22 July 2010
Day 15 – Khammuan province to Vientiane
We started our day at 5:30 am. It was still raining, but that didn’t take anything away from the beauty and peace of the place. I would very much like to see it when the sun is shining, but I guess I will have to come back for that on my next holiday.
The team got to the kitchen looking a little bit tired, especially our students Yearh and Cheng, but I don’t blame them. It had been a busy week.
The dishes we were going to prepare were a San bamboo and chicken soup with black mushrooms and herbs (it is a local version of Olam and I just found out that there are many versions of it), a Boon bamboo and chili dip and lime marinated local fish with Kamboo leaves.
Yearh and Cheng went straight to work with Mrs Guadh, the chef, and she for sure knows how to cook. She apologized for only being a self taught cook but she could have fooled me. She originally comes from Champasak province and the fish dish is a specialty from that province.
We all had this food for breakfast and I have to say it was a bit too early for me to have a meal like that at 7:30. But the food was delicious and really had a Lao kick to it. The spiciness of the dip (she added 10 chili peppers) was beyond me so I decided to have a taste and then stick to a noodle soup which was much easier on my stomach.
The rest of the team was very happy, loved it and finished all their food. The bun bamboo dip really was the most interesting of them all and I do hope we can put it in the book and on the menu.
We then said goodbye with the obligatory picture taking and drove about 40 km further in the mountains to see the caves. It was still raining really hard so we decided to leave Ghislain’s photo equipment in the car so it didn’t get wet and Ket let us to use her waterproof camera instead. We were glad she had since we came here for the main reason to take pictures for the book.
The caves are stunning and you can only get to them by boat. They are seven kilometers long and it takes about 40 minutes. The caves are totally dark, lit up only by the flash lights that you can rent. The stone formations are really amazing and you get a really spooky feeling. It is really cold and a strong wind is blowing from so many directions and you have no idea were it comes from.
There is water dripping from above like rain and it suddenly is just right over you and it is really cold.
All of us decided that once through the caves was enough. But Ghislain loved and will of course do it again. And right he is, they are stunning and it should be on any tourist’s schedule. Just for the drive there it is already worth it.
We then left for Vientiane, which was 6 hours away.
On the way there we stopped at Thong Na Mee village to see their famous Hmong market.
It was an interesting market with many things that I have never seen before. Of course there was lots of illegal game meat, from large 1 meter long lizards to animals I have never seen before. This market had a very strong emphasis on local medicine which I find fascinating.
They as well sold very young Galangal which Ket informed is steamed and then eaten with one of the great dips that Lao is so famous for. It looked great and of course this too has to go on the menu and book.
This was the last day of our journey in the provinces but it is far from over.
Tomorrow we are working at Makphet with Madame Vone to go through all the recipes and Saturday we will go to Cheng and Yearh’s village and they will cook with us a Hmong style wedding meal. I am extremely excited since I can’t wait to meet their family. I am so lucky.
We will also cook our first recipe and do the first photo shoot for the book to test the lighting and style. We will use the pumpkin flower soup recipe from the Hmong village in the north, with our own little added touch.
On the way back to Vientiane, Yearh suddenly started to sing Hmong songs and they were so beautiful and everyone in the car got silent and listened to this so sad but beautiful sounding chants.
I will leave Laos with so much and I know we would need more then one book to describe what we have experienced in the last weeks.
To me it is just magical.
To get back to reality though, this is just the start of the book and our blog will keep on going until the evening of the official cookbook launch so please stay with us because the magic is not over yet!