to 1 ratio, meaning 3 cups of water for one cup of ground rice. When you have the desired amount of water, then add fish sauce, salt, MSG, and more sugar until you get the taste you want.
  3. Add the ground rice gradually and stir the mixture constantly until you get a thick mixture that looks close to oatmeal. Remove the miang mixture from the pan and set aside for serving.


You’ll need the following ingredients: lemon grass, green egg plants (the small round ones), galangal, ginger, roasted peanuts, roasted dried chili peppers, lettuce, and phak i leut (wild pepper leaves, often called betel leaves). Slice lemon grass, green egg plants, galangal, and ginger into small serving pieces and place them next to roasted peanuts and roasted dried chili peppers.

Serve the wild pepper leaves alongside so that people can make their own miang. (You could also use lettuce leaves, or pickled cabbage leaves, and American Lao seem to be fond of spinach as a wrapper DLC).

Other recipes for Miang can be found in Daovone Xayavong’s Taste of Laos  (Fresh spinach wraps, Miang Kam, p22).  And don’t forget “Lao Cooking and the Essence of Life” by Xaixana Champanakone (formerly Vincent Fischer-Zernin), his miang are on p 93.  Xaixana’s spirited book is an inspiration for creative cooks worldwide.

I can’t resist this Thai miang kam because of the yummy sauce.

Well, all this has made me hungry. Guess what snack I’m now going to have!

© Food From Northern Laos | Galangal Press

Indigenous food of the Bunong people

ma's mother
ma's mother
Ma’s mother transferring stew from the bamboo in which it was cooked

This is not Lao food, but this post describes how to cook food in a bamboo tube, as was common in Laos. While in Mondulkiri province, Cambodia, we were lucky enough to visit a Bunong village about 12 km from Senmonorom. Here Ma and her mother demonstrated two indigenous Bunong dishes for Birgitte (a local social anthropologist), Bill Tuffin (our dear friend), Kees and I.

Bunong food
Bunong food that has been cooked in a bamboo tube

The first was Trau prung plarn (food bamboo eggplant), in which chunks of eggplant and pieces of pork stewed in a long piece of bamboo (a process called lahm in Lao). I’ve always wanted to see this style of cooking but these days many Lao simply use a pot, as do the Bunong and other Cambodians.

Bunong Trau bpai goray! beltum
Bunong Trau bpai goray! beltum

The other dish, Trau bpai goray! Beltum (bpai is pounded soaked rice, goray! is rattan and beltum is pumpkin)) featured prahok, the fermented salted fish so beloved in Cambodia. This flavoured a thick soupy stew of rattan, beef and ripe pumpkin, thickened with soaked rice which was pounded with a variety of aromatic greens, chillies and garlic.

Both dishes can also be made with fish, but in this case the fish is cooked first and the bones are removed before adding to either dish.

Bunong pottery jars for wine and preserves storage

The kitchen of the house was separate to the sleeping and living building. Most of the floor was a raised platform where large jars of rice wine and spirits, and fermenting preserves are stored. The home-made alcohol is used in traditional ceremonies and there is a strict protocol about what is used when.

Bunong fireplace

Food preparation is done on the platform, where of course no shoes are worn and it is kept spotlessly clean. Above in the rafters are bamboo baskets and other objects kept in the smoky atmosphere for preservation, and some ceremonial objects that must also be kept in the kitchen. The single cooking fire was on the dirt floor in a corner. Water was kept in a big pot on the platform, refreshed from well water daily.

When we arrived Ma set to washing and preparing the vegetables and meat for both dishes.

lahm preparation
Stuffing eggplant into bamboo tube

For the Dtrau prung plarn, Ma peeled strips of skin off three long eggplants and cut them into wedges and put them to soak in some cold water along with 11 de-stalked green birds eye chillies. I didn’t see any salt get put into the water, but I think it was quite possibly added. Normally, apple eggplants would be used instead of the long eggplants, but there were none in the garden or market that day. Ma stuffed about two thirds of the cut eggplant down the bamboo tube along with the chillies, thumping the tube to get the eggplant to slip down to the bottom. She then finely sliced a palm-sized piece of pork tenderloin with a little fat and stuffed this down the tube. Ma also did not have gee salabob, a green leaf that normally goes into this dish so she added two pounded cloves of garlic instead on top of the pork. She said that finely sliced spring onion and lemongrass can also be added at this stage. Ma then topped up the tube with the remaining eggplant.

lahm 2
Poking the water and eggplant down

Once full, she took about a cup of water and poured it slowly into the tube, using a long stick so that it could pass by the pork and eggplant pieces.
After topping up the tube with water, her mother placed it slanting over the fire propped up by a y-shaped stick.

