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Food from Northern Laos
The Boat Landing Cookbook
by Dorothy Culloty with photographs by Kees Sprengers

If I were taking a long slow trip in Laos next week, I’d leave the guidebook and take this cookbook.
Lanten woman cooking. Photo by Kees Sprengers

Much of the food described in this book can be found from Pakse to Phongsali. This is not only a regional cookbook but also a national cookbook. Every major food type eaten in Laos is found in this book categorized in a logical manner and described in infinite detail with ingredients and names in English, transliterated Lao, and Loa script itself. The ingredients section is enough to make a botanist blush.

In a word I’d say authentic, there’s not one off note. Lao food as it is cooked in Lao kitchens today in Laos. An even 200 pages written as if they wanted 400. No extraneous words, every single word, photo, description, recipe, chosen with care. A coming out party for Lao food.

Dorothy Culloty, the author was in a unique position to make this book all  come together. Spending so much time over seven years in Northern Laos alone wouldn’t have been enough. Dorothy also understood cooking, food, cookbooks, and writing. Dorothy and her husband Kees Sprengers spent their seven years mostly at the Boat Landing Guest house, Laos’ original ecotourism lodge. The Boat Landing with it’s reputation for serving real Lao food, Kees photographic abilities, and Dorothy’s writing talents all combined like the ingredients of a good soup to produce a book far greater than it’s individual parts.

Besides the food of lowland Lao there are also recipes and descriptionf for the food of the Khmu, Lue, Tai Yuan, and Lanten minorities. Sadly I saw the old village of Namat Gao in a photo, now it is no more.

There are photographs not only in detail of the foods and ingredients but of the people cooking the food and eating it. People obviously very close to Kees the photographer.

In the introduction Bill Tuffin, who needs no introduction himself to anyone who has taken even a casual interest in Laos over the past 20 years says, “Let there be no doubt. The main ingredient in this cookbook is, LOVE, without which it never would have been”. I see that love in the eyes of Pawn, Joy, Chan, and others looking into the lens of Kees’ camera in moments of candor on the pages of this book.

To date there has never been a similar compilation of the foods, ingredients, and cooking of Laos in anything approaching such thoroughness, complexity size, or beauty.


Web Site for the book
On Amazon

Dorothy and Kees, suk wan

Seeing there were no reviews on Amazon I offered to write one for Kees and Dorothy, since that time three very positive ones have appeared. I'll add mine to the bunch.

Lao food is almost unknown to westerners outside of a few die hard expats. The flavors are often very strong and many of the ingredients unknown to even foreigners who live in country.

A web site I go to often to read about things Lao food is though the setting is a gazzillion star European restaurant where Vein is the chef, the blog, and the conversation, is Lao food, often transformed using unusual ingredients and methods.

In Lao language the equivalent of bon apetit is sune saap.

Sune Saap

Originally posted to ban nock at DKos on Sun Jan 02, 2011 at 06:58 AM PST.

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Comment Preferences

    •  Your description is lovely (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      koNko, divineorder

      and the Amazon reviews are glowing. For someone who knows zilch about Lao food but likes the small and locally-grown aspects--

      Is it particularly spicy, like Thai food?
      Can you cook it in a modern kitchen, or do you need an open fire and kettle?
      Can you get needed ingredients easily, or does it require a special garden?

      One of the advantages of being disorderly is that one is constantly making exciting discoveries.--A.A. Milne

      by Mnemosyne on Sun Jan 02, 2011 at 08:44:34 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  yes often the flavors are strong (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Mnemosyne, koNko, divineorder

        not always hot but often overpowering to those not used to it. Some common Thai foods are actually Lao, like the clear shrimp soup sold in restaurants simply the pork and chicken soup but with shrimp, also the shredded papaya salad.

        Much easier to cook everything in a modern kitchen. Even the sometimes barbecued vegetables that need to be blackened to get the full charcoal effect can be done on a gas stove (smokey for the alarm)

        Most Asian supermarkets have all the ingredients, sometimes only a Lao store, rarely they are not available as they aren't importable. Many people grow herbs at home so to have them free to use all the time.

        "Don't fall or we both go." Derek Hersey 1957-1993

        by ban nock on Sun Jan 02, 2011 at 09:23:11 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

  •  I love your food postings... (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    koNko, ban nock

    even your name makes me salivate....

    Bannocks and baps, neeps and tatties...I generally eat them once a year to remind me why my ancestors left to rocky isle to come to the land of endless food choices.

    I do make is amazing how many breads and biscuits are made without eggs and very little sugar.

    Character is what you are in the dark. Emilio Lazzardo in Buckaroo Bonzai

    by Temmoku on Sun Jan 02, 2011 at 07:31:53 AM PST

    •  ban nock means rural village (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      koNko, greengemini

      and broadly people who come from rural villages. Like someone who would be fearful of seeing an electric bulb because they haven't before, or someone who dresses old style, or isn't familiar with modern Thai Pop music. An unsophisticated from upcountry, never been to the capital.

      Excellent diary the other day though about the Blackfoot Indians that included use of and harvesting methods for bannock. I hope to try it sometime.

      "Don't fall or we both go." Derek Hersey 1957-1993

      by ban nock on Sun Jan 02, 2011 at 08:35:38 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Sounds like an interesting book (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    koNko, ban nock

    thanks. I'll go read your review and maybe even be able to find it in a bookstore. It's not a cuisine I know about, but learning new ones is always fun.

    One of the advantages of being disorderly is that one is constantly making exciting discoveries.--A.A. Milne

    by Mnemosyne on Sun Jan 02, 2011 at 08:06:31 AM PST

  •  I Love Lao Food. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    ban nock

    Years ago when I lived in the SF Bay area, being an Asian foodie, I used to try every kind and found some good restaurants in East Oakland where there is a Lao community.

    Village food? Of course it is great because it's simple and fresh, and after walking around a village all day you will feel hungry and enjoy so much more.

    My food philosophy is always eat one bite too little, then you will be hungry for the next meal.

    Enjoy your trip home, look forward to your diaries.

    What about my Daughter's future?

    by koNko on Sun Jan 02, 2011 at 09:52:08 AM PST

  •  Cookbooks and bombs... So nice to read this diary (0+ / 0-)

    and learn something of Lao food!

    Last thing I saw on Laos was reminder of our still unpunished war crimes against Laotians.

      How Deadly Weapons Continue to Rule Daily Life By Arantxa Cedillo Friday, Dec. 31, 2010

    •  actually this is a thread about a cookbook (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      sayitaintso, greengemini

      And because many in my family fought against the Americans and because I know so many who were harmed by that war on both sides I never assign blame to anyone. And I've never heard one word of blame from anyone in Laos, not from the one armed former soldiers, not from the people who fought for years, not from the crippled children down at COPE. As a matter of fact former American soldiers, pilots, and CIA employees are welcomed with the warmth of people who together survived a very bad time, and came out the other side alive.

      That story doesn't appeal to our sense of guilt or blame or outrage. But it's the truth and speaks more to the generosity of the human spirit. And it does nothing for carrying negativity over from a diary yesterday onto this one.

      "Don't fall or we both go." Derek Hersey 1957-1993

      by ban nock on Sun Jan 02, 2011 at 11:19:50 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

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