Friday, May 15, 2015
Bicycle riding has never been my strong suit. Sure, I once upon a time learned how to ride (thanks mom!), but….
I have definitely fallen, many, many, many times in my past.
When Anita suggested riding bikes, I immediately said “SURE!”, but I may have been slightly nervous.
Just a little…
What if I had forgotten how to ride?! What if I fell?!
Putting my fears to the back of my mind we walked to the bike rental place, and before I knew it I was handing over 20,000 kip for a bright pink bike, with hearts, and a basket!
Let me tell you, that saying is totally right,
“It is like riding a bike, you never forget”
Ok, so I was a little wobbly, and getting started/braking was always a comical moment, but I did it! I successfully rode a bike, WITHOUT FALLING!
Alrighty, so where did we go?
Stop #1: UXO Museum
Well, now you know.
As an American, the museum was quite sobering. Between the years 1964 and 1973, the United States delivered more than 2 million tons of explosive ordinance over Laos, in an attempt to block the flow of North Vietnamese arms and troops through Laotian territory. The reason that this is still an issue today, is that, now, 40 years later there are still ordnances that have not exploded. Of the 2 billion ordnances, it is estimated that 30% did not exploded, and are now classified as Unexploded Ordnance (UXO).
Every day in Laos, someone is killed or injured by a UXO.
UXO Lao is a organization that works to reduce the number of casualties caused by UXO, and increase the amount of land available for food production and other socio-economic development activities. Between 1995 and 2010 they destroyed 446,711 UXOs, or 0.55%.
Can you imagine…
Living in constant fear of accidentally detonating a 40-50 year old bomb?
Leaving the museum and more informed citizen and visitor, I was ready for our next destination.
Stop #3: Living Land Company
On our drive to Kuang Si Falls we passed so many vibrant farms, I wanted the chance to explore a traditional farm. Anita, had heard about The Living Land Company, so I investigated and figured out how we could bike there. On their website they advertise a “Rice Experience” class, and a “Home Stay” option, but we were thinking they might have a small tour or at least let us wander the farm alone.
The farm was about a 20-30 minute ride from the city, if you don’t get lost that is. About 20 minutes, and a few hills in, my GPS said we were “there”, but I could not see the farm or any signs for the farm 🙁 After asking a few people, I finally found someone who understood me, and they pointed down the road. Another LARGE hill, and we finally saw signs for the Living Land Company.
Temperature in the 80’s + Humidity between 70-90% + SUN + Hills + Bicycle riding = A HOT SWEATY MESS
You might be getting tired of me talking about how much I sweat, but people, this is a major part of my life here. I am slowly getting used to it, but I have seriously never experienced this much sweat before.
Arriving at the farm, I was looking forward to taking the time to tour the farm (got to get that heart rate down), but yeah…
That wasn’t going to happen.
Apparently, they do not offer small tours only the “Rice Experience” class. When I asked if we could walk around, the gentleman said that we would disturb their “Home Stay” guests.
At that point we were too late for the “Rice Experience” class, not that I really wanted to take it. I really just wanted to explore a traditional farm. I wanted to see what they were growing and how they were growing it. The gentleman eventually suggested we could take photos right by the entrance, so I did. I needed something to prove that I biked all the way there 🙂 And there were some great wildflowers!
With only a 15 minute stop, my heart was still pumping as we got back on the bikes. It was time to conquer the hills and head back to the city to destination number 3.
Stop #3: Ock Pop Tok
Remember that weaving tour we missed the day before? Well, that is where we were headed. Normally, people go to either of the two shops in town and take the free tuk tuk to their learning center.
But since we had rented bikes, we figured we would forgo the free tuk tuk and just bike to the learning center ourselves. From the farm is was about a 10-15 minute ride, which means it was only about a 10-15 minute ride from the city/our hostels. The learning center was great! We were told to wait for the next tour, so I ordered an iced coffee at their cafe (surprise surprise). There was even free Wifi 🙂 We thought the wait was only going to be 15-30 minutes, but it ended up being about an hour.
We didn’t mind because not only did we have free Wifi, but we also had comfortable chairs, free water, and 4 fans blowing. Ahhhhhhhh 🙂
Along with the free tours, Ock Tuk Pop also offers weaving and dyeing classes. Later that evening we met several people who had taken the classes, and they highly recommended it. For the weaving class you make a place mat, and I believe for the dyeing class you dye a scarf.
Our free tour was short, sweet, and to the point, but I was able to get some good shots.
Tired from the heat and the bike ride (goodness, my butt was sore), Anita and I took the time to shower and rest before our COOKING CLASS!!
