In the Twin Cities there is a plethora of Vietnamese and Thai restaurants, but hardly any Lao eateries — despite the fact there are more Minnesotans from Laos than either of the other two nations.
Christina Tia, a local Lao food expert and YouTube host, says there is some overlap between Lao and Thai cuisine. At most Thai restaurants, you can order dishes "Lao style" — just be prepared for an unmistakable change in flavor.
"Lao food is a little earthier and funkier and we do use a fermented fish sauce, which is a very distinct flavor," Tia said. "It's funky."
Social media has been a great tool for Laotians to share their cuisine the way it's meant to be, Tia said, and its popularity is on the rise.
Use the audio player above to hear Tia's chat with All Things Considered host Tom Crann, and see some of Tia's favorite Laotian recipes below.
Recipe: Nam Khao
4 cups cooked rice, warm/room temperature 2 tablespoons red curry paste
1 tablespoon chili garlic sauce
1 tablespoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon onion powder
2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1 egg yolk
6 kaffir lime leaves, minced
1 1/2 tablespoon fish sauce
1/2 cup finely shredded young coconut
2 cups som moo, broken into small pieces
1/2 cup pork skin, prepared (optional)
Lime juice to taste
1/2 cup cilantro, chopped
1/2 cup green onion, chopped
Cooking oil for frying
Using a large bowl, add the curry paste, chili garlic sauce, fish sauce, sugar, garlic powder, onion powder, salt, paprika, egg, kaffir, fish sauce and coconut. Stir well to combine. Add rice and gently mix through.
Using your hands, take a large golf ball-sized round of the mixture and press firmly together to form balls or patties. Set aside.
Heat oil in a pot over medium-high heat, let it come to about 180 degrees. In the meanwhile, line a cookie sheet with a cooling rack and paper towels.
Fry the balls in small batches to avoid overcrowding. Balls should be completely golden brown on all sides. Remove from the oil with a slotted spoon and let it rest on the cooling rack to drain excess oil. Repeat with remaining balls. Allow to completely cool before preparing the salad.
Using a large bowl, break rice balls into small pieces. Add pork skin, toss to combine. Add lime juice. Taste and adjust as needed. Add som moo, toss to combine. Add cilantro and green onions, toss to combine.
Enjoy as is or as lettuce wraps with fried or fresh thai chilies, cucumbers, mint leaves and peanuts .
Notes and tips
Rice balls can be prepared the night ahead.
Can refrigerate in air tight container for up to three days.
Recipe: Gang Nor Mai
3-4 cups bamboo shoots, sliced
2 packages kayeng (rice paddy herb)
3-4 packages mushrooms (Tia uses beech mushrooms, enoki mushrooms and oyster mushrooms)
1/2 cup cup sticky rice (sweet rice), soaked
8 thai chilies (4 - paste, 4 - soup)
2 cans yanang extract
4 cups water 1 & 1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons chicken seasoning
1 tablespoon sugar
4 tablespoons padaek
1/2 cup squash/pumpkin (optional)
2 cans quail eggs (optional)
Soak 4 tablespoons of sticky rice, set aside.
Bring large pot of water to a boil, add bamboo shoots and boil for 15 minutes. In the meanwhile, strain sticky rice, using a mortar and pestle, crush rice and chilies together to form a paste.
Strain bamboo and add back to the pot on medium heat. Add yanang, water, mushrooms, stir to combine.
Season with salt, sugar, chicken seasoning and padaek, stir to combine. Taste and adjust as needed.
Let the soup come to a boil.
Add sticky rice and chili mixture. Stir to combine. Let simmer for 5-10 minutes.
Turn off heat, fold in kayeng and remaining chilies.
Serve with rice.
Notes and tips
Can freeze for up to three months.
If using pork or riblets, pre-cook these ingredients in a separate pot until desired tenderness then add to the bamboo soup.
If a thicker soup is desired, soak 1 cup of sticky rice and add it to the soup 2 tablespoons at a time until you reach desired consistency.