Chilli Watermelon Granita

Sampling the Food, Luang Prabang, Laos

Lao food has an incredibly fresh taste largely influenced by the wonderful use of herbs that transform simple ingredients into delicious meals.

The beef Laap dish served in most restaurants these days is made a little more palatable for westerners with the meat now being cooked rather than its traditional raw version.   Herbs gave the dish great flavour, while the crunch of bean sprouts made for added texture.

A traditional clear soup of meat, herbs and vegetables, Orlam makes for a nice light meal, giving you the impression that eating it really is good for you.

To broaden your food experience beyond local Luang Prabang fare head for Le Patio Cafe at the Traditional Arts & Ethnology Centre, which serves a range of minority dishes from various nearby provinces.   The food is very good, with the menu offering the ability to taste a nice mix rather than being stuck with just one dish.   Set in a lovely old building, insight is also given into the people and culture where the dish hails from.  Oh and if that’s not enough, there’s also a delicious selection of French pastries to finish with.

Tamarind restaurant has a great reputation for its food, and based on my experience it’s very well deserved.   Using ultra fresh ingredients it serves up a fusion of traditional local dishes with a few modern touches.

The Mok Pa (steamed fish with herbs) was simply divine – tender, fleshy fillet of fish with dill and basil, wrapped in a banana leaf and steamed to perfection.   The melt in your mouth fish morsels were accompanied by plump, glossy grains of sticky rice, which also proved excellent for soaking up the juice.

So cool and refreshing in the blistering heat, the watermelon and chilli granita was a tantalising icy mix of sweet and spice – a drink I swore I’d be looking to replicate at home.

Meals were definitely a highlight for me in Luang Prabang, with the taste and style both in complete harmony with the heat and humidity of the environment.

Each morning in Luang Prabang, Laos Buddhist monks carry out the morning alms procession.

Morning Alms (Tak-Bat), Luang Prabang, Laos

A damp coolness lingers in the air as a sea of vibrant saffron seemingly floats along a deserted narrow road in the faint early morning light. Framed by lush greenery and traditional wooden architecture a smattering of locals patiently sit with their bamboo baskets filled with sticky rice as they wait to give alms.  Witnessing this serene, special event also referred to as Tak-Bat was a highlight of my stay, however not every scene plays out with such reverence.

I couldn’t even bring myself to raise my camera at the alms giving that took place just outside my hotel in Luang Prabang.  There were no other onlookers; I imagine this same event would have been repeated thousands of times in exactly the same manner.

Unfortunately, this was not the case in the centre of the Luang Prabang. Where I can only describe the Tak-Bat here as a circus which features these ridiculous camera-toting tourists jumping in, out and around the monks who were silently attempting to carry out this Buddhist tradition.   Despite the rules of conduct being well publicised around town, the behaviour of many left me incredibly conflicted about taking my own photos and the impact of tourism on this age-old ritual.

I was a little horrified to find it has almost become a “tourism experience” with visitors being given the opportunity to take part in the tradition and give alms.  The desire to give can only be commended but I question taking part in sacred religious rituals where there is no real association.  In some ways I think it makes a mockery of the situation.

Poor quality food is a further complication where some monks have become sick from rice given by some unsuspecting tourists, as this is purely a money making opportunity for some.

I moved away from the main street and to my relief I found a much quieter place where I could sit at a distance and take photos.  I am very thankful for my zoom lens!