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.
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 http://laocook.com/... 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.