Fortuitously, just before my recent foray to Laos, a colleague loaned me a book written by a British woman, Natacha Du Pont De Bie. Titled 'Ant Egg Soup: The Adventures of a Food Tourist in Laos', it documents her eating and travel experiences throughout Laos earlier this decade.
It's a fab read and while I was fascinated by the culinary descriptions, I also found myself nodding in agreement with her sensibilities on the broader issues of culture, travel and the environment. Of Luang Prabang, she writes
"...I liked the sense that things were run on their own agenda without acquiescing to formulaic tourist demands. I didn't want to watch twenty teenagers in foil head-dresses doing a traditional dance while I ate a Westernised version of a Laos meal; and I didn't want to return by air-conditioned car to a hermetically sealed hotel room while those same teenagers zoomed home on their mopeds to their real lives. But lots of people do. My grandparents adored that sort of thing, particularly if it involved a cruise ship and all-you-can-eat buffets. And it is coming to Luang Prabang as fast as the new tourist companies can bus in the rich punters."
De Bie includes authentic recipes learned from a variety of both local and ex-pat food identities and everyday cooks. Luckily for me, while Vietnam's cuisine is significantly different, many of the ingredients available in the markets of Hanoi will allow me to adapt the recipes quite well. I may even report on some of my kitchen experimentation. I haven't done that for a while!