Magical Mushrooms

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13 July 2010
Day 6 – Phonsavan

Xieng Khuang’s capital Phonsavan is a very sleepy town but the people here are so very friendly I still cannot believe it. I have never encountered so many smiling faces and so much laughter!

While here we went to the local food market and it was certainly a feast for the eyes and nose. They had everything from live turtles, to some kind of hamsters that were the size of a large western house cats, to sundried rats, to organic grown asparagus, to wild mushrooms that are very similar to the divine chanterelle mushrooms I grew up with in Austria.

Picking up these mushrooms and getting their scent suddenly brought back all these memories of picking mushrooms in my childhood and my mother making so many delicious dishes with them.

This local version is called Hed Leang which means yellow mushrooms and the taste is very much like that of chanterelles. We bought a kilo for about 4 US dollars and some asparagus because I wanted to ask the cook in our guesthouse to make some local dishes with these fantastic ingredients.

The market was another opportunity to take lots and lots of photos. I don’t know how we are going to be able to choose the best when there are already so many! We probably won’t use this one of the market hamster  in the book though:

We then went to Khoun district to visit two of our former students who got married and decided to open a small noodle shop. Mr Seng was so happy to see us and apologized for his wife Houa not being there but she had to go back to her families’ village to get some medicine for their buffalo because it was very sick.

Their noodle shop is next to the market area and it looks like they are content with their life there.

Madame Vone gave him some tips on how to improve the soup and I was able to help with some small things to improve the hygiene standards of his restaurants.

After saying goodbye to him at his shop he then followed us to the car and he apologized for not being able to give us a present for visiting him, which put tears in my eyes.  He said it so heartfelt that it went straight to my heart. We reassured him that seeing he being happy and so in love with his wife is the biggest present he could give us and I walked away with warmth in my heart that I usually only feel when I am with my granddaughter. It is always so great to see our students move on and make a life for themselves. He did call us later on that day and informed us that his wife came back from the village, the buffalo is feeling better and that she wants to come and meet us the next morning at 6 am for breakfast in Phonsavan.

After that we went with Yoorlao, the student who is traveling with us to visit her family.  It was great that she was able to see them again and we left her to spend time with her family and would pick her up the next morning when we will be leaving for Vang Vieng.

Later that afternoon we finally had some time to catch up on our emails, do some writing and for Ghislain to work on his photos.

Early that evening we went across the street to a beer place, which are very common in Laos.  We met a waitress who told us that she is a cooking student in one of the government run schools here and a soldier at the same time. This really intrigued me I asked if we could go with her the next day  to the cooking school and maybe even cook with them but sadly the school is closed for holidays.

That evening we had an amazing dinner in our guest house.

Here is the menu:

Lao style wild mushroom soup
Stir fried pork filet with wild mushrooms and asparagus

Spicy Lao style wild mushroom dip
Crispy fried tempura style wild mushrooms
Cream of wild mushroom soup (western style with an interesting Lao touch)

Our Lao team loved every dish except the cream of mushroom soup, but Ghislain had too many mushroom for one day and wasn’t so happy.

We then went to bed early since we have a 5:30 am start to meet our former students for breakfast and then long trip to Vang Vieng and meeting up with Bouavane our reintegration team leader on the way.

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