Lao Streetfood: Grilled meat

Scrawny whole chickens, big salted fish, BBQ'd frogs and strips of buffalo jerky on a bamboo hoop - grilled meat holds its popularity in Laos. Actually, grilled meats of various kind and colours is popular across all of East Asia. In Vientiane, it usually consists of pork, chicken, and fish, both whole and parts, and insides too.

We have here... Chicken meat, chicken mince, river fish, and then pork meat, pork sausage, pig intestine, pig livers, and some other pig parts.

We have here... Chicken meat, chicken mince, river fish, and then pork meat, pork sausage, pig intestine, pig livers, and some other pig parts.

Whole grilled chicken including head. They are pretty scrawny without much meat on them.

Whole grilled chicken including head. They are pretty scrawny without much meat on them.

Strips of pork meat and offal threaded through bamboo.

Strips of pork meat and offal threaded through bamboo.

Pork and chicken are the primary menu items. It is rare to find buffalo meat at a market as it's considered special occasion food and is usually served in rural areas. There were also whole fish baked in salt and in different sizes. They come from aquaculture farms on the Mekong River and are just generally known as 'river fish'. There were whole grilled frogs on skewers, each about the size of my hand. These ones are grown by a man outside the city who sells them direct to the stallholder.

Street food stalls like this are popular with students and local workers on their lunch break. This market consists of about eight stalls next to a fresh fruit and veggie market. It's one of only two larger grilled meat markets in the city; perhaps why it is always so busy.

The way it works is that the meat is half grilled and sits displayed on banana leaves on a wooden table. A single woman is behind the stall and waves the flies away. She's also the cook. You tell her what you want and she puts it back on the grill to cook through. While that’s happening you move along to other stalls to buy your salad, jeow (sauce), grilled fruit etc. Then come back, she wraps up your purchases in banana leaves, you pay, and off you go.

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These are bags of jeow (sauce). Typical jeow are tomato, eggplant, mushroom, chill and buffalo skin, all in individual bags. There's also bags of fresh veggies and chilli, and more minced meat wrapped in banana leaves.

These are bags of jeow (sauce). Typical jeow are tomato, eggplant, mushroom, chill and buffalo skin, all in individual bags. There's also bags of fresh veggies and chilli, and more minced meat wrapped in banana leaves.

The salad stall with fresh sliced green papaya, cucumber, chillis, beans, rice noodles and little bags of fresh herbs. They make the salads to order too. Hanging above are bags of pork crackling.

The salad stall with fresh sliced green papaya, cucumber, chillis, beans, rice noodles and little bags of fresh herbs. They make the salads to order too. Hanging above are bags of pork crackling.

I went along to this market accompanied by a long-term resident falang friend who speaks fluent Lao. Such falang are invaluable as you can imagine and I like to keep mine onside with swimming dates, beer shandies, and those tiny bathroom products you can filch from hotels. Khop chai deu, J, you're awesome. 

As a result of this fruitful connection, all the Lao market sellers were happy to answer questions and to let me take photos. Of course, we bought stuff too - grilled frogs, grilled pork liver, bbq corn and deep-fried bananas.

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All of which I delivered to my maeban (housekeeper). Her eyes lit up when she saw the frog. She told me later that she loves frog and ate it whole with a green papaya salad. A win win for everyone (except the frogs).