It’s common to take a cooking class while in Thailand but our 30 day visa was coming to an end and we needed to come up with plans to move onward. Maybe we should learn to cook another country’s cuisine? After all, we were already familiar with cooking a few Thai dishes. Doing a quick search on Southeast Asian cooking schools, I came across a Facebook page called Luang Prabang Home Cooking Experience in Laos.
The account had 0 reviews and less than 100 followers, which would normally lead us to move onto something more established but we were looking for something that wasn’t mass advertised. At this point, we had been disappointed by Lonely Planet’s recommendations too many times and it was clear that almost EVERY PERSON TRAVELING AROUND SE ASIA HAD THE SAME COPY OF LONELY PLANET’S SOUTHEAST ASIA ON A SHOESTRING THAT WE HAD. After Chiang Mai, we buried the book at the bottom of our bags and vowed to make a conscious effort to make our own decisions on where to go, what to eat, and what to see. So I scrolled through the Facebook page for this “home cooking experience” and saw a familiar face in the photos uploaded. It was Anthony Bourdain standing with a Laotian family. We recognized the home in the photos from the Laos episode of Parts Unknown when Anthony Bourdain visits a home in Luang Prabang for lunch. I thought to myself – Christine, never trust what you see online. So we did our due diligence. I reached out via email to the owners and checked the legitimacy of the owners email addresses and Facebook accounts. Things checked out. It was a newer business and we were going to give it a chance. The man on the other end of the emails and owner of the home that hosted Anthony Bourdain for lunch, Mr. Si, was available the following Sunday. He would pick us up at 9 AM sharp at the hotel of our choice. Next thing you know we were booking a flight to Luang Prabang, Laos. Ironically, not knowing we’d end up visiting Laos, we chose to go to our favorite restaurant, Padaek and have Laotian food as our “last meal” before leaving Virginia.
We had an unforgettable experience with Mr. Si, his wife, Nee, and the rest of his family including his Mom, Dad, daughter, and brothers. We were brought to a local market where Mr. Si taught us about the types of food being sold and what Laotian dishes they are often used for.
We bought everything we needed and returned to Mr. Si’s home with a bamboo basket full of groceries, ready to cook. All while we chopped fresh mint for the laab moo, squeezed yanang leaves for the bamboo soup, and folded banana leaves into little purses for the Mok Pa – we learned about Lao culture and traditions. Home cooking at it’s finest, we didn’t follow any paper recipes. Nee and I taste-tested our dishes and tweaked them as we went. A little more fish sauce here. A little more lime there. More chilies please!
When all the dishes were ready, we brought our food over to the same bamboo patio we recognized from the No Reservations episode. We wondered who was sitting in Anthony Bourdain’s seat. Turns out Dan was!
We drank Beer Lao, tried Mr. Si’s father’s homemade Lao whiskey, and shared the meal we just made with Mr. Si and his family. We shared stories about our life in America as Mr. Si shared stories about his life in Laos.
At the end of the day, Mr. Si took us back to our guesthouse. When we got to the room, I lay on the bed, a little warm in the face from the Lao whiskey (and from opting for the “Fan Only” room) and realized my cheeks were sore from smiling so much. We are so grateful to have stumbled across this small business. A day with Mr. Si and his family is an experience we’ll never forget. There’s a reason Luang Prabang Home Cooking Experience is advertised as just that. An experience. This isn’t your typical “cooking school.” It’s way more than that. It’s like going to your family friend’s house for a Sunday BBQ minus the NFL game plus the sticky rice. It’s only a matter of time before the world catches onto this hidden gem. We’ll be keeping our Lonely Planet buried at the bottom of our bag for now. We may even need to toss it to make room for souvenirs – because without it, we’re doing just fine.