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No Reservations: Laos

Just finished watching it. It's up there with Hong Kong for my favorite of his shows. I think the technical camera work has improved too. It was shot beautifully.

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  1. loved it...also noticed that AB's hair is turning whiter and makes him look more handsome (:

    I noticed that a lot of lao meals include a dish of broth with greens. Anyone know the name of that dish?

    2 Replies
    1. re: bitsubeats

      I loved the show too....would eat just about anything but the swallows and yeah the broth and grrens looked great I would eat that for breakfast

      1. re: bitsubeats

        Its called gaeng pak (or keng phak). Pak means vegetable. If its mild its gaeng jeut (mild). You put water in a pot, simmer it with a little bit of galangal or ginger and lemon grass and a chilli to flavour it lightly. Add a bunch of greens (like false pak choi), taste and add salt and/or fish sauce or if vegetarian a slosh of soy sauce. Thats it. If the greens are small and fresh it tastes delightfully sweet. The simplest version is just water, greens and salt.

      2. I actually really liked the new softer, gentler, Tony . His humility was so sincere and visible when he shared a meal at the house of a family mutilated by american explosives.
        Good work AB . The new layers of plump on your face actually make you look polite!!

        2 Replies
        1. re: JiyoHappy

          I really liked that segment.
          This is also what irritates me about AB haters. They say he's and ego maniac yet they don't take into account that side of him. He's very humble at times. He knows when words simply aren't enough. What do you say to someone when "Sorry" just doesn't begin to cover it.
          I told Mrs. Sippi that if I was him I would be completely embarrassed and totally ashamed of what my country had done to this poor man.

          DT

          1. re: Davwud

            I agree completely - I was so impressed with that segment, when the man turned the question to AB and asked whether it was hard for him to look at what the US had done. That they captured this genuine, heavy travel moment on film was such a treat.

            Overall, I thought the Laos episode was stunning and perfectly done. It joins Indonesia, Sicily and Colombia as my favorites.

        2. As with Lebanon, he handled the serious bits (war remnants) very well - didn't dwell on it, but gave it the respect and attention it needed. That may have taken the snark level down for the whole show, but then again, it usually is down when he's genuinely enjoying himself.

          Not a whole lot of distinct food in the show. The only really distinct item was the fermented whole swallow - which he could barely swallow. But he speaks of Laos being a cross-roads and the food is representative of that

          I like that he recognizes that he is part of the demise of the very things he appreciates most. Next time he's in Laos, there will be a KFC in Vientiane, and the monks will be wearing Nike's. Maybe there'll be a local chain specializing in fermented swallows.

          24 Replies
          1. re: applehome

            What do you mean by not a whole lot of distinct food in the show, Applehome? It's not like there was "Pho" or rice rolls, or even curry dishes (although Catfish curry would have been great to show though). Because there was a lot!

            One BIG one in case you didn't take notice is Khao niao aka "sticky rice" the main rice staple only consumed on a regular basis by ethnic Lao. There were tons of other dishes too, like "Mieng Muang Luang."

            Don't knock down the food if you don't know. If you aren't sure, just ask.

            1. re: SaoLao

              Sticky rice - Laos - yeah - I guess I just took that one for granted. It's a staple, not distinct in the sense of any special preparation. There were tons of dishes, but Tony didn't get into many specifics, either in preparation, discussing ingredients, or even mundane items like heat sources. If you check out his China - Cheng Du family visit, where he shows the centuries old wood fired wok stove, or previous to that, goes into many shops that specialize in offal, and discussions of specific types of peppers, sauces, etc... lots of details. Very few of those kinds of details here. That last feast looked incredible - the camera passed over the food very quickly, and there was no attempt to discuss even one of the offerings.

              Just ask? Yes - if I wanted someone here to delineate those dishes that passed by so quickly, give me names , ingredients and recipes, most surely I would ask here. But I was commenting on the show, wishing that he would have spent a little more time with one or more particular dish, giving us more information on them - a general desire to have had more detail on the food in the show I had just seen, not so that I could replicate a recipe.

              As to knocking down the food I don't know, I never do that. My commentary was not on Laotian food, but on Tony and what he presented to us about Laotian food. I would have thought that a native Lao might be even more upset than I regarding the lack of specifics. To see all this wonderful food presented with so little information, compared to his visits in Japan, China, even VietNam - I'd say that Laotian food got short shrifted. He did, however, present the country in a beautiful and effective manner. Perhaps he will make another visit to concentrate more on the food.

