This salty and chilli-flavoured fermented soybean paste is widely available in Luang Namtha markets. To create it, soybeans are steamed and then put in a plastic bag in the sun where they are left for a time. They are then pounded with dried chillies, rice alcohol and salt. The mixture is left for between a month and a year. The paste is used to make the sauce for kao soi noodles. Koreans make similar pastes called doenjang and gochujang. The closest equivalent is Chinese douban jiang, a spicy, salty paste made from fermented broad beans, soybeans, red chilli peppers, salt and spices native to Sichuan.
An easy substitute is to buy bottled fermented yellow bean sauce with whole beans, drain the liquid and mash 1 cup of the beans with 1 teaspoon chilli powder or 1 tablespoon chilli flakes. Miso, spiced up with chilli powder, can also be used.
This is the sterile male organ at the end of the banana bunch. The bunch grows from the female, self-fruiting flower above the male flower. Two species of banana flower are commonly used for cooking, one a green flower, the other purple. The long green flower is better as it does not go brown when cut, whereas the less expensive purple flower discolours very quickly.
To prepare the flower for a sa, lahp or kao poon (a Lao noodle dish), remove the tough, outer petals and any large stamen until the creamy, inside leaves are exposed. Finely slice from the tip across the width of the flower directly into a bowl of water that has a little bit of salt or lime juice added. If using in a soup or stew, simply hand shred the leaves into pieces and immediately add to the pot. Do not use the outside stamen, but the inner ones may be cooked. Banana flower is also a traditional medicine for maternal health care as it encourages lactation. Belgium endive may be substituted.