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.

Steaming soy beans, tua nao
Steaming soy beans ready for pounding

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.

Cooked beans in mortar
Cooked soy beans are transferred to the giant mortar for pounding

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.

Pounded paste before adding broth
Pounded paste before adding broth

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.

Nang Jantee adds chilli powder to the pounded beans
Nang Jantee adds chilli powder to the pounded beans
Pounding the soy beans
Nang Buawon pounds soybeans for tua nao paste

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.

Adding broth to tua nao paste
Broth from boiled soy beans is added to the tua nao 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!

Tua nao paste after pounding is completed
Tua nao paste after pounding is completed

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.

Fermented fish sauce ປາແດກ padek, paedek

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Padek (paedek) for sale
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Best quality padek

This extremely pungent, opaque fermented fish sauce incorporates chunks of fish. It is eaten raw or cooked in a variety of Lao dishes; it is used extensively in Thailand’s Isaan province, home to many Lao. It is also made and used in northern and central Thailand. Padek’s odour is so intense that tam mak hoong (papaya salad) made with nam padek (padek liquid) can be detected a room away. When the correct amount of padek is added to a Lao dish, however, the sauce magically transforms it, adding a depth not replicable by substituting fish sauce. The main ingredients of padek are salt, fish and rice bran or rice husks. The addition of other ingredients depends on preference, but is based on scale. The best padek has fermented for at least six months – a year is better – and comes from the North, according to northerners. It should be made in the dry season (around April) when the danger of spoilage is less.

Fresh water fish such as glass fish, Siamese mud carp or giant Mekong catfish, bpaa kao, are commonly used. Padek made from Mekong fish in the South has the danger of containing liver flukes. There are no known ways to remove liver flukes from padek. Boiling it for 15 minutes may kill bacteria but cannot be guaranteed to kill the liver flukes, so it is best to avoid padek from southern Laos unless the fish origin is known to be safe. If using the fish pieces in the sauce, wash the bran or husks off first. Commercially produced padek, such as that sold in Isaan, is rumoured to sometimes have formalin added.

Bottled Lao or Isaan padek or Thai pla ra can be bought from some Asian food supply stores.

Another substitute is anchovy sauce or paste. Do not use one with vinegar. Alternatively, stew tinned or bottled anchovy fillets in fish stock until disintegrated. If desired, this mixture can then be sieved for a finer sauce.

Preserved or fermented fish from various Asian countries also makes a good substitute, for example Filipino fermented or preserved gourami fish.

Here is a recipe for authentic padek from Boutsady Khounnouvong who learned it from her grandmother when she was young.

3 kg of fish/3 portions of fish

1 kg of salt/1 portion of salt

1/2 kg of rice bran (eg, half the amount of salt)

Scale, gut, wash and drain the fish. Put the drained fish in a large bowl and add the salt. Mix together, and then leave to sit, covered, for 12 hours.

After 12 hours, add the rice bran and mix again. Shift the mixture into a pottery or glass jar. Use your hand to press down the contents. A boiled rock may be used to maintain pressure on the fish. Do not fill the jar completely; leave 7 to 8 cm (3 in) at the top as there will be expansion with fermentation.

Cover the jar, and then leave it for at least six months. A year is preferable. During the fermentation, check the mixture. Use a large spoon to turn it and press it down again. It will keep two years in the jar. Store carefully as flies love padek!

Here is another recipe for padek from Madame Ny Luangkhot who devised it using sea fish when she was a graduate student in the Soviet Union.

If you have small fish, the proportion of fish and salt is one to five –1 kg(2 lb) of salt to 5 kg(10 lb) of fish. Mix the salt and fish together, and then leave for a few days. Next add 1 kg (1 lb) rice husks or rice bran. Squeeze the mixture a bit as the ingredients are being incorporated. Transfer the mix to a jar or pot. Put a clean boiled stone on top. Its pressure will create the juice over the next months. Keep the pot well closed for at least a year. If you are making padek with large fish – 7 to 8kg (16 lb) per fish – the proportion of salt to fish is one to three. Before salting, hit the fish firmly several times on both sides so that the flesh can absorb the salt.

Here is how the Kalom (Tai Yuan) people make padek in Luang Namtha.