Cooking in a bamboo tube (larm or lahm in Lao)

There it simmered away. After about 20 minutes, a long thick stick was inserted into the bamboo and the eggplant was pulped and pork mixed in. It was left to continue cooking and was removed from the fire when it was making a sizzling glopping noise.

Slicing pumpkin for Trau bpai goray! beltum, rattan already in the basin
Smashing the garlic

The second dish, Trau bpai goray! Beltum, was more complex to make, so I’ll list the ingredients:


1 cup rice, soak in water for at least 20 minutes

3 cups of peeled and deseeded pumpkin or orange coloured gourd (like a butternut)

1 bunch of rattan (or one jar of Thai rattan)

3 large cloves garlic or two finger-widths bunch of spring onions

1 handful of forest leaves (salek rannyow)

2 T lemongrass leaf or 1 T of fresh stalk (to be finely sliced)

5 green bird’s eye chillies

2 cups beef leg meat with some fat, sliced into 1 cm pieces

1 tablespoon salt

2 teaspoons msg

1 tablespoon prahok fish



To prepare the vegetables: Strip the rattan and add the soft inner core to cold water to prevent from discolouring. Cut the rattan into 2 cm pieces. Slice the pumpkin wedges into the water. Finely slice the spring onions and pound two garlic cloves, and set aside for the bpao. Drain the vegetables.

In a pot, cover the vegetables with fresh water to one finger joint and set on the fire to simmer.

Slicing spring onions into the bpai being pounded


Adding the dried leaves to the bpai


pounding bpai
Pounding the bpai
bpai 3
Stirring the bpai mixture

Drain the soaked rice and add the green leaves (salek rannyow), I have not been able to identify the scientific name. They are also called bpao leaves, and are becoming scarce as the forests are chopped down. Ma used dried ones that had been given to her by a friend that still had access to the right sort of forest. Transfer to a mortar, and finely cut in the spring onions and lemongrass leaves.
Pound, then add the chillies and two whole garlic. Pound until well blended. Remove to a bowl big enough to also add 1 cup of water to the mixture. Stir to mix and remove any lumps. Leave to swell.


The final touches: After the vegetables have softened add the meat, salt and msg. Simmer, skimming any scum as necessary.

Prahok fish

Put a small piece (about 1 T) of prahok in a bowl and add half a cup of water.
Pour off the water to remove saltiness. Add some of the vegetable broth to the fish and squash the fish to make a sauce. Set aside.

Stir the rice mixture into the stew and keep stirring until well mixed. Cover with a lid. Simmer, but stir often so the rice does not burn on the bottom while thickening.

bpai 4
Adding the bpai to the stew

Finally stir in the liquid of the prahok, holding back the fish sediment. Discard the sediment. Let the stew sit for a few minutes and transfer to dishes to serve.

Serve with plain rice.

Bunong Meal
Bunong meal cooked by Ma and her grandmother

Tamarind’s Or Paedek (padek) ເອາະປາແດກ

Morn cooking or paedek

The Tamarind Restaurant – A Taste of Laos in the Old Quarter of Luang Prabang is one of our favourite Lao restaurants. Besides their scrumptious food and the best cold drinks in Laos, what we love about Lao-owned Tamarind is Joy and Aussie wife and partner Caroline’s philosophy behind its creation and operation. Recently moved to new premises over looking the Nam Khan river, the restaurant has grown in reputation and popularity, yet still retains its essence – making Lao food accessible to people unfamiliar with the cuisine, not by dumbing down the food, but by providing delicious tasting platters and other dishes aesthetically presented in a stylishly simple dining setting. Staff relish the opportunity to explain the dishes when asked, and having observed the scrupulously clean but essentially Lao kitchen, I can vouch that no shortcuts are taken in producing the carefully selected dishes. Tamarind also sells kitchen ware, books about Lao food, and Lao ingredients packaged in a way to not get seized by Agricultural Security in countries concerned about protecting their bio-security. Naturally arising from their philosophy, Tamarind also runs an excellent cooking school set in beautiful lakeside gardens. Not surprisingly, the restaurant is one of the favourite lunch and dinner haunts for local expats.


