After checking into our hotel in Luang Namtha, Tour Leader took us for a walk through town and through the market.
We’d already seen in the villages how everything gets used, and nothing is wasted. Walking through the market gave us our first inkling of just how deep this way of life goes. This is not because Lao is a nation of ecologically sound hippies, it’s because Lao is a very poor, under-developed nation, colonised and plundered repeatedly and then bombed ‘back to the stone age’ by the US in the 1960s & 70s during the war in Indochina. (Watch this space for a more detailed rant on this subject.)
TL let us get all curious and excited about the veg, before leading us towards the meat.
I didn’t photograph any of the meat. I did come over extremely squeamish. There were spatchcocked squirrels, fat live rats in cages, dried frogs on sticks and all manner of things that I don’t know and don’t want to know what they were. Some of the meat was not supposed to be on sale (maybe not supposed to be hunted) and was quickly covered over as we approached.
In non-disturbing areas of the market there were noodles, chilli paste, sticky rice in all its forms including a pudding, and more vegetation than you could shake a stick at.
TL shopped and we all stared.
We also looked at the night market, where things were just starting to kick off. There were lots of food stalls – barbecues, spring rolls, salad, beerlao – and textiles. I did my speed-shopping thing and bought the raw silk scarf I photographed last week. And then bought a bag I didn’t need at all because a tiny, elderly Hmong woman flagged me down and started showing me her wares and the price of the bag was nothing to me and a lot to her. Also it was pretty, and I used it in the evenings.
Dinner was a feast of local food, much of it the things TL had been buying at the market. Some people did try the dried frogs. The delicacy I tried and loved and hoovered up because no-one else seemed thrilled by it, was Mekong river weed. It’s an algae that’s harvested from the Mekong, dried in sheets with sesame seeds, and then fried. It was served like crackers and it was delicious.
— words & pictures by Elizabeth