Luang Prabang: Lao Cooking with Bamboo Tree Cooking School

Another country, another cooking class, and this time was Lao cuisine. Lao food is different enough to Thai that we thought it would be really interesting to learn more about, and particularly in Luang Prabang which has its own regional dishes. The format was not unlike the cooking classes in Chiang Mai where you visit the market to learn about the ingredients, before heading back to the school to get cooking.

There are a couple of options for cooking schools in Luang Prabang, Tamarind and Bamboo Tree cooking schools being the ones that stood out. We chose Bamboo Tree as the timings and location suited our schedule slightly better, but the Tamarind class sounded really nice at their slightly out of town, serene location overlooking lily ponds. The class minimum is three people, so we were quite lucky that there were four of us! We chose five dishes between us that we would all cook and eat together: fish steamed in banana leaves, the local Luang Prabang stew, chicken with lemongrass, chicken with chilli and coconut, and a yummy laab salad. We were shown how to cook Lao sticky rice as well, as you can’t really have Lao food without it. One of the people in the group was vegetarian so there were veggie options for everything as well.

We were taken in a minibus to Phosy Market on the edge of Luang Prabang. This huge, sprawling market has everything from fresh produce to clothes and home wares. We began by looking at fresh produce, learning about the key ingredients in Lao cooking. Baby aubergines, lemongrass, galangal, and basil made appearances once again as staples of Lao cuisine, but there were also more exciting ingredients like sakhan or chilli wood that they use in their local stew, banana flowers and buffalo hooves!

Back at the cooking school, our chopping and cooking stations were laid out for us. We were given aprons and hats to put on and offered some tea and snacks before meeting Linda who would be teaching us.

Our first task was to make a cute tomato rose out of the peel of a tomato. It was actually quite easy, but for some reason I was super nervous that I would cut the peel by mistake. I think the result was pretty good though, and it was a good ice-breaker in any case!

Next we were on to prepping veggies for our dishes. We bashed and chopped lemongrass, galangal, shallots, garlic, chillies, green beans and more into small bowls which were set aside for cooking. We also prepared our banana leaf pouches for the steamed fish dish.

Cooking the dishes was actually really quick, with three out of the four of us cooking at any given time. Having all of the little bowls of ingredients prepared made things really easy as well. The longest dish to make was probably the stew, which needed time for the sauce to thicken and to make sure the meat was nice and tender.

Once everything was cooked there was little left to do but eat! A table was laid outside with our dishes and a couple of drinks too. We sat and ate until we were stuffed as we had all the veggie versions as well! Linda presented us with our cute certificates to show that we had completed the class, and they had written our Lao names as well as English. We got a recipe book to take home and I’ll definitely be trying some of these dishes.

I can definitely recommend Bamboo Tree cooking school, and I’m so glad we were able to do a Lao cooking class. It’s so interesting to see how those beautiful flavours and aromas are developed, and how unique Lao food is compared to Thai food and the cuisines of the other surrounding areas.

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