Tamarind’s Lao kitchen staff

For this visit, Caroline had asked Joy’s sister, Morn, to demonstrate their Or paedek for us so that Kees and I could record the process (and then eat the results for lunch)!  Or padek uses the fermented fish from the padek pot to form a chunky sauce-like dish eaten with sticky rice and simmered vegetables. It has lots of herbs and other favourite Lao flavouring agents, a little minced pork and eggs. The mix sounds odd, but the resultant flavour is salty, hot and redolent of grilled garlic, lemongrass and herbs, buffered by the eggs and pork. Altogether saep lai!  If you are close to an Asian market, it’s a dish that can be made easily around the world, you just have to get your hands on padek or a substitute. This dish would normally be eaten by at least four people with sticky rice and maybe another simple dish.

Or padek detail


Or Padek Recipe


1 large bulb garlic

1 handful brown or red shallots

4 stalks lemongrass

10 long red chillies

1 tablespoon pea eggplants mak keng waan on their stalk

1 cup padek fish


1 cup minced pork

1 teaspoon Knorr stock powder (optional, otherwise use part fresh stock for the water when simmering the fish)

2 tablespoons galangal, (check if grilled)

2 stalks dill

3 sprigs lemon (hairy) basil pak I tou Lao

3 – 5  spring onions (lao size, not the hulking great ones in the West, in which case use only one)


Note: All the steps are shown in photographs on the left. Just scroll down as there are more photos than text.

  1. In a fire or on a grill, roast the whole bulb of garlic and shallots, add the lemon grass to the grill.
  2. Thread the chillies onto a skewer or toothpick and add to the grill. The pea eggplants only need 30 seconds to grill, just enough to bring out the flavour. Turn as each ingredient slowly roasts and blackens. Remove as each ingredient is softened – the garlic will take the longest. Set aside to cool.

    Grilled ingredients for or paedek
  3. In a wok, dry fry the padek fish a few minutes until aromatic and then add 1½ to 2 cups of water, stir to break up and mix in fish and simmer for 5 minutes. Sieve over a bowl to remove the liquid.

    Cooking padek
  4. _MG_8702
    Morn straining the paedek
    Dry-frying pork

    Dry fry the pork in the wok until white and broken up and then add the strained padek water. Add the Knorr if using and more water. Simmer while you do the next step, adding more water if needed.

  5. _MG_8724
    Simmering the padek and pork after water added
    Skinned grilled ingredients

    Remove the black and blistered shin from the chillies, clean up the lemon grass of blackened outer sheath, and remove the garlic cloves from their blackened papery covering and peel the shallots. Destem the pea eggplants. Rinse by pouring over some water to rinse. Discard water containing the excess blackened bits. (I’d never seen this step done before, but maybe Westerners were alarmed by black specks in their food.)

  6. _MG_8788
    Slicing lemongrass

    Slice the garlic and shallots crosswise and the chillies vertically into strips, removing the seeds. Slice the lemongrass finely from the bottom up the stalk until if feels a bit tough, then stop. Discard the tough green bit.

  7. Slice the galangal, then cut across into 2 tablespoons of finer pieces.
  8. _MG_8814
    Removing basil leaves and chopping spring onions

    Add all the ingredients except the chillies to the simmering mixture. Top up with more water if needed.

  9. _MG_8823
    Chopping spring onions, deleafing Lao basil

    Remove the dill and lemon basil leaves from their branched and put in cold water. Chop the spring onions into a bit less than 1 cm (⅓ inch) pieces.

  10. When the or is thickening, add three eggs. Let them sit for a minute then gently mix in. Slowly cook. Add more water and when
    Morn adding the eggs to the or paedek

    simmering add the herbs, then half of the chillies. Stir to mix. Just before serving add the rest of the chillies, then transfer to a serving bowl and garnish with basil.

