This post kicks off my new series on Lao produce. I'm delving into how some of the interesting produce in Lao markets is grown/found and how it is prepared for eating. I'm also taking a small pause on the Streetfood posts but it'll be back before long.
For now, let's get started with... some super tasty buffalo skin!
Mouth watering eh?
I saw these thick slabs of hairy meat piled high on tables at the Mak Ket market last weekend. I think it's safe to skip over how they're raised and go straight to the cooking. Unsurprisingly the meat itself can be quite tough and chewy yet buffalo is still a popular staple around Laos. Sun-dried buffalo jerky with sesame seeds is a fixture in most Lao restaurants.
At the market, Xairung questioned the seller about how to prepare the meat and he answered rather vaguely. So we sought clarification elsewhere: from a pair of schoolgirls we happened to sit next to at a Thai restaurant a few days later.
Their names were Boum and Pet, both in year 5 at Jom Phet high school, which means they'd be about 15. I can't imagine having a charming and helpful conversation about cooking and food with a pair of random teenagers in Australia but in Laos such sociability is commonplace. They were just as curious about us as we were about them and after asking us the usual questions "Where are you from?", "How long have you been in Vientiane?", and exclaiming over photos of my kids on my phone, we got down to business.
Boum said she helped her mother at home with the cooking but Pet confessed that she didn't. While buffalo is an everyday rather than a special occasion food, they both said they didn't much like its strong flavour.
Boum explained that buffalo is traditionally prepared five ways. But first, that tough hair is "shaved off with a knife". By 'knife', I assume she meant machete; it's common practice around Laos to see people expertly swinging a sizeable knife through everything from oranges to coconuts without suffering a scratch. Shaving buffalo skin is, I imagine, quite similar.
1. Deep fry it so it's crispy on the outside.
2. Slice it up fine and cook it in a stir fry.
3. Boil it for 10-15 minutes and make a soup.
4. Cook it in the fire, pound it up and make buffalo laap.
5. Marinate it with fish sauce and herbs and bake slowly in an oven to make dried buffalo (jerky).
Such a versatile animal! And their meat, or rather their skin, is not even the main reason why there's more than 130 million domestic water buffaloes worldwide. It's because buffaloes also produce delicious and highly nutritious dairy products including milk, yoghurt and cheese. But we'll get into that in another post.
Until then, give a little wave to one of these glorious beasts wallowing in a paddy field, they are a five star food source.