Taking a cooking class in another country, exploring the cuisine of a foreign land, is a treat. Having a private lesson in an open-air kitchen, cooking the finest of Lao cuisine, is an experience.
Luang Prabang is a small city in Laos, whose borders were established by France in 1893. Sandwiched between the expansionist governments of Thailand and Vietnam, Laos cuisine is heavily influenced by those cultures, its geographic position along the Mekong River and its French heritage.
There are no shortage of cooking classes in the many restaurants that tend to offer both Lao and French menus. I took a three hour class at Burasari Heritage, which boasts an open-air kitchen along the Nam Khan River, a bustling, professional staff and a dedication to local, high-quality ingredients.
I walked to the hotel, where a driver and Food & Beverage Manager Nok, a Thai woman who worked in London restaurants for thirty years, picked me up in a vintage Mercedes and drove me to the wholesale market a few kilometers away.
Fresh vegetables, hand-made noodles and packaged Lao treats spread across an acre or more. A brief description of the photos below:
- garlic, shallots, ginger and other local vegetables
- rice variations, with Lao sticky rice in the left foreground
- sardines in the back, smaller ones in the liquid on the left and dried chile in the front
- a mushroom variety, possibly black fungus mushrooms
- eggs that crack are sold three or four at a time in a plastic bag
- eggplant in the left bowl, pureed sticky rice on the right, fried shallots on top
Back to the kitchen, where we prepared four dishes. It was a private class, just myself, Nok, Nik and a couple others who would lean in and offer a tip while I was prepping.
- Tom Yum Gai – a straight-forward Thai sour soup with chicken and a variety of mushrooms. With a little prep, this dish cooks fast, gaining its red color from cherry tomatoes breaking down in the hot vegetable broth. Lime juice becomes bitter in the heat of a burner, so we squeezed fresh limes into the serving bowl, pouring the soup on top of it, garnishing it with cilantro.
- Laap Pa – a Lao staple that can be prepared with fish, chicken, pork or beef, laap na is pan-fried minced Mekong tilapia with lemongrass, kaffir lime leaf, shallot, and onion, served in a banana flower leaf with sticky rice. I cannot wait to make this with some seared albacore and throw it on a fresh baguette.
- Ua Si Khai – when I mentioned to Nok how much I had enjoyed this dish at Tamarind the night before, she was happy to add this to our menu, and drop the pumpkin dessert. Ua Si Khai is lemongrass stuffed with chicken. The chicken is minced with lemongrass, kaffir lime leaf, and shallots, and molded into lemongrass stalks that have been pounded until stringy, acting like a cage. This is then par-steamed, dipped in flour, covered in beaten egg and deep fried until golden brown, served with sweet chili sauce.
- Lao Chicken Stir-Fry – a classic stir-fry with Lao touches like kaffir lime leaf and sweet, hot Lao chile paste, served with sticky rice, rounded out our menu.
We prepared each dish one-by-one, plated it, and I sat down to enjoy while it was hot. AliSun joined me for two dishes, in between wandering the city and climbing to the wat atop Mount Phousi. A delicious, delightful Luang Prabang experience.