 Accompanying vegetables

Vegetables for simmering

Choose a selection of vegetables to simmer for eating with the or padek. Morn used carrot, snake gourd, choko, beans and pak choy (a type of Chinese cabbage with yellow flowers). Zucchini, and wedges of cabbage would also work.

Prepare the vegetables by cutting into pieces suitable for dipping (crudites) and soak in cold water. Add vegetables in order of cooking time and simmer in boiling water until soft but still having a bite. Drain and arrange on a plate.

Simmering vegetables to accompany op padek
Finished vegetables accompanying op padek



Jeow Bong ແຈ່ວບອງ Luang Prabang Chili Paste


I was wandering along Thanon Sakarin in old Luang Prabang when I chanced upon jeow bong being made on the street. This is the signature chilli paste of Luang Prabang.

Making jeow bong

Jeow bong is eaten with fried or grilled river algae sheets kai paen or kai phene, grilled dried beef gee sin lod or steamed vegetables. It is also served as an accompaniment to sticky rice or added to stir fries. One type includes simmered finely sliced buffalo or beef skin (traditional) or pork skin which adds a rich chewy texture. The other omits the skin and is more akin to the  sweet Thai chilli paste such as Thai Mae Pranom brand.

I was offered to stir the jeow – it was very thick as it had been slowly cooking for 2 hours. No wonder the young man stirring

Jeow bong close up

looks knocked out! I also tasted the thickening brew – a wonderful mix with flavours of garlic, galangal root, sugar and chillies predominated. It probably also had chopped shallots and salt.  The skin had already been prepared and the warm salted water had just been poured into the street gutter. I think that had been being prepared for the same amount of time as well, but I’m not sure that I heard the Lao correctly.

Pre cooked skin for jeow bong

I haven’t got a recipe for the large scale making of this jeow but there are several recipes for making small quantities.

Here is a link about jeow bong:

Here is my jeow bong recipe

Luang Prabang chilli paste ແຈ່ວບອງ jeow bong

3 large heads of garlic (about 1 cup)
½ cup shallots
1 thumb-size piece of galangal chopped into small pieces
½ – 1 teaspoon salt
1 – 2 tablespoons dark red, roasted chilli flakes
2 teaspoons sugar
Water or fish sauce to thin, if needed

  1. Roast or grill the garlic and shallots until cooked through. Meanwhile, in a mortar pound the galangal.
  2. Peel the garlic cloves and shallots, add to the mortar along with the salt and pound to a paste. Stir in the chilli flakes. Add the sugar and pound to mix. Taste and add water, fish sauce (or soy sauce for vegetarians) or more chilli flakes.
  3. Transfer the mixture to a small frying pan and dry fry on a very low heat for 10 minutes until rich, dark and aromatic. The flavour develops over time.

I need to make this again, because I think that it would be better to make a syrup of palm sugar instead of using ordinary sugar and then cook this down for longer.

Khamsouk’s wedding – Part 3, the formal ceremony

Around 9.30, the bride emerged from her house, ready to walk up the hill to her parents’ house, where the ceremony was being held. We walked up with her and her husband.

When we arrived, the room was already almost full. The bride and groom were installed opposite the 2 round tables with the big conical construction made with banana leaves on each that is used as centrepiece  at baci ceremonies. The photographer in me groaned when he saw they were sitting in the shade of the two big structures, at an angle almost impossible to photograph.

Groom waiting
The groom, waiting for the misplaced document to arrive

So this ended up being one of my rare flash photography occasions.

Lighting the candles
Lighting the candles marks the start of the ceremony

Then we waited, while someone had run back to the shop at the roadside to find a missing piece of paper.

Poh and Meh looking after Media

Khamsouk gave the searcher instructions by cellphone, about where it would be. It took another 15 minute wait, and several frantic phone calls, and I’m not sure if the missing paper was ever produced.

Listening to the chanting

Then the ceremony took place. A liturgy in (I think) Pali, was read/chanted.


Then strings were tied, mainly around the wrists of the bride and groom, but also the parents, Media (their daughter) and the guests.