Stop #4: Tamarind Cooking Class
The class started at 4:30 but we were told to be there at 4:15, so at exactly 4 pm Anita and I mounted our bikes (we rented them for the whole day, which was super convenient) and rode the 10-15 minutes to the Tamarind Restaurant.
While waiting for our classmates we had a cold cinnamon drink of sorts (I really don’t remember what he said was in it)…
Once everyone was there, there were 9 of us, we all piled in a tuk tuk and drove about 30-40 minutes to the actual classroom. We had no idea the classroom was that far, but I am so happy that it was! The classroom was in the ‘jungle’ with an open air pavilion (similar to my Thai Class) and next to a lotus pond. AMAZING.
Just like my Thai Class, the first thing we discusses was RICE!
Dish 1: Jeow, a spicy dipping sauce
I had a choice between tomato and eggplant. Wanting to try both, Anita and I agreed that I would make the tomato version and she would make the eggplant version.
First I smoked all the ingredients, until they had a nice charr.
Then I put the garlic, shallots, and peppers, into the mortar and pestle.
Once those ingredients were sufficiently “smushed” I added the peeled tomatoes, cilantro, green onion, and some lime juice.
There was some seasoning added, but overall once I smashed all the ingredients together, I was done! SO EASY!
You eat Jeow with sticky rice. You take the sticky rice, make a ball, and then dip it into the sauce. My tomato version was P R E T T Y spicy, but still delicious, it reminded me of a warm salsa. The eggplant version was smokier (it stayed on the coals longer than the tomatoes) and not as spicy. I really liked mine, but I think I liked the eggplant one better (sorry no pictures! we were hungry…)
Hey look! our instructor!
Dish 2: Mok Pa
Fish steamed in banana leaf…00000…ahhhhh
I started with lemongrass, green onions, shallots, basil, dill, kaffir lime leaf, and pepper. Chopped the ingredients and added them to the mortar and pestle (the mortar and pestle is very important in Lao cooking). We added some salt and some fish sauce, and kept on pounding. When the paste was smooth-ish I added my white fish (tilapia) and mixed everything up by hand.
**Note at this point is is getting dark so I start playing around with my flash, hence why all the photos look slightly different 🙂
Ok, time to wrap the fish in the banana leaf! We were told that is is important to use a FRESH banana leaves because the fresh leaves do not give flavor, whereas a dried leaf would impart flavor in the dish. The banana leaves needed to be warmed up over the coals and then they were ready to be used. I can’t easily describe the folding process (it would require diagrams), but look at the final product!
Dish 3: Lemongrass Stuffed with Chicken
While the fish was steaming, we started the next dish. FYI: I am starving at this point, and we just keep cooking…
The dish started with green onions, shallot, cilantro, kaffir lime leaf, and salt, which all goes…
INTO THE MORTAR AND PESTLE 🙂
Once I sufficiently smashed the herbs I added ground chicken and smashed again.
OK, time to make the lemongrass basket. Sorry for the lack of photos but I was very focused! Essentially, I made one long cut (~4cm) starting about 1 cm from the bottom. I then scored all around the stalk following the initial 4 cm cut. Make sense?
This is what it looked like:
Then… I STUFFED it with the chicken mixture!
To cook them, I coated them in an egg-wash and deep fried them…
Dish 4: Rice Pudding and Fresh Fruit
The rice pudding was very similar to the “Sticky Rice and Mango” dish from my Thai Class, but this time we made our own coconut milk. I added two large scoops of fresh coconut (from a brown coconut) and 1/2 cup warm/hot water to a pot and mixed well. I then squeezed the coconut and out came coconut milk! So easy!
I then brought the coconut milk up to a boil with a pinch of salt. When the milk was boiling I added a large spoon of purple sticky rice that we had cooked earlier. I cooked the rice mixture until the coconut milk was completely absorbed.
We served it with fresh fruit. I wanted to try ALL the local fruit so I got one of each 🙂
From left to right:
- Dragonfruit (Black and White)
- and FRESH MANGO
Once everything was cooked and ready, we headed to the dining table, which had EVEN MORE FOOD ON IT. They had also made us Larb (minced meat salad), young pumpkin salad, and bamboo soup (not pictured).
I think everyone was equally hungry because for the first 5 minutes no one spoke. Eventually, we all started discussing how delicious everything was, and how it was all so easy to make. The star of the night was the fish dish 🙂
Mouth salivating? Hungry? I bet you are 😉
Have I convinced you to take this class??
Anyway, the day ended on a high note but overall it was great day! Saturday will be a “chill” day, as I work on photographs and prepare for my overnight bus to Vientiane 🙂
Love always, Arianna the Wandering Pipette