              1. re: applehome

                I also noticed the lack of detail with regards to the food. Seemed like this episode was more focused on the travel and history of Laos than the food. Personally I was disappointed by this as well. I'm sure to most of the viewers the thing that differentiates No Reservations from any other travel show is the focus on the food. Why they would want to blend in and conform to the other boring travel shows doesn't make any sense to me.

                BTW, the commercial with Samantha Brown saying "They would never do this to Bourdain" is hilarious.

                1. re: mliew

                  That ad was hilarious. They're taking off on the ESPN house ads, which are pretty hilarious. There's one where LeBron James comes into his cubicle and someone has swapped chairs with him. He asks the guy in the next cubicle if he took his chair and the guy denies it. Then you see him sitting on a huge golden throne that says King James on it. LeBron just shrugs and goes and tries to sit on a normal sized chair.

                  1. re: mliew

                    can't say i agree with mliew's take. While yes, one of my favorite aspects of this series also is the terrific focus on food, I think Tony Bourdain had plenty of grounds to wander onto more serious and scenic matters, especially in the case of Laos. Also, it's just such a little-known place in general, I think he felt that more of a wide-ranging intro was warranted, and I agree with this approach. It was one of the more moving episodes of the series, and I still got to learn something about the food as well (and I think it was the first time I saw AB saying he wanted to upchuck something he tried with those weird looking swallow bones. He liked the ant eggs though.) I agree with Pete Oldtown it was one of my favorite shows of the series.

                    1. re: mliew

                      The focus on travel makes sense in that it aired on the Travel Channel....makes sense until I realize that they air Poker tournaments on the TC.

                    2. re: applehome

                      American foreign policy and military activities are way off topic for Chowhound, so we've removed a number of posts in that vein. They're important topics, but there are other places that are better suited to that discussion. We'd ask you to please focus on the food.

                      1. re: applehome

                        I'm not upset by this episode at all because it was one of the more deep episodes and it was HIGHLY important that Mr. Bourdain made note of hidden Laos now, before it will change or become corrupted due to globalization. Why do you think he focused on Xieng Khuang Province, Northern Laos, and in particular the city of Luang Prabang? He could have easily showcased Viengchan (or Vientiane is what Falang calls it) but he didn't because Viengchan is also changing dramatically each passing year like other places in Southeast Asia.

                        The whole city of Luang Prabang is also a World Heritage Site. Unlike other heritage sites like Angkor Wat or any other site in Souteast Asia, Luang Prabang is the only that is still alive and not left abandoned or burned down.

                        Another Note on Food:
                        I am also not too concerned about the food because even though the country of Laos will be forever changed within this century, Lao food will always stay alive (no matter where Lao people end up, including other countries).

                        Hech you don't even have to go too far to sample ethnic Lao food then to drop by a "Thai" restaurant that serves food from Northern/Northeast Thailand (populated by ethnic Lao people but refered to as "Khon Muang" or Khon Issan; no longer Lao because of governmental policies)

                        Dishes like:

                        Sai Khok or Sai Oi-(Lao sausage)

                        Larp or Laab- (minced spicy salad)

                        Tum Mak Houng or Som Tum (pronounced by Central Thais)-Spicy papaya salad

                        Ping gai or Gai yarng-Lao style bbq chicken sometimes called "Thai barbeque"

                        Sticky rice with Mango

                        etc, etc, that is why I am not so concerned with Lao food not being featured. Now if someone were to ask me why Lao food is often being promoted as "authentic Thai cuisine" then that's another story (because when I think of Thai people, I mainly think of Central Thais aka "Syam" and not Northern Thais because these people are my ethnic kin).

                        1. re: SaoLao

                          Thanks for your perspective on the show and the food. I think you're spot on about the importance of documenting what's there now. I left Japan in 1962 when my grandmother's house had nothing but rice paddies in front. When I came back in the 80's, the house was still there although the thatched roof had been replaced, but everything in front was paved and full of houses and even industrial buildings. At least the bamboo forest in the mountain that was the back yard was still there and I got to go on a takenoko (baby bamboo) hunt again. But it will never be what I remember form my youth, again.

