Lao food is distinct from other Asian cuisines, although it is somewhat similar to the food found in the northeastern part of Thailand in the area known as Isan. The staple food of Laotians is sticky rice eaten by hand often with dipping sauces called Jeow.
In years past and still in the countryside eating is communal sitting on a reed mat on the wooden floor around a raised platform woven out of rattan called a ka toke (Khon Toke in Northern Thailand) Dishes are arranged on the ka toke. Each ka toke will have one or more baskets of sticky rice, which is shared by all the diners at the ka toke.
Traditionally, as also in Northern Thailand, spoons were used for soups, curries, and white rice, and chopsticks were used only for noodles. Most food was handled by hand. The reason this custom evolved is probably due to the fact that sticky rice can only be easily handled by hand.
Lao meals typically consist of a soup dish, a grilled dish, a sauce, greens, and a stew or mixed dish (koy or laap). The greens are usually fresh raw greens, herbs and other vegetables, though depending on the dish they accompany, they could also be steamed or more typically, parboiled.
These meals will always contain some Jaew or Dips. The Lao usually serve jeow, or dips, to eat with sticky rice, dried meat, dried river weed (kaiphen), or raw greens.
The main ingredient can be tomatoes, chilies or eggplant. Cooking the vegetables directly on coals or open flame lends a nice smoked flavor.
Jaew Mak Keua: Dip made from roasted eggplant
Jaew Mak Len: Dip made from roasted sweet tomatoes
Jaew Bong: sweet and spicy Lao paste made with roasted chilies, water buffalo skin, galangal and other ingredients.
Jaew Padeak: Dips made from fried padeak fish pieces,roast garlic, chililes,lemon grass and other ingredients.
These dips are perfect for little balls formed with your fingers of the sticky rice. We often serve these as an appetizer along with Beer Lao which is some of the best beer in the world.
Jeow Mak Keua - Spicy Eggplant Dip
4 small Japanese or Asian eggplants
1/2 teaspoon of salt
6-8 cloves garlic
1 cup chopped coriander including roots if avalable
green part of 1 spring onion
fish sauce to taste
Prick eggplant and chilies with a knife to let out extra moisture while charring.
Grill eggplant, chilies and garlic over an open flame or under a griller/broiler, rotating till skin is blackened. Peel.
Pound chile, salt, and garlic in a mortar and pestle.
Add eggplant and cilantro and pound gently until a soft paste.