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18 December 2011 / leggypeggy

When a little weed is a good thing

Mekong river weed—a tasty snack.

From the first night we were in Luang Prabang in Laos, Poor John was keen to sample the Mekong dried river weed. We saw it being sold in large packs in the night market and were intrigued to know how it should be cooked and what it tasted like.

It seemed impractical to buy a huge packet and then experiment, so we went exploring for a restaurant that served this much-loved local speciality. We finally found a very upmarket place—white tablecloths—that offered it as a starter. We were in shorts and looking preety daggy, but that didn’t stop us from going in and ordering one very expensive serving to share.

The dish is called khai paen (sorry but I can’t find the right accent marks to use here). That’s the dried river weed fried in a seasoned oil and topped with sesame seeds. It’s normally served with a thick condiment, jaew bong, another speciality, made of chillies and dried buffalo skin. We had both and we loved them. So much so that if I had access to dried river week, I’d probably make it quite often. It’s a light, crispy, flavourful snack, and I’m a sucker for sesame seeds. Can’t imagine that I’ll ever find buffalo skin to make the jaew bong.

Mekong river weed is in the tallest packs—available in bulk at the night market.

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