PCEC learns to cook Laos food

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Master of Ceremonies Richard Silverberg welcomed everyone to the regular Sunday meeting of the Pattaya City Expats Club on February 27, 2011 at Amari Resort’s Tavern by the Sea. After the usual opening announcements, he called on fellow member Harry “Sig” Sigworth to introduce Dorothy Culloty and Kees Sprengers. Dorothy and husband Kees, originally from New Zealand, have spent several years visiting Northern Laos; Dorothy documenting recipes of authentic Northern Lao Cuisine and Kees photographing the people and their lifestyles. Dorothy has penned the book Food from Northern Laos – The Boat Landing Cookbook, which is filled with photographs taken by Kees.

Dorothy’s background is in Human Resources and Kees spent 14 years as the photographer for New Zealand’s Waikato Museum of Art and History.  Since 2002, Dorothy has been documenting recipes of Northern Lao food preparation while Kees has been photographing the people in their everyday life and at cultural events.  Dorothy and Kees said that this has mostly taken place in Luang Namtha province, which borders Myanmar (Burma) and China in the far north of Laos.

Dorothy Culloty and husband Kees Sprengers, originally from New Zealand, have spent several years visiting Northern Laos; Dorothy documenting recipes of authentic Northern Lao Cuisine and Kees photographing the people and their lifestyles.Dorothy Culloty and husband Kees Sprengers, originally from New Zealand, have spent several years visiting Northern Laos; Dorothy documenting recipes of authentic Northern Lao Cuisine and Kees photographing the people and their lifestyles.

Kees said the Province has 39 different ethnic groups; each with their own culture and language. Initially, they took trips, not always together, from New Zealand to Luang Namtha. The trips were difficult because the roads were bad or nonexistent. Because the Lao Government started constructing a major road across Laos to the Chinese Border that would reduce the travel time from 12 to 4 hours, they realized that this would alter the lifestyles of the people residing there.  She and Kees both had a desire to document the lifestyles of the inhabitants before these changes occurred. When they started, many of the ethnic groups were living as they always had; basically self contained with limited exposure to outside influence. Kees mentioned that in his travels, he was often the first Caucasian the people there had seen.

Former PCEC Chairman Richard Smith advises members of activities of the cross culture volunteer group, offering fee classes for ‘English Conversation for Thais for a Better Life’.Former PCEC Chairman Richard Smith advises members of activities of the cross culture volunteer group, offering fee classes for ‘English Conversation for Thais for a Better Life’.

Dorothy said that around 2004, they moved to the Lao Peoples Democratic Republic (PDR) as volunteers with New Zealand’s Volunteer Service Abroad. Dorothy said she enjoyed the three and a half years working in Lao PDR and making continued trips to Luang Namtha. Dorothy devoted her time to studying Northern Lao food while Kees photographed the local people attending religious ceremonies and going about other aspects of their lives.

The place they usually stayed and made their base was the Boat Landing Restaurant. Dorothy said that about 75% of the recipes in her cookbook were based on food prepared there with the rest coming from the surrounding area.  She also explained that her cookbook was not only for others to know how to prepare the food, but also as a record for the Lao people so they would not lose these traditional recipes with the advent of change. So, she made sure her cookbook’s recipes were in Lao script as well as in English.

Showing photographs of the people, food ingredients, and dishes, Dorothy and Kees took everyone on a culinary and cultural tour of Northern Laos. Dorothy described many dishes and noted that the ingredients for a particular locale often depended on what was available in the surrounding forest.

Kees explained many aspects of the ethnic cultures as he showed pictures depicting everyday life, religious ceremonies, and other celebrations. He and Dorothy also provided some interesting tidbits related to their travels.  Dorothy and Kees also explained that food and local rice whisky were integral to the lifestyles of the people playing an important role in many religious ceremonies and celebrations.

Dorothy in the kitchen of the Boat Landing Restaurant, documenting the many recipes.Dorothy in the kitchen of the Boat Landing Restaurant, documenting the many recipes.

More information on the cookbook can be found at their website http://www.foodfromnorthernlaos.com/about/ which has links to other websites containing many of Kees’ photographs. In conclusion, they said they now make their home in Sattahip, but still continue to visit Luang Namtha to visit with the friends they have made and to document the lifestyles of the people along with the changes.

After Dorothy and Kees answered many questions from the audience, Richard Silverberg updated everyone on upcoming events and called on David Meador to conduct the always informative and sometimes humorous Open Forum, where questions about living in Thailand and Pattaya in particular are asked and answered.