Tying strings on the Groom
The Elder ties a string on the wrist of the groom


Mehtouh (grandmother) tying string

Someone absconded with my camera when it was my turn to receive and give strings. But they used it OK, and it came back with pictures of me being stringed.

Bride, groom and Media all stringed

Then a toast was made with lao lao, to displeasure of the baby, who cried. Maybe it affects the flavour of the breast milk. An official produced some documents, gave a speech and handed the documents to be signed.

Khamsouk signing the marriage contract

When that was done, a few more formal photographs, then the bride went outside to feed her daughter Media, and everyone left to go to the reception site.

The bride feeding her daughter after the ceremony

Review on “”

Just received the latest review by Chris Walker:

The Boat Landing Cookbook is as much a travelogue as an encyclopaedia of every culinary tradition of Northern Laos.”

“………….. this book is as much about archiving the lives and values of the population of Northern Laos as it is about preserving its culinary heritage. A couple of hours in the company of this book will have even those who are strangers to the inside of a kitchen booking a flight to Laos.”






Poon Pa (Pun Pa) Luang Namtha-style

I was shown a new recipe for pun pa at the Boat Landing on our last visit. This is spicier than the one in the Cookbook and also contains mashed simmered apple eggplants. If these are not at hand, use cubes of purple eggplant.

Pun pa
Poon pa, Luang Namtha-style


Simmering fish and eggplants
Simmering fish and eggplants

Simmering fish and eggplants

Peng pounding the fish and eggplants
Pun Pa 1.5
Pounding grilled ingredients
Pun pa 2
Peng adds pounded grilled ingredients to fish mixture
Cooking pun pa
Cooking pun pa

Poon Pa (pun pa) Luang Namtha-style, cooked by Peng


7 apple eggplants (or one purple eggplant, cut in 3 cm (1′) cubes
1 bulb garlic
3 shallots
5 green chillies (long and thin) threaded on a toothpick
1 small fish (cat fish, slippery stuff removed,  or tilapia)
2 C water
1 lemongrass stalk, bruised with the back of a knife
½ t salt for broth and another ½ t when frying mixture
1 T oil
1 T garlic, chopped
2 T soy sauce
Small handful mint and coriander leaves, chopped
Small handful spring onions, chopped

Vegetable accompaniment

1 thick wedge cabbage
2 wedges pumpkin or gourd
1 bunch Chinese greens (pak kaat kieow)


  1. Grill the garlic bulb, shallots and chillies over a charcoal fire, gas ring, barbeque or electric over grill, turning regularly.  Each ingredient will have a different cooking time. The garlic bulb, shallots and chillies are ready when blackened on the outside and softened on the inside. Remove ingredients to a plate when ready.
  2. Heat the water in a wok or frying pan and add salt and lemongrass. Bring to the boil and add the fish and eggplants. Simmer for 7 minutes and then remove from the stock when ready and set aside. (Be careful not to cook the fish for too long or the stock will gel. If the eggplants are not yet soft continue to simmer them after removing the fish.) Transfer the stock to a bowl for later use.
  3. In another pan set the vegetables to simmer in salted water. They should take about 15 minutes on a low heat once brought to the boil.
  4. Put the cooked eggplants into a mortar and pound to a pulp. Remove the skin and bones from the cooled fish and add it to the mortar. Pound.
  5. Peel the garlic, shallots and chillies and in a separate mortar, pound them to a fine paste. Add this paste to the fish mixture.
  6. Rinse the wok, reheat and add oil. When the oil is hot, toss in the chopped garlic and sauté until aromatic. Then add the fish mixture and soy sauce. Fry for a minute and spoon in some of the broth. Continue to fry the mixture on low heat for about 5 minutes in total. Taste and add salt and more soy sauce if needed. Mix in the chopped mint, coriander and spring onions. Taste and make any final adjustment to the flavours.


Braised minced pork with fermented fish sauce ອົບປາແດກ Op padek

Boat Landing doyenne, Joy Khantisouk, was taught this dish by her mother, who is a great cook from Luang Prabang. The dish doesn’t use much of anything, but the combination of tastes melds into a perfect savoury accompaniment to simmered vegetables and sticky rice.

