Lao Sausage, What’s in the Name?

by Saeng Douangdara
What’s in the name?

Sitting across from my mae in the kitchen, I see her cutting a liter soda bottle. Using the top portion of the bottle,  she starts pushing the ground pork mixture through the hole and into the pork intestines.  The fragrance of smashed galangal, lemongrass, and makrut lime leaves floats in the air. In contrast, it pushes against the smell of padaek unfiltered fish sauce as she opens up the bucket under the sink.  As a kid, I watched my mae make these. I imagined it was like making edible balloon animals that were not as bright or colorful, but I knew these balloons tasted delicious.  She was making sai oua Lao sausage. I always thought all sausages were made this way and how much hard work it was to create these incredibly fragrant links.  Lao sausage is transforming and uplifting Lao cuisine when it comes to how it is named; it is easily people’s favorite within and outside of the Lao community.  

Lao sausage deserves its own place in this world because it’s name has evolved to give pride and recognition to Lao cuisine.  As a Lao person, I grew up calling it “sai oua” and I know others also called it “sai gok”.  It was always made with lots of love at home.  Lao cuisine continues to gain recognition and praise, and Lao sausage plays a big part in pushing the cuisine to the public.  The common thread to many Lao restaurants or Southeast Asian restaurants when having this dish on the menu is that they have called it Lao sausage and that is significant. 

Oftentimes, people had Lao food without knowing because it was a struggle in naming the food.  Lao food is mixed into restaurant menus without the acknowledgement.  If “Where’s Waldo?” was a food, he would be Lao food.  It’s hard to find.  You probably had laab or even had the option to get Lao style papaya salad and other Lao dishes, but you had to specifically ask for it.  It was the Lao secret menu.  It was a secret that only Lao people knew about.  

Luckily the secret is out and more restaurants are acknowledging and highlighting Lao food especially Lao sausage.  The name “Lao sausage” has become a universal standard in the US.  It plays an important role because it forces people to say and read “Lao”. This gives the right cultural reference point to share where they had this delicious sausage.  What it all boils down to is branding and how food identity is tied to what outsiders see and learn.   These actions create allies in a space that is so cluttered with words that are lost in translation, but the name is now a standard.  

The sausage is one of the top foods I always recommend when people try Lao food for the first time.  It’s a sausage that is so memorable because it’s bursting with flavors that come from the common aromatics used in Lao food.  The experience of a first timer to Lao food plays a huge role in how the food is pushed into the public.  The food is no longer generalized because they are easily able to put a name to the food and it come with “Lao” slapped right on the front.  The evolution of how we collectively named Lao sausage has centered and finally given acknowledgement to a food that has been around for decades.  

I know now that there are huge machines that crank out sausages in minutes, but nothing will ever beat the imagery of seeing my mae stuff the five feet casing with the signature Lao sausage filling.  If this article entices you to try the delicious sausage from Lao cuisine, luckily it is more accessible with Lao restaurants across the US and also prepackaged Lao sausages in the frozen section of markets.  Clicking here to find the closet Lao restaurants, and here are some Lao sausage brands that may be in a market in your area:  Famous Lao Papaya Brand, Nok’s Kitchen Brand, Nuktchn Brand, Kra Z Kai’s Brand, and Mali’s Turkey Lao Sausage Brand. If you are curious and want to try making it, here is my recipe video. 

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