Food was flying everywhere, and I left without my hat.

Sunday, January 24th, 2010

cookingIn the states I felt pretty good about my foodie abilities. I strutted my stuff with homemade bagels and hand folded raviolis. I confidently managed a glass of wine and a good conversation while sautéing. And I made probably the meanest mac and cheese around.

Here, I suck.

I make a lot of mistakes. I scrape too hard when I descale. I forget to sharpen my machete between chickens. And I don’t rotate my coals soon enough, turning my roasted eggplant to ash.

I have to unlearn everything I’ve known about cooking before. Lids are never to be used. MSG is best for flavoring. Iceberg lettuce goes in soup. And absolutely nothing is wasted. Fish fins and lime rinds? Throw ‘em in the pot.

And shoes should never be worn. Rubber flip-flips only.

(When you’re squatting on the pavement scrubbing veggies with water from a hose, and your friend is shredding raw fish with a butcher knife, sending bits of flesh flying, the last thing you want are shoes you can’t rinse.)

Yesterday I made a traditional meal, laap, with Noy and Kaman. Laap is basically meat salad; the meat (usually raw) is finely ground and mashed with toasted rice, mint, cilantro and pepper. A paste like substance, you eat it with balls of sticky rice and your hands.

Despite a major pepper-washing-eye-touching mistake during yesterday’s preparations, lunch turned out pretty damn good, thanks mostly to Noy and Kaman.

I’ve got a long ways to go before I take on a meal alone. And I think its safe to say I can forget about that glass of wine.

So, for today’s lunch?

Cornflakes, milk, sugar.

through the skin.

Wednesday, December 30th, 2009

Vuan and I have a weird relationship. She mocks me a lot.

But then she tells me I’m beautiful and gives me a hug, ‘ohhh, gnam lai, dhak vhay.’

Vuan, who is our friend Kamon’s girlfriend, is petite and stylish. She classes up her traditional school skirts with a little bling on her flip flops and flowers in her hair. She’s touchier than most Lao people; doesn’t hesitate to put her arms on me and ramble off some Lao things and giggle with an almost adolescent squeal. (She’s 22.) She tugs at my clothes in either admiration or disgust.

She knows I speak hardly any Lao, but talks to me constantly.

We made dinner together tonight, sat chopping vegetables for a good hour. I think we talked about Kamon. Or maybe this other girl, On. And I’m pretty sure we were laughing together. Or maybe at me.

We taught eachother our mother tongue for every vegetable, then severely mocked one another when we botched the pronunciation.

When Noy left halfway through the process and handed me a large slab of raw pork, Vuan nearly fell in the fire when she saw my expression. She was, however, very patient with me while learning how to cut through pork skin, (it’s quite tough). And in explaining that no, you do not cut off the fat, skin, hair, etc., it all goes in the pot.

She saw my look of panic when I was done muscling my way through the meat and there was nowhere to wash my hands. She stared me down until I did as she did–rinse in a bucket of water then eat a slice of deep fried eggplant.

So soon we will sit down together (our pig is barbequeing right now), drink some beer lao and eat our meal, Vuan in her pleather studded black pants and shimmering pink shirt, me in my laundry day clothes.

And we will laugh at each other, or maybe together; it won’t matter either way.