                          One of my favorite restaurants in Lowell (MA) is Phien's Kitchen, and my 2 favorite foods are their Larb Seen (made with shaved beef and tripe) and a tongue dish, Peeng Leen. They have the sausage (they call it Sai Oua on their menu), which is really delicious. I'm going to go there soon and I'll have to ask Phien's daughter, Daovone, a trained chef who runs the FOH, (her mom's the cook), if they saw it, and what they thought of the show. Lowell has a large Laotian population, so her place stays busy.

                          1. re: applehome

                            I live in SF, and there aren't any Lao restaurants (which is weird because there are Lao people in the entire Bay Area). The closest Lao restaurants are in Oakland.

                            I know some of the Thai restaurants serve Lao food, but it's just not the same (mostly because in SF the Thai restaurants are ran by Chinese Thais). For example, if I were to request Duck Laap they would make it with "ground up" duck left over from Chinese style roast duck (not the same at all); in flavor or texture.

                            That is why I cook my own Lao food and do not eat at a Thai or Lao restaurant unless the cooks can converse back and forth with me (like in Lao, then I know I can make special requests for them to change up the dish and make it not "watered down" in flavor).

                            One of the dishes that was in the shot during Mr. Bourdain's Baci ceremony was "Mieng Muang Luang." It was completely wrapped in lettuce (like a lettuce taco) and you couldn't see the actual dish from within. I think he would have loved Mieng because it's so good (and very hard to make by the way, which is why they don't serve it in Lao restaurants). It takes me several weeks just to prepare this dish and when I do make it, it's gone within minutes by guests!

                            The buffalo hide he saw at the market is great for making a Northern Lao pepper sauce paste known as "Jail Bong." It gives the sauce a smoky flavor and is great eaten with chicken or even Lao sausage (sai oua).

                            There's also this great "river moss" salad Bourdain would have enjoyed too (very similar to seaweed only not as tough to chew).

                            I still have family in Luang Prabang so it's good Bourdain feature how calm everyone still are like.

                            1. re: SaoLao

                              Some of his episodes seem to focus a little more on travel than on food. I thought the food was well-represented here; when the show was over, mr. rockandroller and I were talking about how interesting it would be to grow up in a culture where you had hot soup for breakfast every day instead of bacon and eggs or cereal or whatever. I noticed the round, high trays that food was repeatedly brought out on and immediately wanted one (CHers - can someone please tell me what these are called? Could I get one at a Chinese grocery maybe? We don't have any Lao or even Thai groceries here). I really appreciated the background and overview of the country - I thought it immensely interesting that there are absolutely NONE of the western chains there - McD's, Starbucks, etc. - there are so few of these places left and indeed I think the place is mysterious. Food was represented and sampled every place he went. I mean, compare this to watching Tony wrestle or get a spa treatment or get drunk at "Dracula's" house or any number of other things. I thought the ep was a great blend of food and culture and history.

                              1. re: SaoLao

                                i was really curious about the buffalo hide because I have heard people on here talk about it before (samfujisaka). I really wish he would've gone more into depth with the food. Everything looked simple, delicious, and fresh.

                                1. re: SaoLao

                                  THanks for this info. As bitsubeats asked earlier, what was in the soup with greens? Is it meat based, fish based, vegetable based?

                                  btw, just wanted to mention that Hoi An, Vietnam is a World Heritage Site, and still alive and well.

                                  1. re: SaoLao

                                    hi SaoLao. this seems like an older post, but i was wondering if you can help? i usually been getting jeow bong from a store up in sacramento and jeow padek from vientian's in east bay. i like how they make them but always looking for even tastier. who do you think think makes the best ones? and do you know any place around the bay area to get som pa (or homemade looking som moo)?

                                    i haven't had a real satisfying laap diip in the bay so far .. guess it's ok but not all that. between the video place on east 14th near 4th (?), and champa garden, and vientian - i go for vientian, but just ok-ish. i like it nicely khoum but theirs seems really liquidy somehow. sadly vientian stopped making their laap ped (which i liked more) about a year ago, and don't know where else you can get it .. they said it was too expensive to keep bringing in the guy that made it. other places i've asked only make laap sook version. anyway thanks if you can help, and happy new year.

                                    1. re: ken ivorous

                                      Go to "That Luang Kitchen Lao Cuisine" in San Pablo on Fridays or Saturdays and ask for their rare Beef Larb salad made from freshly killed cows. Ask them to make sure that the meat is farm-fresh. If there's no more farm-fresh beef, they'll end up using store-bought beef, which doesn't taste as good. TLK's Gaeng Kieng Nai (beef innards soup) is also VERY delicious and it too is made from freshly killed cows on Fridays and Saturdays. This soup is the best Lao beef innards soup I've ever had in the Bay Area. Their Beef Larb and Lao beef innards soup can be made "bitter" to your liking.