Big fish are preferred, but small fish are also used. Use 3 kg (7 lb) fish, including heads. Slice fish and bones into 4 cm (1½ in) pieces. Put in a bowl, and then leave three or four days until the fish smells—the smellier the better. Pound a thumb-size piece of galangal and 6 – 10 chillies together and add ½ cup rice bran, ½ kg salt and ½ cup alcohol, such as lao Lao or whiskey. More salt may be used if a very strong sauce is desired. Add the fish, mix and put in a ceramic pot to ferment. Cover with a plastic bag and weigh down. Leave untouched for a year, although it may be eaten after two months. Two-year-old padek is very nice.

Preparing ingredients for jeow

Essential to the flavour of Lao food, and the first step in many Lao recipes is the preparation of flavouring ingredients. Most jeow (chilli dipping sauce) recipes call for the roasting of such produce as whole bulbs of garlic,  shallots, apple eggplants and chillies, and maybe additional flavourings such as ginger, lemon grass, water beetles etc.

I’ll share the traditional way of doing this first, followed by how to do it in a Western kitchen. Either way, the goal is smoky flavoured, cooked until soft ingredients that are easy to pound or mash.

Roasting ingredients in embers
Roasting garlic and shallots in embers

Traditionally, unpeeled heads of garlic, shallots and apple eggplants are roasted in embers (jee) or grilled (ping) before they are pounded to make jeow, Lao dipping sauce. They must be turned occasionally until the outer skins are thoroughly blackened. After cooling, peel or break off the burnt skins. Don’t bother about removing all the burnt skin as its smoky flavour is valued.

Grilling ingredients for jeow
Grilling ingredients for jeow pa (fish jeow)

Thread chillies on a toothpick or sharp strip of bamboo and lay on a wire rack or splatter guard over a charcoal stove or gas flame. Grill until charred, but not completely blackened. After cooling, remove the burnt pieces of skin  before pounding the chilli pulp.

Grill chillies to this level of "doneness"
Grill chillies to this level of "doneness"

There are a few issues with these methods. First, with the charcoal stove, there is the hassle of waiting until the embers are subdued enough not to immolate your garlic and other goodies. You want things black, yes, but you are not aiming for a job as a charcoal burner! Controlling the embers is not a problem for most Lao within the Lao PDR where a charcoal (or wood) stove is used for everyday cooking.

Second, with a gas flame,  bits of charred garlic skin often float around the kitchen causing alarm to others, and chillies slide off the wire rack and into the gas flame to become totally burnt offerings that then need to be fished out through the wire rack, causing alarm to the cook.

Garlic grilled over gas - just about ready
Garlic grilled over gasflame - just about ready

A piece of tinfoil or a splatter guard under the goodies foils (sic) the escaping chillies but doesn’t do much to contain the floating fragments of skin. The answer is to place the ingredients  on either tinfoil, a rack or vegetable barbeque tray and grill the ingredients in a toaster oven or oven grill, while turning occasionally (the ingredients, not you!). Don’t cover them in tinfoil because you want them to blacken for the smoky flavour, not stew. Of course, firing up the gas barbie is the obviously outdoors answer to these modern problems!

Kaffir lime leaves, leech lime, caffre lime, wild lime ໃບຂີ້ຫູດ bai ke hoot

Kaffir lime leaves ໃບຂີ້ຫູດ bai ke hoot
Kaffir lime leaves ໃບຂີ້ຫູດ bai ke hoot

‘Kaffir’ is now considered racist. It was used by European settlers in southern Africa as an insulting term for native Africans. There is no consensus on a replacement term. Use fresh in soup, aw lahm, Thai curries and rice noodles. Finely sliced leaves are sometimes used in lahp. Dried leaves are exported.

aw lahm
aw lahm

Limes ໝາກນາວ mak naow

Limes ໝາກນາວ mak naow
Limes ໝາກນາວ mak naow

Often erroneously called ‘lemons’ in Laos, the lime is a small, green-skinned citrus fruit used as a souring agent in many dishes. Lemons, confusingly, share the same Lao name, mak naow. Lime juice compliments chicken, pork, duck or fish sa and beef lahp. In Luang Namtha it is not used in other lahp or beef sa. It is also added to fish or fowl soup. Wedges of lime are often used as a garnish allowing the diner to flavour food to taste. Lemon juice or tamarind juice is a substitute. Limes are also used to make a deliciously refreshing drink sweetened with sugar cane syrup.

