PICNIC – Laos Style
By Sydaney Moog
One of the best things about living in Australia, particularly in Sydney, is our gorgeous weather. Being on the coastline, we have beautiful beaches which are easy for us to access and being on such large land mass we have beautiful well-kept parks that we can easily frequent. In fact, when I asked my parents why they chose Sydney as opposed to the other places they were offered (France and the US) they replied quite simply “The Weather” #truestory.
It is because of our beautiful weather and our love of the great outdoors that makes going on picnics, either at the park or at the beach, one of Australian’s favourite past times. Families are herded into big 4WDs, picnic hampers full of sandwiches, garden salads and sausages for the BBQ and Esky’s full of water, soft drinks and beer. The back of the car will be full of balls and activities to do. Throw in a lovely checked picnic blanket and you’re good to go. That is, unless you’re Laos. Then your car and picnic hamper will be full of different things.
Firstly, there would be no lovely checked picnic blanket. Instead you will be carrying large plastic weaved mats, known as sart. These were once massive plastic mats that couldn’t be folded properly, so whoever had the task of carrying these were seen half carrying, half dragging them across the ground to get to the designated picnicking area. Old habits must die hard, cause to this day, I prefer my plastic sart, but luckily, they are now folded and wrapped nice and neatly, to be carried with a couple of handles.
Secondly, forget sandwiches, garden salad and sausages. We have papaya salad, larb, chicken feet salad and fried rice ball salad (nem khao). The papaya salad has to be made fresh, so we always take with us our pestle and mortar, knives to freshly slice the papaya, tomatoes and lemons and the myriad of other ingredients that go into the salad. If you were to sit near a Laos family at picnic grounds, you will hear the steady “pok pok” of the chillies and garlic being pounded and the scraping of the mortar as the salad is scraped onto its serving plate. The rice ball salad is jasmine rice mixed with pork mince, desiccated coconut and red curry paste, rolled into a ball then fried until a crispy crust is formed. The balls are then broken by hand and mixed with picked pork ham, sugar, chilli powder, ground nuts and herbs.
Instead of sausages on the barbeque, expect to see ox tongue, nem nuong and ducks head. The ox tongue is marinated simply with oyster sauce, sugar, salt and pepper then grilled on the BBQ until it medium done. The ducks head uses the same marinade with pounded lemon grass, to cut through some of the gaminess of the meat. They are split in half and then cooked until well done. The best parts to eat are the charred skin and the tongue. The nem nuong is simply a mixture of pork mince, tucino mix and fried shallots, rolled onto BBQ skewer sticks and then grilled.
And of course, there is always sticky rice. Freshly cooked in the morning and brought to the picnic in the sticky rice basket.
Laos people see eating as a competitive sport itself so it is rare that you will find a Laos family kicking a soccer ball around or engaging in physical activities at picnic grounds. Instead, after the feasting has been done, you will find us all napping on our sarts, basking in the glorious sun or sitting around playing a game of cards. And really.. doesn’t that sound like the perfect picnic to be on?