Monday Meal Review: Laos

THE SCENE: Getting it right

“Sometimes when I eat Asian food I get sad,” Keith says. He’s leaning on the counter.

This is new. Keith is not one for drama.  I look at him, searching his face, wondering what past trauma has chosen to bubble up.

I am bewildered.


“Because it reminds me of how long I waited to try it.” He stares at the cabinets, seeming to look through them. “Most of my life,” he quietly adds.

I pause, staring at him, contemplating his handsome 41 year-old face. Is this possible? More than three decades without Asian food?

“Didn’t you have egg rolls? Chinese buffets? Something…”

“No, they were cabbagy. And no, not really.”

I can’t help but feel a glimmer of pride, thinking back to moments earlier, when Ava, Keith and I sipped and slurped on our Foe – Laos’ epic “build your own” soup. Keith had happily lapped up his bowl of rice noodles, raw beef doused in boiling broth and loaded up with plenty of herbs. It doesn’t get more authentic than that. And he’d loved it. Loved it.

And you would have thought Ava was from Laos, the way she went to town, assembling her Foe.

Perhaps those all-you-can-eat buffets are the problem – putting entire continents in a syrupy, greasy box that cannot possibly do justice to 1/100th of the population.

All these thoughts rush through my head while I stare at him.

In the end I don’t respond. I just smile.

The truth is, I can’t really think of anything to say. I’ve been in that place – mourned missed opportunities, lifestyles and lives before, when choices weren’t as good, or not clear, or unavailable. We do the best we can with what we have, when we get it. The key is to keep moving forward, keep trying, and celebrate when we get it right.

And, thankfully, Ava is definitely getting it right.

Just keep a close eye on your sticky rice  or you might lose it.


Jeow [Recipe]

What I liked most about this dish:

The flavor is outstanding thanks to the deep, smoky kick of the charred veggies. Without the fish sauce this tastes remarkably like a roasted salsa from Mexico. Fascinating that such flavors can be so parallel half the world apart.  Mr Picky loved this. Ava did too, until she got a good bit of the spicy pepper. After that she stuck to the sticky rice. No pun intended.

What I liked least about this dish:

Next time I think I’ll play around with adding more ingredients enjoyed in Laos – maybe some lemongrass or shrimp paste. There are so many variations it was difficult to settle on a recipe. While I think a simple base is a good way to go, I’m now motivated to experiment with different combinations.

Sticky, Sticky Rice [Recipe]

What I liked most about this dish:

This is such a fun way to eat rice. I particularly loved learning how to ball the rice up in my hand so I could dip it into the Jeow. After this experience, I am looking forward to making sticky rice again and again. Even Mr picky was prompted to say how interesting it was, as he dipped the rice again and again into the jeow.

What I liked least about this dish:

The rice stuck to my good cotton cloth that I used for pasta making. I had to toss it. Next time I’ll either use cheese cloth or I’ll seek out the proper rice basket for steaming.

Lao Rice Noodle Soup (Foe) [Recipe]

What I liked most about this dish:

I can’t get enough of this soup. Ava was a huge fan – she tried to eat the hot pepper – licked a cut piece, even. Keith was surprised by how good it was and happily enjoyed all the herbs together. It was fun to see how our soups differed. Ava added a half ton of lime juice, whereas mine had loads of fish sauce and hot pepper. Keith went heavy on the hot pepper and basil.

What I liked least about this dish:

Nothing. Originally I thought the recipe seemed super complex, but I’ve already made this twice, once with beef and once with chicken. If you have the herbs on hand, it is a snap to throw together. Since everyone adds the herbs to taste, most of the “cooking” and “chopping” is done by them, at the table. Easy, peasy.

Golden Coconut Dream [Recipe]

What I liked most about this dish:

This is a mildly sweet rice pudding – more rice than pudding, and delicately flavored so that the mango shines. Since I enjoyed the sticky rice so much, it was fun learning another way to enjoy it.

What I liked least about this dish:

I’m not quite convinced this recipe is moist enough. I would like it with more liquid, but haven’t had time to experiment enough to know for sure how much – maybe up to a cup more (either milk or coconut milk).

Ava’s Corner:



    • Sasha Martin says

      Thanks – Keith did a nice job on it. Foe is going into the regular rotation for sure – I wish I’d been making it all this time. 🙂 Nice to meet you (again) yesterday, by the way…

  1. Keith Glennon says

    Does Ava eat those red chili peppers whole!?!
    Coconut Rice looks cool. I have a can of coconut milk in my cabinet and can’t remember where it came from and what to do with it….Rice!

    • Sasha Martin says

      She licked one that I cut a little, so she could feel a bit of the spice (but not too much). Needless to say, right afterwards she drank a bunch of water. Those are very spicy peppers. She’s a brave child.

  2. Collette says

    The kids were in high school before John got me to try Chinese food. i really like it but doubt I ever get Cliff to give it a go. Now because of the salt content I have to not have it. but it was great while it lasted.

    • Sasha Martin says

      Restaurants add so much salt, it is outrageous. You’ll have to find a few recipes that you can make at home with the sauce on the side so he can have it plain and you can have it the way you want it. 🙂

  3. What a great post, it is obvious that what you set out to do for your family through this blog is working. WHat a satisfaction that must be, you should be really proud of yourself. I also think you gave us a pearl of wisdom: that it is useless to regret all the wasted opportunities, that we should just move forward and strive to keap learning, growing…so true. thank you sasha

    • Sasha Martin says

      Thank you – Laos was special – the meal slowed down for me as I looked around and saw how amazing this was – that two years ago this would have never happened, and yet here we were with three willing and excited participants eating sticky rice, practically raw beef and loving it.

      • aunty eileen says

        yes Sasha… you are preparing a special and unique treat for you and your family each and every week and sharing the family experience with your readers. It inspires us and gives us many recipes and tips and helps us learn and think about other countries and their people and their customs. Thank You!

  4. Marina says

    It’s spelled ‘Pho’. Although, slurping your “foe” adds a whole new dimension to this post! The mango and sticky rice dish is just that. It’s not a rice pudding. It’s sticky rice with a little salted coconut milk sauce mixed in. Looks great!

    • Sasha Martin says

      Thanks Marina – love your name by the way (my best friend in college is Marina) 🙂 From my research Foe and Pho are both correct; in Laos, however, they typically refer to the soup as Foe. That’s what I’ve been told by Karen Coates, the former Asia correspondent for Gourmet Magazine (some info from her about “foe” Now I’m hungry for more…have to make this again!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.