A gem in Vientiane

Laab ped confit: spicy salad made with confit duck leg. All images copyright Mick Shippen www.mickshippen.com
Tod moo daet dio buak jaew mak eua — crispy fried sun-dried pork with grilled aubergine and chilli dip, another version of the jaew in the recipe below.
Ponpailin Kaewduangdy, or ‘Noi’ to her friends, is the owner and chef of Doi Ka Noi.

It’s always a good sign when a restaurant is full of local people who are chattering away excitedly about the new dishes on the menu.

We ended up at Doi Ka Noi in Vientiane by default when our guide discovered the restaurant on our itinerary was closed.

What luck! At Doi Ka Noi I met accomplished writer and photographer Mick Shippen from the UK whose Lao wife Ponpailin Kaewduangdy, or Noi to her friends, is the owner and chef.

Mick delivered a delicious array of Noi’s specialty dishes to our table which we polished off in no time . . . along with a customary round of BeerLao, the local brew that our group of Kiwis on an Innovative Travel/Singapore Airlines tour had become rather partial to at lunchtime.

The food was so different from the comparatively-bland cuisine we often eat in New Zealand — we had aromatic fish soup with leaves of the yellow cow wood tree; crispy sun-dried fried pork with grilled aubergine and chilli dip; fried rice ball salad with fermented pork, herbs, banana flower and salad leaves; salad of foraged fiddlehead fern topped with pork; stir fried chicken with black pepper; spicy salad with confit duck leg; and organic Lao wholegrain black rice and white sticky rice. I fell in love with the chilli, garlic, lime juice, spring onion, mint and lemongrass flavours. Many of the fresh ingredients were from Noi and Mick’s own restaurant garden.

Deservedly proud of his wife’s culinary skills, Mick passed around an article he had written about Noi and Doi Ka Noi for Lao Airlines’ inflight magazine. I barely had time to skim the story before we were off to our next destination but I took note of the headline: Cooking in the Slow Lane.

Luckily I grabbed Mick’s card making a mental note that the dishes we had consumed with such gusto would make an excellent food page for the Weekender.

I also took note of Mick’s stunning photography on the walls of the restaurant. The perfect match, I thought. Fabulous food and photos.

Illustrious company

It was only later when I read the full article that I discovered we were in such illustrious company at the restaurant that day.

Noi is the first and currently only Lao member of the global ‘Slow Food’ movement.

“When I found out about Slow Food, I was excited,” says Noi in the magazine article.

“Here was an organisation that truly reflected my philosophy towards food and life.”

Last year, she was invited to attend Slow Food’s biennial event, Terra Madre del Gusto in Turin, Italy.

“Lao food is not well known outside our country. As the first Lao person to attend the event, I was extremely proud,” she says.

“This was an opportunity to present my food and culture to the world. I was also able to meet cooks, farmers and activists from around the globe, all with an interest in food traditions and the issues we face. I found the whole experience to be empowering.”

While at Terra Madre del Gusto, Noi met Carlo Petrini, the founder and president of Slow Food.

“Carlo is a food hero and an inspiration to thousands of people around the world,” she says.

Noi returned to Laos full of ideas for Doi Ka Noi which has quickly gained a reputation for its distinctive authentic Lao food and a menu that changes daily.

Recently, Timm Vladimir, the Danish celebrity chef, two-time MasterChef winner, cookbook author, TV host and passionate foodie, spent a day with Noi learning the secrets of Lao food.

“He discovered that all ingredients are bought fresh from the market each morning, soups and stocks are made the old-fashioned way without the need for MSG, and sausages are home-made,” says Noi.

Daily changing menu

“Depending on the season, the daily changing menu of just seven or eight items can include ingredients dok krajeow wild ginger flowers, a tiny but flavourful mushroom called hed bee that grows on tamarind trees and is only available for a few weeks a year, pak koot foraged fiddlehead fern tops, and others used in dishes rarely found elsewhere.”

Mick says Noi is a passionate and intuitive chef, and Doi Ka Noi is much more than a commercial venture to her. It reflects her history and her outlook on life today.

“I learned to cook as a young girl at my late grandmother’s side. The recipes I use every day are tangible memories and a celebration of my love for her,” says Noi who grew up a rural subsistence farming community.

The food also reflects Noi’s determination “to stay true to Lao cuisine and protect it from becoming debased by fads for fusion, the influence of neighbouring Thailand, an influx of fast food and international restaurants, chefs using poor quality ingredients, liberal use of MSG and stock powders . . . and a young generation that has little interest in its own food”.

Noi is an absolute gem. So is Doi Ka Noi. Go there!

• Excerpts from Cooking in the Slow Lane: The World Catches Up To Laos, by Mick Shippen

• Justine Tyerman travelled to Laos with NZ boutique tour operator Innovative Travel www.innovativetravel.co.nz

and Singapore Airlines: www.singaporeair.com

It’s always a good sign when a restaurant is full of local people who are chattering away excitedly about the new dishes on the menu.

We ended up at Doi Ka Noi in Vientiane by default when our guide discovered the restaurant on our itinerary was closed.

What luck! At Doi Ka Noi I met accomplished writer and photographer Mick Shippen from the UK whose Lao wife Ponpailin Kaewduangdy, or Noi to her friends, is the owner and chef.

Mick delivered a delicious array of Noi’s specialty dishes to our table which we polished off in no time . . . along with a customary round of BeerLao, the local brew that our group of Kiwis on an Innovative Travel/Singapore Airlines tour had become rather partial to at lunchtime.