Lemongrass ຫົວສີໄຄ houa sikai

Lemongrass ຫົວສີໄຄ houa sikai
Lemongrass ຫົວສີໄຄ houa sikai

Lemongrass is used in many Lao dishes including moke, soup, chicken sa and op (braised) dishes. Use the freshest stems available and discard any dried parts. Bruise the stems with a blunt object to release the flavoursome oils before adding to soups and stews. When finely slicing lemongrass to be used raw, as in a lahp or sa, discard any stem where the knife meets resistance. Lemongrass is also a traditional medicine for colds and sore throats.

Soy sauce ນ້ຳສະອີ້ວ nam sa iu

Soy sauce ນ້ຳສະອີ້ວ nam sa iu
Soy sauce ນ້ຳສະອີ້ວ nam sa iu

Mashed soybeans and a grain (usually rice or wheat) are mixed with natural bacterial and fungal cultures to create this flavouring sauce. Traditionally, it is brewed to yield a thin, dark brown sauce, high in free glutamates which trigger the umami taste. It tastes very salty. Cheaper varieties may be made with hydrolyzed soy protein and have additives, such as caramel colouring, to give the liquid a dark colour. In Laos soy sauce is sometimes used in stir fried dishes. However, fish sauce is commonly used in preference. The Boat Landing substitutes Chinese light soy sauce for fish sauce in pure vegetarian dishes. Dark soy sauce has molasses added to it and is used for Chinese red cooked dishes.

Sesame seeds ໝາກງ່າ mak ngaa

Sesame seeds ໝາກງ່າ mak ngaa
Sesame seeds ໝາກງ່າ mak ngaa

Local Lao sesame seeds are small and brown rather than cream-coloured, but the cream-coloured seed is an acceptable substitute. Black sesame is smaller, more fragrant and expensive. They are an important ingredient in soop pak. In northern Laos, roasted black sesame seeds are mashed with a clump of sticky rice and eaten for breakfast or snacked on by children. Seeds and processed oil are exported. The oil is used to treat sprains.

Ginger ຂີງ king; Small ginger, traditional ginger ຂີງໜອ້ຍ king noi

Ginger ຂີງ king
Ginger ຂີງ king

Peel and use in curries and stir fries. Young ginger is best for grating and pounding. The leaves are added by the Kmhmu’ to their stews and soups. Ginger is used medicinally to cure chills and colds, to improve digestion, to stimulate circulation and to ease rheumatism.

Small ginger, traditional ginger ຂີງໜອ້ຍ king noi
Small ginger, traditional ginger ຂີງໜອ້ຍ king noi

Galangal, galingale, greater galangal ຂ່າ ka

Locally grown galangal, galingale, greater galangal ຂ່າ ka
Locally grown galangal, galingale, greater galangal ຂ່າ ka

Young rhizomes have the best flavour and are more tender. Peel, and then steam or boil small ones. Eat with jeow. The root is used in daily cooking – in noodle soup, soop and lahp. The steamed flower is eaten. Leaves are used to wrap fish before grilling or steaming. The seed is harvested in January and February; it is traded with the Chinese who use it as a traditional medicine. The root is also mixed with neem leaves and lemongrass, and then pounded, soaked and strained. The resultant liquid is sprayed as a pesticide. It is a natural food given to improve a mother’s health in the first month after birth.

Galangal shoots ຍອດຂ່າ nyot ka

Galangal shoots ຍອດຂ່າ nyot ka
Galangal shoots ຍອດຂ່າ nyot ka

These long, creamy shoots are steamed and eaten with poon bpaa and other fish dishes.

Steamed choko, snake gourd and galangal shoots to be eaten with either a jeow or poon pa
Steamed choko, snake gourd and galangal shoots to be eaten with either a jeow or poon pa

Fermented fish sauce ປາແດກ padek, paedek

This extremely pungent, opaque fermented fish sauce incorporates chunks of fish. It is eaten raw or cooked in a variety of Lao dishes; it is used extensively in Thailand’s Isaan province, home to many Lao. It is also made and used in northern and central Thailand. Padek’s odour is so intense that tam mak hoong (papaya salad) made with nam padek (padek liquid) can be detected a room away. When the correct amount of padek is added to a Lao dish, however, the sauce magically transforms it, adding a depth not replicable by substituting fish sauce.

