Lao Food is Not Just About Eating with Your Hands

PAST LETTER PUBLISHED ON FACEBOOK ON APRIL 13, 2019

Lao food has been making waves across American media, and it is fairly new to the public. With the positive momentum of Lao restaurants, chefs, businesses, and public figures, Lao cuisine has been able to grab a seat at the table. With large platforms wanting to grab on to the latest trends, it does come with misrepresentation if there has not been enough research.

The latest misrepresentation is from Foodbeast video highlighting the restaurant Farmhouse Kitchen Thai Cuisine in San Francisco. It is important to understand how Lao food has always been in restaurants, but quietly tucked away in the back of the kitchen. You may have even eaten at a Thai restaurant run by Lao people. As Lao food is becoming more mainstream, it is likely that others may want to start labeling food “Lao” to attract business. It seems that this video may have had this intention and did not understand why labeling this as Lao was incorrect and harmful.

Let’s break it down. You see grapes, purple rice, pad Thai, rice crackers, pineapple chunks, various meats, and other brightly colored foods under many banana leaves. The video has people grabbing at all the foods with their hands and emphasizes it as a “Lao Table Feast”. It seems more of a gimmick to me while associating a whole countries food to this table. There is a time and place to eat with your hands when it comes to Lao food, such as using sticky rice (very different from jasmine rice see in the video) to dunk in your dips or laab. Seeing the woman eat the pad Thai with her hands is like imagining a person eating pasta with their hands. You only see hungry five year olds do this.

I don’t want to bash the entire video or restaurant because there are some (very few) elements that are okay. Okay, maybe one element. The papaya salad looked okay. I understand that restaurants want to promote and benefit off of new trends, but it is the style of marketing this video that gets people’s blood pumping. I do not know the owner of the restaurant so this could be their experience they are drawing from. The video mentions Northern Thailand and this more clearly looks like “Thai food” being eaten with your hands. You cannot just take a custom and place it on any type of food because then it looks like a child going to a random restaurant and not wanting to eat with their utensils.

This misrepresentation is important to talk about because it is setting precedence on Lao people and the food that just started to make waves across media. It is continuing to confuse people about what actually is Lao food. I do ask that Foodbeast acknowledge their mistakes; please do accurate research and reach out to Lao business and public figures. Also, I do ask the restaurant to explain their intentions of this on their menu and calling it “Lao Table Feast”; maybe it would be better labeled as “Northern Thai Table Feast”. The photo I attached is a great example of an actual “Lao Table Feast” and its from the wonderful Ninja Foods Papaya Salad Sauce Euy La. It consists of jeaw som spicy sweet dip surrounded by surf clams, a funky dark papaya salad, fresh veggies, spicy beef laab, grilled wings, raw shrimp marinating in spicy sauce, a stew with SPOONS right next to it, and always sticky rice to eat the papaya and dip with your hands.

On a positive note, Netflix, Inc, Queer Eye, and Antoni Porowski did a good job by making and talking about the national Lao dish “laab” and giving proper credit to the country Laos in episode 3 of season 3.

To all the passionate Lao food lovers and Lao community, please repost this post if you agree with my thoughts and tag @foodbeast. Let them know they are misrepresenting your food. This letter is written with lots of love and a place of educating from the heart.

Sincerely,

Chef Saeng

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