1126 Laotian at Bamboo

I can’t say that I’ve had much Laotian food. In fact, I’m not sure that I’d had any before today. But oh my goodness, that’s got to change.

After a really nice evening at the farm, we hit the road first thing this morning and drove to Rockford, arriving just in time for lunch. Jenn suggested Bamboo – they don’t get there often, it’s in the absolute opposite direction from all of the Black Friday shopping, and it’s sort of the polar opposite of the turkey-and-stuffing options available at most of our normal Rockford haunts.

I’m easily overwhelmed by menus at Asian restaurants, a fact that was compounded today by road-weariness and a persistent Thanksgiving food coma. I definitely did NOT want something heavy or something fried, so I settled on the Laotian Spicy Green Papaya – more properly known as Tam mak hoong: shredded unripened papaya, fish sauce, anchovy paste, and a few other things I can’t remember at the moment. The waitress was skeptical.

“Have you had the papaya salad before?”

“No, but it sounds good.”

“OK, I just wanted to make sure because it’s not sweet – it has fish in it.”

“Yes, I know.”

Shane was also concerned that it would be too fishy, but I was firm in my choice, and glad of it when a beautiful, funky, and fresh salad was presented to me.

Som Tam
Photo by tim7423

Even better, however, was Shane’s lunch: Nam khao. It wasn’t just good – it was crazy good – a nutty, crunchy rice salad studded with cured pork eaten by hand out of lettuce leaves. I got lucky – Shane had a few too many appetizers and wasn’t able to finish, so I scooped up bite after bite, trying to figure out what and how exactly it was made.

My Nam Khao (Lao rice salad) at Precita Park
Photo by Gary Soup

The secret? The rice is made with coconut milk, then rolled into a ball along with curry paste and other seasonings and DEEP FRIED. Once it cools, the rice ball is crumbled up – crispy bits and all – and tossed with the rest of the ingredients. It was unlike anything either of us have ever had – and we can’t wait to get more of it.

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