We arrived safe, sound, and a little dazed from the 9 hour bus ride through the mountains. We are staying in a great GuestHouse, and have run into a fun group of other travelers - Brits, Irish, a German and an American. We should have a chance to do a cooking course, some sort of trek, and a visit to a small village with a book-organization (they bring books to children in small villages). We've also sat in on a "Improve your English Skills" drop-in at the book centre. All in all, lots of fun, and we've only been here one day.
Cooking Class in Luang Prabang - (Nick writing)
When we finally return home, those of you lucky enough to be located in Ottawa may get an invitation to try out some of our Laotian cooking. Don't be scared. We learned lots of different recipes during our class at the Three Elephants in Luang Prabang, and not all of them include water buffalo skin! Just kidding. We didn't actually learn that one, but we did learn the incredible dip that they use with the buffalo skin (the dip is somewhat spicy, mostly smokey, and salty. I loved it so much I was eating it with my fingers by the end of the course).
The school first took us to the local market, where we were shown tons of different vegetables, fruits, condiments, ingredients, and cakes of congeled blood. We were unfamiliar with many of the different ingredients, though I was familiar of the concept of congeled blood, just not actually using it in cooking. (No worries to those coming to dinner - we didn't use the blood.) Laotians don't get a lot of protein, so they use every part of the animal when cooking, even its soul. (This started out as a joke, but on our trek in Luang Nam Tha we went to an Akha village that was guarded by a "Spirit Dog" at the edge of the community, which once was a real dog but continues to provide great service to the village after its natural life by protecting them from plagues. So in fact, they actually do use animal spirits, and my joke kind of falls flat.)
We substituted tofu for meat in most of the dishes, and only occasionally did I look longingly at another table's preparations - mainly the pork laap, which has become my favourite Laotian dish. We made laap (a cold tangy meat salad with tons of herbs); a coconut milk curry; an egg casserole dish; and a great salad with Luang Prabang-style mayonnaise. We arrived at 10 am, and left after 5, with our bellies stuffed full of the great food we had created. So don't be scared of the invite from us, unless I've done some more research in the meantime on how to make "congeled blood surprise".