Now, About that Jaeow:

If you’ve read my previous post — a 9-day diary of Lao village food — you’ll fully understand the importance of chile in every Lao meal. And you’ll recognize that chile takes the form of jaeow, a paste that’s pounded with mortar and pestle.

One morning, I follow Huang and Louen, the two cooks, into their thatch hut to see just what sort of magic happens in there. I expect a simple process—but not quite as simple as this: Huang peels the skin off a clump of fresh garlic, the homegrown type with tiny cloves and purplish stems. Into the mortar they go. Meanwhile, Louen de-stems about 25 hot little red chiles that have been cooked in ash. She pats them twice (to remove the ash), then into the mortar they go. So, too, do a few teaspoons of salt and copious amounts of MSG (common in Lao food). Louen pounds the mix on the packed mud floor while the fire burns hot in the corner.

That’s it. It takes 30 seconds. So simple. Louen rinses the mortar with river water and tosses all that extra essence of the pounded ingredients into a wok atop the fire. Then she adds that cooked water into the jaeow, and we have our mealtime companion.

Garlic, chiles, salt and MSG–four ingredients, yet the flavor is so much more dynamic than that. The secret is a combination of smoky chile and fresh, young local garlic (as opposed to big cloves from China, which are popping up all over the region, particularly in Thailand—but not here… another story, another day).

In Laos, there is a name for every type of chile paste. I’ve decided to call this one Yum! jaeow.

6 thoughts on “Now, About that Jaeow:

  1. This looks incredible. The chilies would probably be too hot for me, but I think it would be fun to try this recipe with something more tame, like a smoked or grilled poblano. In fact, if I did, my husband would probably marry me all over again! 🙂

  2. That’s some good looking jaeow. That’s the base of a lot of other jaeows. Add in charged tomatoes and cilantro, or some roasted mak gok and fresh chives, or even some leftover grilled fish and dill, or if your really adventurous dry roasted crickets…enjoy with hot sticky rice with a plate or fresh or steamed veggies and a simple soup and it’s dinner. Great pix Karen. Loved the food diary. It really does put into prospective how fortunate we are in the States, when it comes to food.

  3. That’s some good looking jaeow. That’s the base of a lot of other jaeows. Add in charged tomatoes and cilantro, or some roasted mak gok and fresh chives, or even some leftover grilled fish and dill, or if your really adventurous dry roasted crickets…enjoy with hot sticky rice with a plate or fresh or steamed veggies and a simple soup and it’s dinner. Great pix Karen. Loved the food diary. It really does put into prospective how fortunate we are in the States, when it comes to food.

  4. Sasha, always good to keep the hubby’s stomach happy. I’ve had many a mild jaeow as well; use any chile you like!

    Souavarat, I can taste it all…. And you’re right. We are very fortunate.

    Thanks, Julia!

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