Op padek
Clockwise from top left: Op padek, mushroom lahp, simmered vegetables and ginger, egg and ivy gourd leaf soup
Joy and Dolly
Joy and Dorothy with food from the missed demo at the Boat Landing

Kees and I missed Joy’s demonstration of the dish because we did not know it was happening, although she was doing it solely for us and we were in the room next door. You have to have worked or associated with Lao people before you can understand how this sort of thing happens – which is often!
So far, the biggest occasions we have missed are Khamsouk’s graduation, for which we came to Laos especially, but her College Director asked her to attend an early ceremony (she couldn’t refuse him and didn’t want to disturb our plans), and Kees missed out on our own farewell baci from the Rural Research and Development Training Center in Vientiane because it was a well kept surprise; a huge affair two months in the planning. Kees had a prior engagement in Luang Namtha, seven hours drive away, but could have made it by driving down from Luang Prabang at 4 in the morning if he had realised the true purpose of the occasion. Unfortunately he had been told repeatedly that it was a house warming for someone else and thus he gave repeated notice that he could not attend. We should have listened between the lines! Why were they repeatedly asking what they knew already? Duh, thick falang!
Anyway, we ate the superbly flavoursome op padek dish with Joy, plus a delicious mushroom lahp and a ginger, poached egg and ivy gourd soup (whose demonstration, of course, we also missed). The happy news is that Peng later demonstrated the op padek dish for us so we can share it with you.

Two notes to this recipe: The original dish is very strong and salty but not at all fishy from the amount of padek used, so if this is your first time using padek as a main ingredient or you are concerned about salt consumption take it easy on the padek at first and then increase the amount tasting it and leave the Knorr stock powder out. For die-hard padek lovers, a greater amount of padek will get you swooning with joy. Secondly, in the tropics the herbs would be cut just before adding to the dish so that they don’t wilt in the meantime. In cooler climates, its OK to pre-chop them.

Here is the recipe:


Braised minced pork with fermented fish sauce ອົບປາແດກ Op padek


4 large garlic cloves
3 red or brown shallots
7 long green chillies
2 T lemon grass, finely sliced (a fine bladed mandolin works brilliantly)
1½ T raw garlic, chopped
2 T vegetable oil (or pork fat)
½ t Knorr seasoning powder or stock cube (optional, omit or otherwise add salt, or soy sauce depending on the saltiness of your padek)
2 T lemon basil (pak I tou Lao or maenglak Thai), chopped
2 T coriander (cilantro), chopped
2 T spring onion, chopped
4 whole leaves Kaffir lime, torn
1 large duck egg-sized handful minced pork
2 eggs
¼ – ⅓ C fermented fish sauce (padek), or use Isaan/Thai nam pla or other substitute. If you are tentative about the strength and saltiness of your sauce, try 3 T (45 ml) first, and adjust the quantity after tasting.

Vegetable accompaniment

2 wedges of cabbage
1 bunch of Chinese greens (pak kaart som) or other stalky leafy green
4 apple or small Japanese eggplants or pumpkin
5 C water


  1. Grill the garlic cloves, shallots and chillies over a charcoal fire, gas ring, barbeque or electric oven grill, turning regularly. Use a wire rack or a frying pan which can sustain heat. Each ingredient will have a different cooking time. The garlic, shallots and chillies are ready when slightly blackened on the outside and softened on the inside. Remove ingredients to a plate when ready.
  2. Heat a wok or deep frying pan and add the oil. When the oil is hot, toss in the chopped garlic and sauté it for one minute until aromatic. Then add the meat and seasoning powder, stir frying to mix. Add the padek (or substitute) and the torn lime leaves. Simmer on low.
  3. In another pan, set the vegetables to simmer in five cups of water. Turn occasionally. They should take between 10 to15 minutes on a low heat once brought to the boil depending on how thick the cabbage was cut and how soft you like the vegetables.
  4. If you cut down on the padek, now is the time to taste and add more so the padek has a chance to absorb into the meat before adding the eggs.
  5. Peel the grilled garlic and shallots and cut into small rough slices. Scape any blackened skin off the chillies and slice them the same size.
  6. Finely chop the basil, coriander and spring onions if not already done.
  7. After the pork mixture has simmered for about 5 minutes, add the eggs and stir fry until the mixture thickens. Add the sliced lemon grass, shallot and garlic slices. If the mixture gets too thick, thin with some of the vegetable stock. Taste and adjust seasoning if needed. It should have a salty, spicy punch with a rich under-taste. Add the chopped herbs, turn off the heat and mix together. Transfer to a serving bowl.
  8. Remove the vegetables from the cooking water and transfer to a serving plate. If you like, save the cooking water for stock for another dish such as the base for an accompanying mild soup – gaeng jeut, just add 2 T soy sauce, some sliced Chinese greens, daikon (white Japanese radish) and pepper. Serve with sticky rice. For non traditionalists, op padek is particularly good with brown jasmine hom mali rice.

