Bamboo Tree Restaurant and Cooking School opened June 2014 and owner Linda brings 13 years of experience as a chef and instructor. This cooking class is a needed addition to Luang Prabang and we can highly recommend it as one of the best classes in town – if the group size is small.
Most cooking classes in Luang Prabang follow a basic formula of a market tour, then a lesson on four to six dishes; Bamboo Tree is no different. The class kicks off at the restaurant, located in the popular row eateries on the Nam Khan river road.
One of the unusual points about the class is that there’s no regular set menu. For every class, participants decide what they want to make from a long list of 24 dishes. There were five students in our class and we each democratically chose one dish. Initially we were skeptical at how the selection process would work and assumed it’d be messy and unbalanced. However, to our surprise, it worked out perfectly. With Linda’s gentle guidance, we had selected an appetiser, soup, salad, curry and main. Plus a lesson on sticky rice was automatically included and Linda threw in a dessert for good measure.
We hopped into a tuk tuk and headed to Phosi Market with Linda’s younger sister Noy. Phosi is Luang Prabang’s largest market and this is where most of the town gets their fresh goods daily. If you have the slightest interest in food then a visit to Phosi is a must. It’s a sensorial experience. Expect a bounty of vibrant green vegetables, strange earthy things plucked from the jungle, exotic fruit and still-live creatures floundering in crowded buckets.
The challenge with any market tour is navigating the chaotic labyrinth while trying to follow and listen to the guide. A group of five was manageable though at times it was still difficult to hear Noy as she explained the ingredients.
Back at the restaurant, since we had good weather the class was set up in their pretty and tranquil outdoor dining area overlooking the river. We immediately got to work. While Tamarind’s cooking class has everyone making their own individual portion, one dish at a time, Linda had us doing all the prep at the start. We peeled, chopped, sliced, pounded and minced the ingredients the entire class would need.
There are merits to both methods. However, doing large quantities of prep is what it would be like in a typical local kitchen, the way a mother makes food for an entire multi-generation household. This way you understand that Lao food is not difficult but very labour intensive. Lao cuisine is less about cooking, more about a tremendous medley of herbs and flavours. By working your way through each ingredient, you learn how tough it is to chop galangal, you inhale the aroma released from the lemongrass, you feel the soft rubbery cloud ear mushrooms with the pads of your fingers. By the end, we had endless bowls of ingredients ready to go.
Each person played chef for the particular dish they selected while everyone else observed or assisted. We deep-fried khaiphaen, sheets of dried riverweed that became a crisp tasty snack. We made the filling for fresh spring rolls, marinated and wrapped fish filets in banana leaves to be steamed for mok pa. We stir-fried chicken with red chilli paste, pumpkin and coconut milk, and mixed up laab, a minced meat salad. Along the way we tasted, nibbled and slurped. Linda was an engaging and knowledgeable teacher, making jokes and patiently answering questions.
It was almost 14:00 by the time we all sat down at the table heaped with an impossible amount of food. The class could have been tighter and more efficient but the atmosphere was unhurried and relaxed, as food in Lao P.D.R. (Please Don’t Rush) is supposed to be. We don’t think it would have been as enjoyable or hands-on if the group was larger than eight people and of course, this is beyond your control. Bamboo Tree limits their class to a maximum of 12. It’s definitely worth trying to sign up to a class with small numbers and hoping no one else joins.
But we were thoroughly happy with our experience, and we have the belly to prove it.
By Cindy Fan.
Last updated on 27th March, 2017.
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