Laos 22: What’s cooking at the Luang Prabang night market
The Luang Prabang night handicraft market is good for browsing and bargaining. The Luang Prabang night food market is good for mouth-watering indulging.
Barbecued meats and fish and sausage and a pigs head and other porky bits and bites and all manner of meaty delicacies and indelicacies are grilled over fires by — in the case of my whole fish dinner, a large super-efficient aproned man who was totally in command of what he was doing and looked like he loved it.
The fish, big and small and some flattened, are apparently marinated first, then salted. Crispy on the outside, tender on the inside, and the market cat picked off the bones with relish.
Tropical fruit is irresistible given the weather: mango, watermelon, coconut and pineapple among the more familiar. But fruit of all shapes, colors and descriptions, some unfamiliar, all waiting to be blended up with ice into drinks that lower the raging inner thermostat. (No, not hot flashes: weather-induced.) Spicy green papaya salad — tam maak hoong — with lots of lime juice, chilli and fish sauce can also be refreshing anytime.
The kanom krok are the small pancakes made from coconut milk, sugar, sticky rice and flour. Fascinating to watch the women pour into the cast iron pans then extract them when cooked and set.
The sticky rice is a staple in Laos. I tried to connect with a farm that offered a tour and a demo. E-mailed and WhatsApped. Sadly, no response, despite a good looking website.
Luang Prabang was apparently until fairly recently better known for its colonial buildings, wats (temples) and saffron-clad monks than for its cuisine. Difficult to imagine and no more, given that cafe after cafe and eatery after eatery line the main streets and alleyways — and that the culture is centered around food: the cooking, sharing, serving and the eating of it.
Handicraft and Food Market Times
The handicraft market is open daily from 5pm to about 10pm, as is the food market (they are at the same general location, side-by-sde and off to the side). They are located along (and off) Sisavangvong Road along from the Royal Palace Museum.
Every evening a km-long stretch of road is closed to vehicle traffic and turned into a walking and shopping street. In the night food market you can share tables and benches for informal dining. A couple of the stalls have “as much as you can” — reasonable cost. Lots of veggies on the menu.
More than 300 handicraft vendors sell their hand-made products here every night, I read on the official website. “The market showcases an extensive variety of handicrafts made by local ethnic groups. On display are many types of textiles, exquisite ceramics, antiques, paintings, coffee and tea, quilts, shoes, silver, bags, bamboo lamps of different shades and sizes, and even rare spices.”
I have reached the stage in my life of reduction, not accumulation. Luckily. Kept thinking of a sign I read somewhere: Leave only footprints, take only photographs. Well, I left some money and took experiences, flavors, some cotton pants and a frock and some hair bands and a couple of small things for friends and Laos coffee for my main foodie friend, bought at the lovely Luang Prabang airport prior to departure. But that was about it.
Sampled lots of dishes in the eateries I photographed and reclined and WiFi/d in. Ate on the street. Joined my French women journalist boat buddies on Saturday night for drinks and for them, volleyball, at Utopia (Zen by day, groovy by night), an atmospheric plant-filled open-air huge “club” that is open in the day and at night overlooking the Mekong.
And delighted in the freshness and abundance of this place where all things culinary are a focus for locals and visitors alike.
Like so many tourist activities, purchasing from this market supports the local community as the official Luang Probang tourist site notes.
© Wanda Hennig 2016, story and photos.