What to do with leftovers – heat up and serve with corn tortillas, add to fried rice.

World Award for runner up Asian Cookbook


Just found out we’ve been awarded the runner up award, second prize in the prestigious Gourmand World Cookbook Awards – “Best Asian Cookbook” – in the World. Earlier Gourmand awarded the book “Best Cookbook for Lao PDR”.

It is an honour for us and for our cooks in Laos who shared their knowledge and assisted us in recording this wonderful food.

Thank you Joy, Chan, Toeuy and all the other people who assisted us. This prize is as much about you and your great food preparation skills.


Breakfast at Ban Chalensouk

It was the day Khamsouk’s baby had her baci, the formal ceremony in Khmu culture (and slightly differently in Tai culture) where the baby girl is named (Media, yup, as in communication), accepted into the family, and wished a good life; and her parents, Khamsouk and her husband, are acknowledged and “blessed” in their new role. If Media is anything like her mother she’s well named!  This ceremony is held approximately one month after the baby has been born. For the previous 28 days the mother follows a traditional form of resting close to the fire, eating a restricted diet, and the baby may have a tenuous hold on life. Khamsouk followed this practice. My next post will share the ceremony and the food which followed, but here is a snippet to whet your appetite – our breakfast before the baci ceremony. We arrived at 10 am and we were going to have another feast at midday after the baci! We were late because our tiny car had two flat tires achieved getting to Luang Namtha from Luang Prabang.

Breakfast at Ban Chalensouk
Breakfast for two at Ban Chalensouk (the huge banana-leaf-wrapped parcels of sticky rice not shown)

From top left: Khmu (Khamu) yellow eggplant sa (this is very bitter), lemon grass dipping sauce, jeow houa sikai , simmered bitter bamboo (naw mai kom, which don’t taste bitter at all when young like these ones), a gelatinous pork dish from the market was unfamiliar, it may be made from pig’s trotters and only tasted so-so, yummy freshly grilled tilapia fish stuffed with lemon grass, ping pa, and in the centre, a pork lahp with sliced innards, again from the market.

Bitter bamboo shoots
Simmered bitter bamboo shoots
Lemon grass jeow
Lemon grass jeow

Bitter bamboo shoots are available in the dry season when other shoots are no longer abundant. One peels off the skin of a shoot, breaks off a piece and dunks it into the lemon grass jeow, which makes a stunning accompaniment. The jeow contains finely sliced galangal root and lemon grass, as well as garlic. These are pounded with salt and lime juice is then added. Finally chopped spring onion greens are stirred in. I think that the jeow would be just as delicious using ginger root and such a substitution would be consistent with Khmu culture because they often use small traditional ginger (which is more pungent than commercial ginger) in their dishes where other Lao would use galangal.

Khmu khao poon

Khao poon (also spelt kao poon or kao pun) is a noodle dish widely made and consumed throughout Laos. This Khmu version with fermented soybean paste and minced pork was cooked by Khamsouk Philatorn, who used to make and sell it at the Luang Namtha Chinese market as a part time job while attending secondary school. The instructions below should make enough for about 30 people. Family and friends in Ban Chalensouk helped with all the chopping and shredding of the ingredients and with eating the finished product!