The food was so different from the comparatively-bland cuisine we often eat in New Zealand — we had aromatic fish soup with leaves of the yellow cow wood tree; crispy sun-dried fried pork with grilled aubergine and chilli dip; fried rice ball salad with fermented pork, herbs, banana flower and salad leaves; salad of foraged fiddlehead fern topped with pork; stir fried chicken with black pepper; spicy salad with confit duck leg; and organic Lao wholegrain black rice and white sticky rice. I fell in love with the chilli, garlic, lime juice, spring onion, mint and lemongrass flavours. Many of the fresh ingredients were from Noi and Mick’s own restaurant garden.

Deservedly proud of his wife’s culinary skills, Mick passed around an article he had written about Noi and Doi Ka Noi for Lao Airlines’ inflight magazine. I barely had time to skim the story before we were off to our next destination but I took note of the headline: Cooking in the Slow Lane.

Luckily I grabbed Mick’s card making a mental note that the dishes we had consumed with such gusto would make an excellent food page for the Weekender.

I also took note of Mick’s stunning photography on the walls of the restaurant. The perfect match, I thought. Fabulous food and photos.

Illustrious company

It was only later when I read the full article that I discovered we were in such illustrious company at the restaurant that day.

Noi is the first and currently only Lao member of the global ‘Slow Food’ movement.

“When I found out about Slow Food, I was excited,” says Noi in the magazine article.

“Here was an organisation that truly reflected my philosophy towards food and life.”

Last year, she was invited to attend Slow Food’s biennial event, Terra Madre del Gusto in Turin, Italy.

“Lao food is not well known outside our country. As the first Lao person to attend the event, I was extremely proud,” she says.

“This was an opportunity to present my food and culture to the world. I was also able to meet cooks, farmers and activists from around the globe, all with an interest in food traditions and the issues we face. I found the whole experience to be empowering.”

While at Terra Madre del Gusto, Noi met Carlo Petrini, the founder and president of Slow Food.

“Carlo is a food hero and an inspiration to thousands of people around the world,” she says.

Noi returned to Laos full of ideas for Doi Ka Noi which has quickly gained a reputation for its distinctive authentic Lao food and a menu that changes daily.

Recently, Timm Vladimir, the Danish celebrity chef, two-time MasterChef winner, cookbook author, TV host and passionate foodie, spent a day with Noi learning the secrets of Lao food.

“He discovered that all ingredients are bought fresh from the market each morning, soups and stocks are made the old-fashioned way without the need for MSG, and sausages are home-made,” says Noi.

Daily changing menu

“Depending on the season, the daily changing menu of just seven or eight items can include ingredients dok krajeow wild ginger flowers, a tiny but flavourful mushroom called hed bee that grows on tamarind trees and is only available for a few weeks a year, pak koot foraged fiddlehead fern tops, and others used in dishes rarely found elsewhere.”

Mick says Noi is a passionate and intuitive chef, and Doi Ka Noi is much more than a commercial venture to her. It reflects her history and her outlook on life today.

“I learned to cook as a young girl at my late grandmother’s side. The recipes I use every day are tangible memories and a celebration of my love for her,” says Noi who grew up a rural subsistence farming community.

The food also reflects Noi’s determination “to stay true to Lao cuisine and protect it from becoming debased by fads for fusion, the influence of neighbouring Thailand, an influx of fast food and international restaurants, chefs using poor quality ingredients, liberal use of MSG and stock powders . . . and a young generation that has little interest in its own food”.

Noi is an absolute gem. So is Doi Ka Noi. Go there!

• Excerpts from Cooking in the Slow Lane: The World Catches Up To Laos, by Mick Shippen

• Justine Tyerman travelled to Laos with NZ boutique tour operator Innovative Travel www.innovativetravel.co.nz

and Singapore Airlines: www.singaporeair.com

Delicious dips

Jaew are delicious dips used to enliven simple meals of sticky rice, grilled fish and steamed vegetables with an assertive punch of spice. Most jaew recipes revolve around a holy trinity of garlic, shallots, and chillies, plus the addition of the star ingredient. Take time to slowly grill the ingredients over the gentle heat of charcoal, and you will be rewarded with a dish infused with rich smoky flavours. As an alternative to barbecuing, you can place the vegetables in a heavy-bottomed frying pan and dry roast until they are blackened, blistered, and cooked through.

Jaew mak len

• Jaew Mak Len is a spicy grilled tomato and chilli dip to serve with fish, steamed vegetables and river weed

• Preparation and cooking time: about 30 minutes

• Special equipment required: a large mortar and pestle

Ingredients:

300g of cherry tomatoes

5 medium-sized, medium-heat chillies

3 shallots

3 heads of garlic (small clove variety commonly used in Asian cooking)

1½ - 2tsp of fish sauce

1 scant tsp of sea salt

A few leaves of fresh coriander

Method:

• Thread the tomatoes onto skewers through their middles and so that all the stem ends are lined up. Place them stem-end down on a wire rack and gently grill over charcoal, along with whole heads of garlic and shallots. • Turn them occasionally, removing each ingredient when they are blackened, cooked through and soft to the touch (about 15 minutes).

• Lightly pound the chillies in a mortar with a pestle. Peel and roughly chop the shallots and garlic, and add to the chillies along with the salt, and continue to pound gently.

• Add the tomatoes and muddle them with the ingredients in the mortar for a few moments to form a chunky textured dip.

• Season with a teaspoon of fish sauce and taste, adding more if necessary. Finally, add a few coriander leaves, mix lightly and serve with a final flourish of more fresh coriander.

• Recipe courtesy of Doi Ka Noi

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