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, fried vegetables, boiled chicken, fish or laap. But she has what she has, and she doesn’t have what she doesn’t have, on any given day.
Tonight it’s fish soup â€” light, fragrant, healthy. River fish with tamarind and greens in a perky broth, served with sticky rice on the side. She always has sticky rice and jaew â€” some of the best, most piquant jaew around.
Mrs. Saw’s menu lists prices, too, but they never add up. It’s hard to argue when the bill never amounts to more than $4 or $5 for two people. Plus, she serves the thickest cups of mud coffee we’ve had in Lao, and a pho so big I have to leave half of it behind. We suspect she’s trying to put some meat on our bones.
Mrs. Saw is a big woman herself, in every way. She talks with a gruff voice and hacks up loogies every morning (as does most of Southeast Asia). She scratches her armpits and jiggles when she laughs. She knows nine words of English, and three of her favorites are “ooh, very good,” spoken with a rambling rolled r. It’s “very good” when we order more coffee and “very good” when we order more beer. It’s “very good” that we’re Americans, even though our country bombed this town to bits. When we finish a meal, Mrs. Saw always ends the moment with “kap chai lai lai deu (thank you very much), tomorrow you come here.”
And we do. When she sees us trudging up the street, she barks from afar: “Sit down.” It’s an order without question.
If you ever find yourself in Sepon, look for the sign that says “Lao Restaurant. Welcome.” And it will take you home to Mrs. Saw.
One fried fish by Mrs. Saw