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.