If you’re anything like me, food is one of the best things about travel! It is more than just scent and flavour.  There is a whole culture behind the food, certain ways of eating, different table manners and processes.  In Laos, there is an abundance of sticky rice! It is served in little woven bamboo baskets as a side dish to most meals.  You take the lid off and roll balls of rice in your fingers, before dipping it into the main dish.  When I arrived in Luang Prabang, I decided I wanted to learn more about the food here.  I booked a cooking class with Tamarind Restaurant – highly recommended – and came away with amazing memories and an entire recipe book of traditional meals.

The class started with a tuk-tuk ride to the Phousai Markets where we were given a tour of all the common produce used in Laos cooking.  I must admit that walking through the meat section, past all the pigs heads, trotters, chicken feet, slabs of congealed blood and other monstrosities made me feel a bit sick.  I resolved to return to my vegetarian ways as soon as the course was over and, unless I was in a remote village, where the pigs run wild, I would no longer eat this meat, as I learnt that most pigs here were factory-farmed.  Aside from meat, however, there was a glorious explosion of fresh fruit and vegetables, rices, grains and whatever you could imagine!  We walked around with our guide, who shopped for all the ingredients we would need for our cooking class.

Fresh market produce, Phousai Markets
Walking around the Phousai Markets, Luang Prabang

After the markets, we got back in the tuk-tuk and drove about ten minutes out of town on a dirt track to the cooking school, which was situated in the middle of a rainforest by the river.  A little waterfall splashed over the rocks where young boys were spearing fish.  At the cooking school, there were a series of garden beds full of fresh produce.  The long wooden tables and small open fires, with very hot coals, were set up ready for us.

Vegetable garden at Tamarind Cooking School
Tamarind Cooking School
Bamboo Baskets for cooking sticky rice and steaming fish

We learnt how to make many delicious dishes.

  • Smokey eggplant dip and tomato relish (eaten with sticky rice)
  • Fish steamed in banana leaves
  • Lemongrass stuffed with chicken
  • Buffalo mince served on fresh salad with sticky rice
  • Sweet black sticky rice with a selection of tropical fruits, such as tamarind, longan, mango, pineapple, jack fruit and banana.

Preparing the meals was really fun, particularly using the mortar and pestle to crush all of the herbs, spices and chilli. We cooked on the hot coals, used bamboo baskets to steam fish and rice and tasted a lot along the way!  They use a lot of lemongrass, coriander, mint, basil, garlic and shallots in their cooking and it is all so fresh. At the end, we sat down to enjoy the feast and company – this is always the best part of any cooking class!

We were given a recipe book to take home at the end of the day, so at some point in the future, I will find the ingredients and bring a bit of Laos cooking into Australia!

Have you ever done a cooking class in another country?  What kind of food did you cook? 

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