The rich biodiversity in Laos’ mountainous jungle never cease to amaze me. From edible insects to wild greens, the forest is where Laotians source food to sustain their livelihood. Today let's hike with our fingers, through the lush terrain of Laos to forage for wild edibles and take a peek at how locals prepare them.
Native to the warm and moist tropical forest of Laos is Bamboo. The edible young shoot is tender and crisp. Its mild flavor and ability to soak up sauces make it a versatile ingredient in Laotian cuisine. If there are flowers, you're in for a treat! Chop a stem and you'll find the hidden delicacy, Bamboo worms! Deep-fried worms taste like corn chips and are a popular snack to munch on.
Further down the path is an abundance of rattan. Commonly known as a material used for making wicker furniture, its young shoot and stem core are edible. It's slightly bitter and makes great chili puree when charred over the fire.
Walking on, we see the thick woody vine of ‘Mai sakahn’ or pepper wood clinging onto a neighboring tree. The inedible wood is fiery and gives the tongue a numbing tingle. It is used to enhance the flavors of Northern Laos stew 'Awh Lam', and making it extra spicy and sensational.
Another great source of food on a banana tree is the purple flower that grows from at the end of the bunch. Tough outer petals are removed before being thinly sliced. It’s usually tossed into a banana blossom salad called 'Yum Mak Bphee' or a curry vermicelli noodle soup 'Khao Poon'.
I imagine that foraging in the forest of Laos with a guide IRL would be an experience of a lifetime. To see the wonders of mother earth and learning more about wild food. It’s best to also keep both antennas up as one venture deeper into the wild. Spotting signs of human life probably as to this very day, the Laotian forest was a hiding place for more than a thousand Hmong who fought in the Secret War. Though it ended back in 1972, the Hmong veteran and their families still live on the run, under constant attack from the Lao People's Army for having sided with the United States. Read more about their stories through the links in the notes
Words by Buranee Soh, cover image by Laurent Ponce