Flavours from Afar
FROM LUANG PRABANG, LAOS: PAWPAW SALAD WITH CHICKEN LARB It was about five weeks into my backpacking adventure through Thailand and across Vietnam that I found myself in the peaceful little riverside town of Laung Prabang in Laos. The slow pace of this Buddhist town was a welcome change to the hustle and bustle of Vietnam — I stayed much longer than I had initially intended too and started my days watching the entire monk population of the town receiving their daily alms of rice from locals at sunrise. In Buddhism, monks can only eat if they are offered food without asking for it — it is one of the purest practices in the world and I soon learnt that it was one of the main reasons monk communities had faded away in countries where they were much more prevalent in older days. Every morning, the monks would walk out on the streets, and every morning, locals would sit outside their houses with pots of rice and condiments to scoop into their shawls. The tranquility of this practice extends itself through-out the day, with even the night-markets in the town being quaint and orderly — unlike the noisy and busy night-markets of Thailand and Vietnam. Every night, I would walk around the markets and I quickly found myself returning to one food stall in particular where I became friends with the stall owner. The stall was run by a family of three, the food was fresh and the flavours were intense. Laos borrows much of its cuisine from Thailand with local ingredient twists here and there and their twist on a common chilli-packed Thai dish, ‘Larb’, became my daily order at the stall. I would usually order the Larb with a side of green papaya salad — a delicious combo which was packed with a punch of chilli, lemon and fish sauce dressing. One night, I ordered the usual and found my green papaya salad had been switched for a firm orange pawpaw salad. With wide eyes I asked my new friends about the sudden change in routine and they laughed at me — “why do you stick to rules? if green papaya available, use green papaya. If papaya turned orange, use orange papaya.” It seemed insignificant at the time, but that embedded in me the practice of using what nature provided in my cooking, instead of being strict and unwavering about recipes and rules of consumption. The orange papaya salad was mouth-watering and I have made it on many occasions since given how lucky we are to have such easy access to it at home in Fiji!
Ingredients (serves 4 people) Pawpaw salad 1 pawpaw (firm, not yet ripe) 2 chillies (chopped finely) 1 bunch of green beans (chopped) 3 small tomatoes (firm, chopped) 1 bunch of spring onion (chopped) 5 cloves of garlic (chopped finely)
Salad dressing 1 lemon (juiced) 5 tablespoons fish sauce 1 tsp brown sugar 1 tsp salt 3 tsp sesame oil
Chicken Larb 500g chicken breast 4 chillies (hot) 8 cloves garlic 2 inch stick of ginger 2 tsp sesame oil 1 lemongrass root 1 tsp salt
To serve Lettuce Salted peanuts Dried Shrimp (optional)
Presentation of pawpaw salad and chicken larb in lettuce cups