Laos foods include “Cao Niaow,” or sticky rice, unsweetened glutinous rice steamed over an open fire. Almost everything is cooked on charcoal fires in large ceramic grills. They provide street vendors with the slow hot flame necessary for a day of cooking. Bamboo skewers, split down the middle cook “bird, fish and meat” at one street vendor’s shop.” Vegetables are also sold at some street vendors, spicy chinese cabbage, called bok choi in the use and ginger, steamed to crunchy edibility. Tilapia, small birds, and a few other fish, including one that looks like a freshwater pompano with an orange belly and blunt teeth.
At some markets, live fish can be purchased, either for release (to build merit) or to eat. The local vegetables include many that aren’t found anywhere else except deep in the jungle. MSG can be avoided by pointing to it and waving the hand. One vendor describes it as “sai.” Sugar and salt are also included in most vendors’ spice rack, but telling the difference between these crystals isn’t easy. Salt comes in a blue-printed plastic bag, and looks whiter than the clearer MSG bags, printed with red dye, and sometimes a picture of a spoon.
Noodles, or barbecue, is eaten with chopsticks, in a bowl or a banana leaf, the disposable environmentally friendly alternative to styrofoam. Noodles, like in other parts of southeast asia, come in a few flavors, including egg (yellow), ramen (curly and brown), bean (clear), and rice (white). Rice is usually only glutinous. Sweet potatoes can also be purchased from the roadside ceramic barbecues. They are often eaten with the skin on in Laos.