Tamarind: a Taste of Laos
Like the country it represents, Lao cuisine is often overlooked in favour of its larger and more popular neighbours. With a remarkable penchant for fresh vegetables and herbs, it is a blend of subtle, sour and spicy flavours, graced by the presence of galangal, lemongrass, mint, dill and coriander, to name just a few.
While in Luang Prabang, Bama and I dined at Tamarind, a pioneer of ‘Modern Lao’ cuisine founded by Joy and Caroline, a Lao-Aussie couple. One look at their signature drinks list and we knew that it was going to be a treat for the taste buds. Over the course of two meals we tried Iced Cinnamon Bael Fruit Tea, Iced Jujube with coconut milk, and finally the addictive Watermelon Chilli Granita, a refreshing fruit slush with the lingering aftertaste of chilli.
As for the food itself, here is a rundown of the six dishes we sampled. All the following descriptions – save the first entry – are written as they appear on the menu.
DIY Parcels (Miang)
Lettuce wraps for those who love a hands-on approach. Choose from a platter of lemongrass, noodles, long beans, shredded ginger, peanuts, sweet sticky rice and a delicious eggplant dip.
Bamboo Shoot Soup (Gaeng Nor Mai)
A hearty local specialty. Chunks of young bamboo shoots combined with a medley of local vegetables. Definitely worth trying for subtle flavours you won’t get back home.
Stuffed Lemongrass (Oua Si Khai)
Fragrant lemongrass stuffed with chicken, kaffir lime and coriander; dipping sauce on the side.
Stir Fried Frog with Chilli and Local Basil (Pad Sapao Gop)
Our chef’s favourite: whole frog pieces (on the bone) with the spiciness of chilli and an aniseed kick from purple ‘holy’ basil. Very different from French-style frog!
Fish in Banana Leaf (Mok Pa)
Fish in a delicate dill & basil sauce, steamed in a banana leaf parcel; bite into steamed vegetables afterwards. Add sticky rice to mop it up.
Buffalo Salad (Laap Kwai)
A salad of finely chopped buffalo meat laced with fresh herbs, seriously Lao-style with tripe for texture and buffalo bile for the bitter accent that Lao people love. Fresh whole chillies on the side: spice it to your taste.
Open Monday-Saturday for lunch and dinner, Tamarind offers small-group cooking classes throughout the week and Lao-style fish barbecues on Friday nights. The restaurant has recently moved from its original location, opposite Wat Nong, to the banks of the Nam Khan River. Look for ‘the Apsara’ hotel right next door. For more details, check out their website at www.tamarindlaos.com.
I didn’t know that Tamarind was founded by a Lao-Aussie couple. Now that explains why the dishes have such modern look yet keeping their authentic Lao taste. For me the food can be a single reason to go back to Laos! 🙂
I found out on their website – apparently they are sometimes there at the restaurant. It’s a shame we didn’t get to meet them!
Looks yummy. I’ve never had Lao’s cuisine before but how similar is it to Vietnamese?
I would say it’s halfway between Vietnamese and Thai. Very underrated too.
Looks like if I want some I’d have to make my way to Laos, there are no restaurants in NYC.
There might be a couple in L.A. – I’ve heard there’s a sizeable Lao community there.
That is a long ass way to go for a meal. At least if I go to Laos I’ll get something else out of it.
Wow! Everything looks and sounds divine. Can’t wait to try them all out. Thank you James.
As always, you’re welcome Madhu! I think you would love that Watermelon Chilli Granita. 🙂
This post is making my mouth water! 😎
I think you would love Lao food!
Wish I was there. Very nice photos!
Thanks Bente! We were dining out on the terrace and the neutral daylight was perfect for food photography.
Your pictures are divine James, just how the food must have been!
Absolutely Sophie – the food we had in Laos went far beyond my expectations!
Wow you are making me hungry! Wish I could order some shipped express to my house!
You will have to visit Laos and try some there! I haven’t had much luck finding a Lao restaurant even here in Hong Kong!
Nom, nom, nom!!! I love food, and this post is making my mouth water. Especially the stuffed lemon grass. I was hoping to make a trip somewhere this winter either SE Asia or South America. This post might be swaying my decision towards Asia. Speaking of food… Lunch time CDT 🙂
Oh yes, the food in Southeast Asia is just unbeatable! Thai, Cambodian, Lao, Vietnamese, Filipino, Malaysian, Singaporean, Indonesian… I’m a sucker for all the rich flavours and spices they use!
That looks SO good. I will certainly be heading to Tamarind when I’m in Luang Prabang next month.
Oh it was, Susan – I would recommend Tamarind to anyone and everyone!
ahhhh that’s no fair! take me too!!
it all looks so gooooood!
If only we could all download food from the screen!
Or stuff it through a phone
James, great to read your appreciative comments about our restaurant, and to see your fabulous photos of our dishes! Joy introduced me to Lao cuisine when I first came here and the food that he and his family cooked was the inspiration for Tamarind: a place where visitors could be introduced to and explore all the tastes of an intriguing cuisine. Hope you come back again; let us know in advance if you do so we can be sure to be on hand! Caroline Gaylard
I loved my time in Laos so I will surely be back for more – Tamarind was a highlight of our stay in Luang Prabang and although it was difficult to find at first (we were given conflicting directions) I’m glad we managed to get there in the end! Lao cuisine was such a wonderful surprise with all its subtle and delicate flavours. When I do return I’ll have to sign up for the cooking class. Thanks for leaving a comment Caroline, I’ll let you know the next time I drop by Luang Prabang!
James, Great stuff! How many times have u been freshly pressed? (also wondering: what filipino food have u tasted so far?)
Thanks James! I was Freshly Pressed three times last year, though I do wonder how much of it was down to luck – i.e. posting something at just the right time. I’ve tried homemade halo-halo, torta, embutido, chicken adobo… as well as brazo de mercedes, mamon and polvorones from a bakery. Not much beyond those though! I’d love to taste Bicol express for the spice, and balut for the ick factor. 😛
Congratulations on the three-peat 🙂 ah, adobo-the quintessential filipino food! (although i’d still choose sinigang na hipon any day). You’ve tasted a lot already…and home cooked? Bicol express,i like; but not balut (havent tried it yet…im not adventurous when it comes to food).
Absolutely LOVE your website. Well done! Especially love your header slider. Great content too. I will follow you.
Going to be in LP in January. can’t wait to try Tamarind in their new location.
Everything was fantastic – had we stayed another day I think we would have returned for one more meal!
stuffed citronella looks good and tasty