Landlocked Laos is often overlooked as a travel
destination in favour of her more well-known neighbours
Thailand or Vietnam, and is certainly not a
country known for its food.  What many people don’t know (yet)
is that Luang Prabang, the former Lao royal capital, is a UNESCO
listed World Heritage site and home to three not-to-be missed food

A food market is the heart and soul of any city and Luang Prabang’s
bustling Morning Market is no different.  So
much more “real” that the slightly more touristy night market, the
morning market is a treasure trove of ingredients frequented more
by locals than tourists.

To Westerners, it’s eye opening.  The morning we visited, we
saw all kinds of offerings – congealed ox blood, (live) eels,
grilled insects (worms, grasshoppers and bee larvae just to name a
few).  Some of the most intriguing items were the chicken eggs
with numbers written on them in pencil.  These numbers
represent how many days of embryo is present inside, so you could
select a “simple” egg, or one more developed and decidedly crunchy
with soft (still edible) bones.  An unusual concept for
Westerners, to say the least.  This is a market that you could
literally spend days in and still not discover everything it has to
offer.  Well worth the early morning!

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Taking one quite unexpectedly and in sharp contrast to many of its
neighbouring dining establishments is the decidedly French L’Eléphant
.  Owned and operated by Yannick, a French-Lao,
who studied the restaurant business in France and Gilles,
originally from Lorraine and a consultant for France Telecom before
discovering Laos’ charms and deciding to live there over 10 years
ago, this is a charming slice of France in the heart of Asia.

(beef broth with betal leaves; puff
pastry amuse-bouche

L’Eléphant is housed in a typical 1960’s colonial building a
stone’s throw from the Mekong and offers traditional as well as
more creative French and Lao cuisine, making use
of their locally grown produce from their
.  It is most definitely one of “the” fine dining
destinations in this small town, without being stuffy or
intimidating.  Like most places in Laos, it’s very laid back,
yet boasts a menu and wine list that wouldn’t be out of place in
Paris or New York.  Expensive by Lao standards, it’s still
wildly affordable for Westerners.  Whilst the
French menu
looked tempting, we ordered mainly from the
Lao menu

Some highlights were beef broth with betel leaves, lemongrass
stuffed with pork and river fish ?en paillotte? stuffed with pork
and herbs, grilled in a banana leaf.  For dessert, we couldn’t
go past the crème brûlée (obviously!).  For us, this
was a true culinary high spot in Laos. Not only was the location
perfect, the food was exquisite. Delicate Lao flavours served with
French flair. Our meal, complete with a few beers (tempting as the
wine list was, it was simply too hot to drink wine…) was $42CAD
inclusive. Had we been there longer, we would have definitely gone
back for the French menu. Next time maybe… (sigh!)

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If you find yourself in Luang Prabang with a day to spare, make
sure you sign yourself up for the Tamarind Restaurant
Riverside Cooking School

Starting with an early-morning (well, 9am) tour of the Morning
Market where you will shop with Chef Joy who
explains ingredients unfamiliar to Western eyes and palates, this
day-long experience will take you through at least six different
traditional Lao recipes (that you get to bring home, along with
ingredient substitution suggestions) that you have an active role
in preparing (and eating!).  The cooking school takes place in
stunning open-air riverside pavilions and is a magical day! We had
such a good time and were so impressed with how easy these exotic
recipes were that we
recreated the experience
for friends at home!

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L’Eléphant Restaurant
Luang Prabang – Lao P.D.R
Tel: +856 71 252 482
Fax: +856 71 252 492

Tamarind Restaurant, Luang Prabang, Laos
Opposite Wat Nong
Phone:  +85620 7770484
Bookings by email should be made at least four days in advance of
desired date. Classes tend to fill up two days in advance.

Mardi Michels is a full-time French teacher and part-time
food blogger based in Toronto.  Her blog, 
focuses on culinary adventures both near and far because she
travels as often as she can!