                                      1. re: yummyrice

                                        khopjai bro. yeah it's been WHILE since i had the energy to make it ... i feel tired just thinking about all that chopping right now :)

                                        1. re: ken ivorous

                                          Have you guys tried water buffalo laab in Lao? Now that is something special! and khop chai la lai to you too.

                                          1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                            no, sure sounds good though. where did you have it? i might make out for the SEAgames this winter. that would be great to try some.

                                            1. re: ken ivorous

                                              Upriver from Luang Prabang - prior to the tourists and the highway going north. I'm really amazed at the changes in Laos over the past 25 years.

                                              1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                                What kind of changes have you noticed in Laos?

                                                1. re: yummyrice

                                                  When I first started working in Laos there was only one hotel in Vientiane - the old Soviet built Lang Xane (something like that). The kip was amazing: saw someone with a car drive up with the back of his car (one of a very few in town) filled with the currency - he was hauling it into the bank, didn't matter that the door to the car was open. Who could steal enough without a wheelbarrow? The airport was a tiny bustling, hot and steamy old building. There was no city where Vientiane has now spread to the north. Many roads now paved were dirt; and the only vehicles we had were the old cramped Soviet jeeps. There were no stop lights. The propaganda speakers started early in the morning along the Mekong. My agricultural work colleagues had been educated in Cuba and we used Spanish to communicate. The food, then as now, was the best on the plantet.

                                                  1. re: yummyrice

                                                    The planes we flew in were Tupolovs and Ilyshins. One of the drivers I knew had been a Royal Lao pilot trained in Texas who choose not to flee and never flew again. There were no hotels in Savannakhet and just one in Luang Prubang. it took a full day upriver to get to Oudoumxay. There were no tourists oin the Plain of Jars. De-mining and defusing of bombs was much less complete. There were still pangolins in the market. There were no goods from China or Thailand. There were no pharmacies.

                                          1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                            Maybe he's like me. Sometimes I do make my own larb, but I prefer to eat out. =)

                            2. Some of you are glad that AB did the show before Laos changed! Sorry, but monks now do wear Nikes. Eighteen years ago introduced me to one of my favorite countries, foods, and peoples. This many years later, many things are very different.

                              4 Replies
                              1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                True. My sister and I were in the mall at Bangkok's airport. She was just fascinated with a monk buying the latest video equipment and tried to get a picture of it, making me stand in front of him so she could pretend that she was taking a pic of me with him in the background when the monk was the real subject (I hate the things she makes me do sometimes!). And she now lives with monks and watches South Park with them on a regular basis.

                                1. re: Miss Needle

                                  Monks watching South Park? That would be an interesting discussion!

                                  1. re: Phaedrus

                                    Almost all youngsters at some time and grown-ups as repeats spend some time being "monks". Not a permanent thing for most. Kids will do up to a year, but still want to play Grand Theft Auto and watch South Park.

                                    1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                      Ah yes, forgot about the monkhood apprenticeship.

                              2. I was impressed with AB's sincerity when he ate with the family who's husband/father had lost an arm and a leg.
                                I wonder if there is any 'compensation' for these 'family' meals.
                                I wonder how much an artifical leg is in Laos......

                                3 Replies
                                1. re: CEfromLA

                                  There are a number of NGOs that work on provision (and construction) of artificial limbs in heavily mined countries like Laos and Mozambique.

                                  1. re: CEfromLA

                                    My guess is that they'd do what they could to reciprocate for the kindness but my limited knowledge of people like that is, "You're our guest. You do not need to." It would all but be insulting.
                                    I'm sure that people for that area will chime in and prove/disprove my theory.

                                    DT

                                    1. re: Davwud

                                      Also a guess: I've seen Bourdain have meals where I've had meals. His meals have at times been outrageously extravagant for the poor family visited (e.g., the Lao/Thai style meal in Thailand and the meal in China with the hungry little kid). As agricultural researchers, we were always a sort of coveted partner in the futures of small, poor farmers. Even so, we discretely but without problem always managed to pay well when we ate in remote, small communities. I'm sure that AB's crew does the same.