High quality fermented fish sauce ປາແດກ padek, paedek
High quality fermented fish sauce ປາແດກ padek, paedek

The main ingredients of padek are salt, fish and rice bran or rice husks. The addition of other ingredients depends on preference, but is based on scale. The best padek has fermented for at least six months – a year is better – and comes from the North, according to northerners. It should be made in the dry season (around April) when the danger of spoilage is less.
Fresh water fish such as glass fish, Siamese mud carp or giant Mekong catfish, bpaa kao, are commonly used. Padek made from Mekong fish in the South has the danger of containing liver flukes. There are no known ways to remove liver flukes from padek. Investigators from Singapore and Thailand have discovered new bile duct cancer-associated gene mutations that are caused by a type of parasitic flatworm (liver fluke) infection. Boiling padek for 15 minutes may kill bacteria but cannot be guaranteed to kill the liver flukes, so it is best to avoid padek from southern Laos unless the fish origin is known to be safe. If using the fish pieces in the sauce, wash the bran or husks off first. Commercially produced padek, such as that sold in Isaan, is rumoured to sometimes have formalin added.

Padek seller preparing a plastic bag of padek for customer
Padek seller preparing a plastic bag of padek for customer

Bottled Lao or Isaan padek or Thai pla ra can be bought from some Asian food supply stores. Another substitute is anchovy sauce or paste. Do not use one with vinegar. Alternatively, stew tinned or bottled anchovy fillets in fish stock until disintegrated. If desired, this mixture can then be sieved for a finer sauce. Preserved or fermented fish from various Asian countries also makes a good substitute, for example Filipino fermented or preserved gourami fish.

Here is a recipe for authentic padek from Boutsady Khounnouvong who learned it from her grandmother when she was young.

3 kg of fish/3 portions of fish
1 kg of salt/1 portion of salt
1/2 kg of rice bran (eg, half the amount of salt)

Scale, gut, wash and drain the fish.Put the drained fish in a large bowl and add the salt. Mix together, and then leave to sit, covered, for 12 hours.
After 12 hours, add the rice bran and mix again. Shift the mixture into a pottery or glass jar. Use your hand to press down the contents. A boiled rock may be used to maintain pressure on the fish. Do not fill the jar completely; leave 7 to 8 cm (3 in) at the top as there will be expansion with fermentation.
Cover the jar, and then leave it for at least six months. A year is preferable. During the fermentation, check the mixture. Use a large spoon to turn it and press it down again. It will keep two years in the jar. Store carefully as flies love padek!

Here is another recipe for padek from Madame Ny Luangkhot who devised it using sea fish when she was a graduate student in the Soviet Union.

If you have small fish, the proportion of fish and salt is one to five –1 kg(2 lb) of salt to 5 kg(10 lb) of fish. Mix the salt and fish together, and then leave for a few days. Next add 1 kg (1 lb) rice husks or rice bran. Squeeze the mixture a bit as the ingredients are being incorporated. Transfer the mix to a jar or pot. Put a clean boiled stone on top. Its pressure will create the juice over the next months. Keep the pot well closed for at least a year. If you are making padek with large fish – 7 to 8kg (16 lb) per fish – the proportion of salt to fish is one to three. Before salting, hit the fish firmly several times on both sides so that the flesh can absorb the salt.

Here is how the Kalom (Tai Yuan) people make padek in Luang Namtha.
Big fish are preferred, but small fish are also used. Use 3 kg (7 lb) fish, including heads. Slice fish and bones into 4 cm (1½ in) pieces. Put in a bowl, and then leave three or four days until the fish smells—the smellier the better. Pound a thumb-size piece of galangal and 6 – 10 chillies together and add ½ cup rice bran, ½ kg salt and ½ cup alcohol, such as lao Lao or whiskey. More salt may be used if a very strong sauce is desired. Add the fish, mix and put in a ceramic pot to ferment. Cover with a plastic bag and weigh down. Leave untouched for a year, although it may be eaten after two months. Two-year-old padek is very nice.

