Recently, Damo and I were lucky enough to visit the village of one of our workmates, Phonekham. Our friend met us in town and we rode scooters east for about half an hour to reach Ban Xieng Lom, which is nestled on a narrow peninsula, surrounded by the Nam Khan river.
We first visited the house of his uncle who is a local fisherman. The Lao people are very generous, and it’s traditional to greet guests with a home-made rice whiskey called Lao Lao. We were a little sceptical when they brought out a plastic soft drink bottle with mysterious things floating around in it. But not wanting to reject the kind hospitality of our hosts it went down the hatch. This particular brew used honey and medicinal herbs to flavour the whiskey, and it tasted superb! Reminiscent of a honey mead, without being overly sweet.
Like many people in northern Laos, Phonekham’s parents have a market garden. Phonekham’s mother met us on the bank of the river and paddled us across in a small canoe to the garden when they were growing cucumber, eggplant and maize.
There’s a simple bamboo and corrugated tin hut at the garden where a member of the family sleeps. They have a house in the village, but to protect the crops someone always remains at the garden – even during the big storms of the wet season.
Lunch was amazing and featured eggplant and cucumber from the garden, as well as fish caught from the river. Jeow Mak Keua/spicy eggplant dip is definitely a new favourite dish of mine! We also had Jackfruit soup, bamboo & shrimp soup, a spicy cucumber salad and fried fish, all eaten with sticky rice. Everything was prepared over a small fire in the hut, and the food tasted better than most of the meals I prepared in my fancy western kitchen back home. It reminded me how easy it is to prepare healthy, tasty food with a few fresh ingredients.
After lunch, we helped pick some cucumbers which would be transported and sold in town at the market, then rewarded ourselves with a quick dip in the Nam Khan while we watched Phonekham’s brother catch dinner.
It was a pretty blissed-out ride back to town, with Damo and I feeling tremendously grateful to Phonekham and his family for welcoming us into their daily lives. Khop jai lai lai!