Day 42: Jewel of the Mekong

Laos is a land locked country in South East Asia squeezed in between Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, China, and Burma.  It was once a colony of France, along with Vietnam, and their cultural inflections set apart this little known food.  Laos consumes more sticky rice per person than any other country in the world.  What sets their food apart--although there are definite similarities with Thai food--is the preference of sour (Umami) flavors over sweet.

 Sticky rice is a three meal a day staple in Laos, traditionally served in these small, hand-made baskets.  It is not only a staple food but serves as an edible utensil.

Sticky rice is a three meal a day staple in Laos, traditionally served in these small, hand-made baskets.  It is not only a staple food but serves as an edible utensil.

Lao Food in Houston

Lao food is a bit rare, though it is slowly getting some attention.  The reasons for this absence on the international food scene are many and relate to complex social phenomena such as immigration patterns, among other things.  Houston has a fantastic family run import store and family run restaurant featuring northern Thai and Lao dishes called Asia Market Thai Lao Food.  We called ahead to make sure that Lao dishes would be available for us to try, and we were truly humbled by their hospitality (see the massive spread that they prepared for us below).  The store-side of the business offers a number of unique imports and even locally sourced rarities such as kaffir leaves (from the Kaffir lime tree), though there is some discussion about the origin of that name.

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The Unexploded Truth about Laos 

In an effort to cut off supply routes to the Viet Cong durning the Vietnam war, The US dropped more than two million tons of bombs on Laos in more than a half a million bombing runs.  This left an estimated 80 million unexploded bombs scattered across the country.  These have killed or injured more than 50,000 people from 1964-2008; 40% of the deaths in the last decade have been from children.  This widespread bombing and unexploded ordinance has left 25% of the country's villages contaminated to this day.  Organizations such as Cope LaosMAG International, and others are helping with removing these devices and helping people who have been maimed by providing prosthetic limbs.