Sugar ນ້ຳຕານ nam taan

Sugar (on left) and msg, showing their different crystal structure
Sugar (on left) and msg, showing their different crystal structure
This is not used in Lao savoury cooking except for a pinch now and then to enhance the flavour in some stir fried dishes influenced by Thai or Chinese cuisine. It is also used in fer. Lao prefer a bitter taste or umami, the full flavour resulting from the use of monosodium glutamate. Sugar cane juice, however, is a very popular, refreshing drink and chewing on fresh cane is greatly enjoyed by village children.

Salt ເກືອ geua

Some recipes for Lao food may seem to have too much salt and/or salty flavouring. This is partially explained by remembering that many dishes in Laos are eaten with a great deal of rice, the main filler. Salty foods help add interest to that bland staple. The recipes here have been reproduced true to their origins. Western palates may well wish to adjust the saltiness when preparing the dishes. Laos mines its own salt.

Stock powder and stock cubes ກັອນ gawn, soup gai gawn, soup moo gawn Knorr ຄະນໍ kanaw

Stock powder ກັອນ gawn, soup gai gawn, soup moo gawn Knorr ຄະນໍ kanaw
Stock powder ກັອນ gawn, soup gai gawn, soup moo gawn Knorr ຄະນໍ kanaw

The dominant brand of instant stock used in Laos is Knorr. A Unilever company, Knorr makes and sells instant flavouring products for the Asian market including broth cubes and powders, fish sauce and soups. At the time of writing, all Knorr broth/stock products sold in Laos contain monosodium glutamate (msg). These products are extensively marketed. Many restaurants and wet markets prominently display Knorr posters and banners. Knorr stages road shows and cooking contests to promote its brand. This extensive advertising could be seen as having shaped attitudes of local cooks, thereby influencing the flavouring of food in Laos. As in the rest of the country, in northern Laos Knorr stock cubes and powder are widely used in both restaurants and households. Even if a restaurant customer requests “no MSG”, it is still very likely a dose of Knorr stock powder will be in the food. The products keep well, are cheap and add flavour to meals where ingredients are often few. Purists may advocate the use of a good vegetable or meat-based stock rather than powder or cube, but that is not viable for cooks who seldom have meat because of scarcity and expense and who often have limited vegetable supplies. Knorr is a very attractive addition to rural kitchens.

Thai Knorr stock cubes Knorr ຄະນໍ kanaw
Thai Knorr stock cubes Knorr ຄະນໍ kanaw

The use of Knorr has been hotly debated at The Boat Landing and among those interested in Lao cooking. Its use is a relatively new practice, Knorr having been widely introduced only within the last ten years. The use of monosodium glutamate is an older, far more widespread practice.
So what is authentic Lao food? Is it what most people cook at home now or what was done BK (Before Knorr)?
The Boat Landing has decided not to use Knorr products or MSG. It has done this, first, because not using them is more traditional and secondly, guests at an ecolodge expect as many aspects of their stay to be as natural as possible. Most importantly, The Boat Landing restaurant can afford not to use Knorr because its kitchen uses very tasty meat (such as black leg chicken and locally raised, free-range pork) and lots of herbs, which make any stew, soup or stir fry rich and delicious. Thus, The Boat Landing serves what locals would consider banquet-standard cooking for its restaurant customers.
However, for day-to-day cooking in the local villages, Knorr (and/or MSG) is still widely used. If you cook with commercially raised chicken or pork (which has come to have so little flavour), limited herbs and/or no fresh stock, don’t be afraid to do what the local Lao do – add a small spoon of powder or a stock cube to a recipe.
Half a large 10 g Knorr stock cube or one small 5 g stick cube equals 1 teaspoon Knorr stock powder and makes one strong 250 ml (8.5 US oz) cup of liquid stock. A substitute for half a cube is ½ teaspoon salt and ¼ teaspoon sugar or salted, liquid chicken stock. But, it is important to note, these substitutes do not replicate the Knorr flavour as the MSG in Knorr casts a full, 3-D taste around the top of the mouth which can’t otherwise be reproduced.
Knorr chicken stock powder without MSG is available outside Laos. An excellent non-MSG substitute is Puyking instant seasoning, a product from Thailand. Details are available from the Internet.