As we landed in Luang Prabang, Laos, I immediately relaxed–and not just because I realized that despite every indication from the look and sound of the plane, Air Laos does seem capable of successfully completing a one hour flight. I relaxed because I saw the scenery. Unlike Chiang Mai and Bangkok, where we were greeted by that green mermaid of capitalism, Starbucks, here the green we saw was of the palm trees. A bright, vivid green that burn as brightly as the golden spires of the nearby temples. I grinned at what I call “the smell of the third world” — burning garbage. Memories of Latin America flowed, especially as we passed the stands of young coconuts for sale. I looked at B to see if he shared the same excitement, but he was starting the long fight against his mistake of the day–he ate the cold hamburger served to us on Lao air.
One meal stood out among the many in Luang Prabang.
On a tiny little balcony perched above the Nam Kha River, right across the street from our hotel, the Apsara, we found this place. My Mother and Father tried to order fried noodles with vegetables. They did not have that. Nor anything else on the menu. Except Lao Barbecue. Luckily B and I had come for Lao BBQ. Unfortunately my parents had not. They left. All the more for us. So allow me to explain what you see. This pot is set over a bucketful of hot coals and has a moat around the edge with a tiny amount of broth in it. Then they bring all the vegetables, herbs, meat and eggs to the table. You, or if you are whitey mc-not-asian like us, your waitress, rub the pieces of fat all over the pan as the coals heat it up, then set it at the very top–as it gets hotter the fat melts, cooking the meat, but dripping through the slits in the pan before it hits the broth. Then you cook the meat on the pan and the vegetables in the broth–kind of like a mix between Korean BBQ and Chinese Hot Pot. We were huge fans. As we sat by the slowly snaking river, its muddy brown a stark contrast to the bright green of the palm trees and vegetable gardens lining it, I realized that this was exactly why I had wanted to come to Southeast Asia. It was completely different from home, totally beautiful and I was eating amazing food.