A serving of khao poon has four components:

  • Finely chopped or shredded vegetables, which are placed in the bottom of a big soup bowl
  • Hanks of soaked and drained khao poon noodles or rice vermicelli, which are added to the bowl
  • A spicy soup, ladled over the top to warm and partially cook the other ingredients
  • Condiments such as soy sauce, chilli sauce and lime which are added to the individual’s taste.

The whole lot is mixed together and eaten with chopsticks and a Chinese soup spoon.


1 large bunch yard-long beans

1 large bunch spring onion tops

1 large bunch mint

1 kg boiled bamboo shoots

1 big bunch coriander (cilantro)

2 – 4 banana flowers, outer petals removed

6 limes (2 for acidulating the banana flower water and the rest for individuals to add to their soup bowls)

3 -5 pieces  galangal root (big handful – the smaller rhyzomes are hotter and spicier)

3 heads garlic

One half to one handful of red chillies

2 onions

Khao poon noodles or rice vermicelli

1 C oil

1 kg coagulated blood or use 2 black puddings instead

1 kg minced fatty pork (You can use more mince pork if you like and cut down on the blood)

Generous half cup of fermented soybean paste (or make your own, see fermented soy bean paste)

Knorr (stock) powder and/or msg.

Prepared Khao poon vegetables
Prepared Khao poon vegetables

Step 1: Vegetable Platter preparation

(Get as many people to help as you can)
  1. Finely slice the bunches of yard-long beans and spring onion tops and  arrange beside each other on a big tray.
  2. Take 1 kg of boiled bamboo shoots, remove the tough outer leaves from the shoots and tease into fine shreds with a toothpick. Add to the tray.
  3. Chop the bunch of coriander (cilantro) and add to the tray.
  4. Pull the leaves off the mint and add to the tray.
  5. Finely shave the inner part of several banana flowers into a bowl of water to which a couple of squeezed limes have been added. Squeeze dry and add to the tray.
Pounded mixture for soup
Pounded mixture for soup

Step 2: Preparation of ingredients for the soup

  1. Finely slice several roots of galangal.
  2. Peel and finely slice the cloves of 3 heads of garlic.
  3. Finely chop  one half up to a handful of red chillies.
  4. Slice 2 onions vertically.
  5. Put the garlic and chilis in a mortar and pound thoroughly to a rough paste.
Preparing the noodles
Preparing the noodles

Step 3: Preparation of the noodles

  1. If you are using dried noodles, soak the khao poon noodles or rice vermacelli in warm water until soft. (khao poon noodles will need hotter water and will take linger than rice vermacelli.)
  2. When soft, use a chopstick to line up and remove a small hank of noodles from the water. Let drain, then use your hands to make into a tidy oval hank. Repeat, lay one hank overlapping the other to form a circle in a colander lined with banana leaf. Set aside. This step can be done while the soup is simmering.
  3. If using fresh noodles already in hanks, pour some warm water through them to refresh them, arrange them to suit on a banana leaf-lined sieve, and let drain until serving time.
Adding pork to the soup
Adding pork to the soup

Step 4: Assembling the soup

    1. Heat 1 cup of oil in a big pot.
    2. Add the pounded chili mixture and fry until golden and smelling sweetly fragrant.
    3. Add the galangal and onions and continue to brown.
    4. Add the minced pork and fry until it is well mixed, then add the fermented soybean paste. Brown all together, then top the pot up to two thirds with water. Bring to the boil and simmer for 15 minutes. Taste, and add Knorr and msg to suit. Continue to simmer for 30 more minutes.
Adding the blood to the soup
Adding the blood to the soup
  1. Cut the coagulated blood or blood sausage into 3 cm (1 1/4 in) cubes and add to the soup. Simmer for 10 – 15 minutes more until the blood has changed to a dark colour.

Step 5: Serving

  1. To serve, for each diner, place a small amount of all of the vegetables in the bottom of a deep soup bowl. Add one or two hanks of noodles. Spoon over the soup, making sure some of the minced pork and blood product are included.
  2. Make soya sauce, chili sauce, msg, salt and ground white pepper are available on the table so people can adjust their portion to suit their own taste.
    (N.B.: The family made their own weak soy sauce by boiling salted black soya beans in water, mashing them and decanting the liquid).
Khamsouk's younger brother eating khao poon
Khamsouk’s younger brother eating khao poon