Cooking Lao Food for 40

Fresh, hot chiles THIS is why I love food, communal food: it has the power to turn a gathering of strangers into a collective event. It makes the foreign experience feel less so. It happens every time we travel to Laos, when villagers bring us to their kitchen fires or hand us glasses of Beerlao…Continue readingCooking Lao Food for 40

The Garlic Difference

Garlic vendor, Kengtung market, Shan State Do you see these garlic bunches? This isn’t the garlic typically found in American markets. You know what I’m talking about—big, fat Chinese garlic, often sold in little net bags, five heads for a dollar (at least that was the going rate in New Mexico when we left). Cheap.…Continue readingThe Garlic Difference

Laap of the North

As long as attention is focused on Chiang Mai’s distinctive flavors, how about a recipe for northern Thai laap? You know this dish, right? It’s one of my most favorite of favorites. I usually go for a more Lao-style version (minus the buffalo parts), with bounties of fresh herbs, tangy citrus and crunchy toasted rice…Continue readingLaap of the North

The Secret to Chiang Mai Spice

Well, it’s not really a secret considering millions of Thais cook with this Northern Thai Chile Powder and eat it every day. But it is an exceptional concoction, found only in northern markets. Thai travelers take it home to Bangkok and points between (or beyond). Try to make a northern chicken soup or a Chiang…Continue readingThe Secret to Chiang Mai Spice

The Place to Be

I sit now at the Sone Restaurant along the muddy Mekong. A man, a boy and a girl fish along the banks below me. I order a banana and watermelon shake, no sugar, and its mild sweetness makes me happy. My body leans against a triangular pillow, and I write in my journal on a…Continue readingThe Place to Be


Despite the peculiarities of American eats, I am grateful and thankful for many things here in the homeland — things we couldn’t find in Thailand, or wouldn’t buy for the ridiculous price; things I simply appreciate wherever I am. My list is long, but a few items immediately come to mind: * Friends and family…Continue readingThankful

Roasted Eggplant Laap

I’ve been addicted to laap (or larb or larp, depending on where in Thailand or Laos it’s served) since the first time I ate it in southern Laos about eight years ago. Laap is a magnificent ground meat dish with oodles of herbs, onions, fresh chili, fish sauce, lime and a little toasted rice powder.…Continue readingRoasted Eggplant Laap

Mrs. Saw

Mrs. Saw is kind of a crank. Not a bad crank, but a nice crank in a nosy grandmotherly sort of way. She runs a little restaurant across from the market in Sepon, a three-road town on the old Ho Chi Minh Trial in southern Lao. Her menu’s on the wall: noodle soup, BBQ chicken,…Continue readingMrs. Saw

Sabai Dee Pii Mai Lao!

Happy New Year from the Lao People’s Democratic Republic. We have crossed through Cambodia’s northern forests (which are sadly being torched and cleared) into Lao, where the Mekong spreads wide around little spits of land. They call this place the “4,000 Islands.” We arrive at Khong Island on Lao New Year’s Eve. All across this…Continue readingSabai Dee Pii Mai Lao!