Category Archives: Lao culture

Horses in the yard

Horse the yard by sjzwier
Horse the yard, a photo by sjzwier on Flickr.

A couple weeks ago, we left our front gate open and 3 horses wandered in! Although we live in a rural city, horses are not common. We’ve had cows wander in to eat our grass before, but never horses. I let them stay for a long time just because they were fun to have around.

Monthly Rice Field Photo #3 – January

photo taken January 12, 2011

So, the field looks about the same as it did last month except that there’s a burned patch in the back right. That burning was intentional, don’t worry. The cows are still grazing in the harvested rice fields. I’m surprised there’s anything left to eat!

Ramen Noodles in Beef Broth

This is my first beef related recipe since we had a cow butchered! You can read more about that experience here.

Don’t skip past this post just because you think people who care about good food and health don’t eat ramen. They do! Before moving to Laos, I thought ramen noodles were sort of a lazy junk food for college students. Actually that’s not true, my mom used to serve them without the liquid as a side dish and I always loved them.

Anyway, ramen can be more than junk food. The best ramen I’ve ever eaten was from a ramen restaurant in a Japanese neighborhood of Bangkok. The noodles were handmade and served in a beef broth with leafy greens and tempura shrimp. It isn’t fancy Japanese food, but it’s real food and a good ramen shop should be appreciated.

In Laos, noodles are very popular, but the noodle shops usually specialize in straight rice noodles rather than wavy ramen noodles made of wheat. But, you can buy dry ramen packets at almost any convenience store and people do. Many Lao people usually eat ramen in a healthier way than Americans do. They cook it the same way, but at the end they pile on green vegetables – cilantro, green onions, celery leaves, Thai basil . . . They might also include tomato and a cooked egg or some meat.   Continue reading

You may have thought I was a vegetarian . . .

. . . but a few weeks ago we bought a cow with 2 other families and had it butchered. This was an all day project, but still a fun thing to be a part of. We can buy meat by the kilo at the market, but it’s not very appetizing because the meat just sits out on tables outside all day. If you want to get fresh meat, you have to go early in the morning, which I never feel like doing. Even if I did go early, I just don’t know if I trust that meat. So we don’t eat a lot of meat, which may have caused some of you to think I’m a vegetarian. Really I’m a former vegetarian who is lazy and inexperienced with meat.

Here’s how the day went:

Early in the morning, James and a friend went to get the cow. It was raised pretty well. Most cows here graze on whatever they can find, which isn’t much this time of year. They’re organic and grass fed, but they could be fed more . . . Our cow was actually fed and it was young, so it’s meat wasn’t so tough.

We hired a butcher to come butcher the cow, which he did very well and humanely. Then James sold the parts we didn’t want (head, guts, etc . . .) to a neighbor while a friend split the beef into types of cut. Then the kitchen crew (including me) weighed, cut, ground, and packaged the meat. I was really grossed out at the beginning of this part, but I’m proud to say I managed.

That evening we ate smoked ribs at one of the other family’s homes. They even made a meat smoker contraption! I made a barbecue sauce for the ribs that turned out really well. I had never made barbecue sauce before, but I’m always up for a cooking challenge. The sauce was good, but probably not worth the effort if you’re in the U.S., where you could just order Gates sauce from Kansas City or Rudy’s sauce from Austin, Texas. I’m sure there are good bbq sauces available at grocery stores too, I just don’t know what they’re called.

The next day I made broth from the beef scraps and bones. I learned that the longer you simmer the bones in the broth, the more goodness you get out of them – good flavor, texture, and nutrients. I simmered the broth for about 15 hours with onion, carrots, and some spices.

After you make broth, you’re supposed to let it cool so that the fat solidifies on the top and can be removed. I saved this fat, melted it, strained it, and simmered it until the water was all removed in order to make tallow. I don’t know much about using tallow, but I do know that it makes a great pie crust for chicken pot pie!

So, for the next few months, I will probably be posting a lot of recipes including beef and beef broth. I hope my vegetarian readers won’t mind. Don’ worry, there will still be vegetarian recipes in the future. Continue reading

Monthly Rice Field Photo #2 – December

Now the rice fields are harvested. All that remains in the fields is the dry stems. Cows are free to roam to find any missed pieces of rice and to eat the dry rice hay. Probably the next 6 months of rice field photos will be pretty monotonous. There is only one planting season here, so you’ll have to wait until the spring to see any changes in this field!

The weather today is sunny even though it doesn’t look like it in the photos, which were taken earlier in the morning. It was chilly enough to need a sweater when I started walking to take this photo, but I quickly warmed up in the sun. It’s 68 F outside now. What a beautiful day! It rained briefly about a week ago, but other than that, it hasn’t rained since October.

Here you can see the cows a little better:

Monthly Rice Field Photo #1

More Rice Harvest Pictures

 

collecting the rice stems into a stack with the rice ends in the center

 

 

another rice stack

 

 

cut rice stems drying before being collected into a stack

 

 

fresh rice

 

Monthly Rice Field Photo #1 – harvest time

I’m planning to take a post a photo of this paddy rice field every month for the next year. I hope this will give you a better idea of how the seasons change in Laos and how rice is grown. Usually people plant rice at the beginning of the rainy season, in May or June. Then the rice grows until October or November when it is dry and ready to be harvested. When the rice is planted, the fields are full of water, maybe 6 inches deep, but by the end of the rice season, the fields are dry. In Laos all of this is done by hand, so it’s a lot of work, although some families do have threshing machines for processing rice after the harvest.

So now we’re at the beginning of the dry season and everyone is harvesting their rice. James co-workers are busy in the fields when they’re not at work. Our house helper has taken the week off to harvest upland rice with her family. A friend invited us to harvest rice with her family this Saturday, but that’s already a busy day for us. I’d like to help sometime though so that I can better understand what harvesting is like. I’ve heard it’s really hard work. I have a feeling I wouldn’t actually be much help having never done it before!

In the picture at the top, you can see that some of the rice has already been cut on the right side of the photo. It’s put in bundles and laid on top of the rice stems. After the field has been cut, the harvesters will collect the rice into a large stack until they thresh the rice to get the grains out (usually with a machine). I hope I can get a picture of a rice stack.

Here you can see people harvesting (you may need to click on the picture to see it bigger):

More Rice Harvest Pictures

Monthly Rice Field Photo #2