A Taste of Laos
In the countryside near Luang Prabang, discover a gourmet culinary escape with a difference. By ROBYN ECKHARDT
Visitors to Laos’ former royal capital seeking a culinary experience with a conscience need look no further than Amantaka. Since early 2010, the sumptuous Amanresorts outpost has partnered with Living Land, an organic farm just 20 minutes from the former royal capital, to offer cooking classes in a bucolic setting.
In 2007 three Laotians, concerned about the overuse of chemicals in agriculture and the loss of arable land to slash-and-burn practices, set out to prove that well cared-for land can maintain its productivity indefinitely. Living Land is the result, with two hectares devoted to vegetables—rows of native mint and pakkat, or flowering mustard, alternating with introduced vegetables like beetroot and rhubarb—eight hectares of rice paddies, and flower and fish farms in the works. Fallow periods and crop rotation keep the land fertile, while on the farm, crops are nourished with organic compost and shielded from pests with natural insecticides made from ingredients such as tobacco and chilies.
A community enterprise, Living Land employs people from ethnic-minority villages and youngsters unable to find work in the tourist industry. For Amantaka, partnering with the farm was a no-brainer. “We place a high priority on community involvement,” explains General Manager Gary Tyson, “as well as on giving our guests the most genuine experience possible.”
The hands-on classes, run by Amantaka’s head chef Phobpanya “Pob” Pornsanae, start with a tour of the farm. After gathering ingredients, students—who don’t need to be staying at the resort—head to a petite open-air timber pavilion set amid the vegetables, where they chop and stir dishes such as sour curry, green papaya salad and pork in coconut milk. “Traditional” is the buzzword: spice paste is ground in a mortar, soup cooked in a clay-pot set on a dao lou (charcoal-fired brazier), and sticky rice steamed in the cone-shaped basket called huat kao. For those seeking insight into local ingredients, a pre-class walk with the enthusiastic Pob through Talat Pa Kham, Luang Prabang’s buzzy morning market, is a must.
After working up a sweat in the “kitchen,” students retire to a banana- and palm-tree–shaded sala fronted by a peaceful pond. Here, with a view of water buffalo wallowing in paddies stretching to the base of forest-carpeted hills, characteristic Aman luxury kicks in: the thoroughly Lao lunch is paired with a range of complementary wines.
Address: 55/3 Kingkitsarath Road, Luang Prabang, Laos
Telephone: +856 71 860 333
Private classes from US$103.50 per person; US$138 with market tour, including transport to and from Amantaka to Living Land Farm