Vientiane: Lao Farmers' Products

Sitting on one of the main roads in Vientiane, you've probably passed by here a thousand times and never even realised this treasure existed. This is the Lao Farmers' Association shop in Vientiane, is where you'll find certified organic products from across the country. Pretty good, eh?

Inside is a single room of Lao organic produce from around the country, lining shelves and tables. In one corner are two Lao women to ring up purchases. They're chattering away to themselves, return our "Sabaidee", and leave us to wander at will. 

My friend Vanh tells me that this shopfront and the organic label is largely marketed towards falang. Lao people by default have been farming organically for centuries but it's only recently that they've tried the "organic certified" label, largely for its increasing global marketing appeal. It's definitely a smart move.

Paksong organic tea, 14,000 kip ($2)

Paksong organic tea, 14,000 kip ($2)

Phousanh green tea from northern Laos, near the Plain of Jars; and Paksong (eastern Laos) Green, Black and Oolong tea

Phousanh green tea from northern Laos, near the Plain of Jars; and Paksong (eastern Laos) Green, Black and Oolong tea

This packet of tea below is pretty special. In the 15th century, the Emperor of China sourced all his green tea from Phousanh in Laos. A few villages today continue to make this tea. The Lao Farmers Association helped the villages to market the tea under its original fame. However, then the tea became so well known that the Chinese bought out the entire supply. This was one of the last packets of the batch.

Phousanh green tea - the emperor's brew

Phousanh green tea - the emperor's brew

Alongside many other varieties of tea, the Lao Farmers' Products shop also sells honey and jams. Laos is known for its excellent quality honey and this one below is sold in minimarts across Vientiane. 

It says "controlled quality" which I assume means it's not organic but it's fairly high quality nonetheless. 38,000 kip.

It says "controlled quality" which I assume means it's not organic but it's fairly high quality nonetheless. 38,000 kip.

These jams below are produced by the Artisans du Monde in Laos with fair trade farmers and locally grown fruit.

There's also rice and it's the best rice I've ever tasted. And considering that I've live in rice-producing countries in Asia for more than half my life, that's saying something. Here at the Lao Farmers' Products shop, you'll find natural, wholegrain varieties of plain and sticky rice.

The different varieties of plain and sticky rice

The different varieties of plain and sticky rice

The half polish chicken rice - 100% natural, organic rice

The half polish chicken rice - 100% natural, organic rice

Gaba black rice - organic black sticky rice

Gaba black rice - organic black sticky rice

Polish chicken rice - organic plain rice

Polish chicken rice - organic plain rice

Gaba Mandarin rice - organic brown rice

Gaba Mandarin rice - organic brown rice

Granted the names Half Polish Chicken and Gaba rice are neither informative or catchy. So, perhaps they've got a little ways to go on the marketing front. I can tell you that Gaba rice is unpolished germinated brown rice. As you can imagine, trying to find any information on "Chicken rice" doesn't turn up very helpful results.

You'll just have to take it from me that these organic, natural rices are just superb - chewy, flavorsome and full of fibre.

Here's the black gaba rice cooked. It goes very nicely with laap.

Here's the black gaba rice cooked. It goes very nicely with laap.

I've also seen the Polish and Half Polish varieties at Simuang minimart, tucked on a shelf under the eggs. But if you didn't know what it was, you wouldn't give it a second look.

Alongside tea, jam and rice, there are a few sweet treats at the Lao Farmers' Products shop such as tamarind paste fruit and passionfruit liqueur.

Last but not least, there is a table to taste the tea before you buy. Help yourself.

So, to find and support organic and fair trade products in Laos, stop in at the Lao Farmers' Products shop. It's on the Lao Thai road a block on from Phonesili minimart, on the same side of the road.