5.170 16/11-4/4 Vientiane: A Deep-Fried Cricket

-Cycle 5, Item 170-
24 (Tue) June 2014

A Deep-Fried Cricket


at Khop Chai Deu


with K Engelhardt, K Mellor, and other members of the workshop organizing committee 

16/11.  For 16 days--a weekend in the Philippines, a 3-day workshop in Lao (see generally 5.170 A Deep-Fried Cricket), a weekend in Korea, a 2-day workshop in Fiji (see generally 5.178 Bibimbab), a few airport layovers in between--my itinerary will ultimately take me through 11 cities, more-or-less at dinnertime, providing me the opportunity to have dinner in all of them.

This is Day 4 (see previously 5.169 Bangkok).

Vientiane is City 4.  I'll be here for 3 days, but only for 2 dinners, tonight and tomorrow, as I'll have to leave for the airport to catch my flight the day after tomorrow, right after the workshop wraps in the afternoon.

I'm in Lao to participate in a workshop to assess, and ultimately strengthen, Lao's policy/law framework on food/nutrition.  Like in many developing countries these days, the problem here is the double burden of malnutrition, which means that people are either starving to death due to a lack of food or eating themselves to death with an overabundance of junk food.  The solutions will require multisectoral engagement not only of the health sector but also finance, trade, commerce, agriculture, education, and others.  Just getting them into the same room is a major achievement.

The fanciest hotel in the country--seriously.

Khop Chai Deu is a Lao restaurant.  According to the website, it's the oldest restaurant in Vientiane.  Also touted by the website as "the meeting point for the tourists who arrive in Laos and wish to get a taste of a true Lao afternoon spot for the expats who like to meet after work"--indeed, I was the only non-white customer in the joint.

We sat on the balcony; despite all my years living in the States and amongst the white folk, I still don't understand why they enjoy sitting (a) outdoors (i.e., without air-conditioning) and (b) in the sun.

The food was kinda crappy, for a few reasons.  

First, almost everything ordered was vegetarian.  The spread turned out that way because someone in the party--a lowly intern, incidentally--happens to be a vegetarian--technically, not even a strict vegetarian, she just prefers vegetables.  As I'd mentioned in a recent post, people are so ingratiatingly accommodating to vegetarians these days (see generally 5.150 American-Style Greek Salad).  I'm beginning to feel a growing hostility that may soon explode.  Anyway, as much as I do love veg, I can't stand eating just veg.  

Local beer 2: Beerlao.

Second, I'm beginning to think that Lao food is a bit too extreme and austere for my tastes.  This is based on three meals: dinner on a prior visit (see generally 3.271 Larb Gai), lunch this afternoon, and tonight's dinner.   The cuisine seems to employ many similar herbs and seasonings found in neighboring Thailand and Cambodia, like basil and cilantro and chilies and lemongrass and fish sauce, but here everything is left raw and used on their own as main ingredients, rather in small amounts as accents or garnish.  For example, the spring rolls were filled with pretty much basil and cilantro.  The salad was dressed in what seemed to be unadulterated fish sauce.  I'm not yet ready for such intensity.

Extreme and austere.

And third, my one non-vegetarian contribution, the crickets weren't so great.  Not that I expected them to be, but I wanted to try something completely new.  They--and by "they," I mean the single specimen that I tried--didn't really taste like anything, just the slightly stale oil in which they'd been deep-fried.  And not even very crispy, just a bit soggy and greasy, as if the oil hadn't been hot enough.  Better than ants (see generally 3.269 Fried Beef with Red Ants).  Thanks anyway.

AV Hotel, our rinky-dink accommodations down the street.


  1. Not that I can talk for every white man on the entire planet, but I would say SWEDES sit outside, in the sun, especially on vacation due to the fact that;
    1. We live in a place that is cold and dark most of the year, so the times we get to experience sunshine and warmth; we want to relish it...
    2. By sitting outside and not in a dimly lit, stinky room, you get to experience the atmosphere and feel of the place you're visiting. Dimly lit restaurants tend to feel the same everywhere in the world...

    But if you would be white and be from a place that is warm and sunny most of the year; I don't see why you would be so fond of it, the novelty effect would have worn of so to speak.. Or maybe it's Koreans who are weird to stay away from the sun like they are vampires?

  2. Btw two youtube videos for you to watch

    1. One where the girl visits the supposedly "oldest" restaurant in Korea. From like 1905. Called "이문 설농탕" (spelling?) Watch the video if you can bear her on-camera "persona"..

    2. A video where a bunch of youtubers try fermented stingray (홍어) Seems like THE most disgusting thing you could ever eat...

  3. No, sorry, it's got nothing to do with cold dark places. White people in Southern California sit outside all the time. The white people that I was with in Lao all live in Southeast Asia or Philippines. I think it's just genetic, as if the light skin craves warmth, like how lizards sit on rocks in the desert for warmth.

    Personally, I sweat a lot, so that's why i prefer AC.

    Dude, I covered Imun Seolnong-tang during that OKRKL project:

    Yes, that girl's annoying. And she ate that piece off the table. I hope she got food poisoning.

    I also covered the stingray dish:

    That video is kinda funny. I like those guys. Very brave. I tasted a tiny bit and had to spit it out.

  4. 1) I think it could be due to the fact that those "white" have descended from dark, cold places, such as Scandinavia, the UK, Germany etc.. I don't think Spaniards or Italians crave the sun as people in Northern Europe...

    2) You sweat? That's funny, I have never heard of or seen a Korean who sweats before (and I have been to a LOOOOT of jjimjilbangs)

    3) I kinda wish I could try stingray.. but on the other hand, I wouldn't wanna pay for it since I would probably only be able to eat like a bite at most...

    Btw my trip to the east was really nice. Haven't had the time and energy to go throuh my food related pictures and memories, but my first observation is that Latvian food seems to be really similar to Nordic food; i.e. a lot of herring (raw), pancakses, potato-based dishes etc.. Lithuanian was more like a mix between nordic and more continental dishes.. Serbian food I had some tries at but missed some chances at experiences (due to the reasons I explained in my other comment just now..)

  5. 1) i just got back from Spain, and they love sun too. that's why they're so dark.

    3) stingray itself is okay. i've had it as sashimi, which i covered once somewhere on the blog, and grilled in singapore. but it's the fermented kind in korea that's so bad.

    looking forward to the photos (not really of the pizza etc.)..

  6. 1) naah I would say (/guess) most of their dark complexing comes from the mixing of middle eastern and spanish blood that resulted from hundreds of years of muslim rule... :)

    3) oh really... come to think of it, if you ever come to the cold north (or if we can meet up somewhere close again where I would have to fly to), I want us both to eat swedish surströmming ( To quote wikipedia:
    "When opened, the contents release a strong and sometimes overwhelming odour; the dish is ordinarily eaten outdoors. According to a Japanese study, a newly opened can of surströmming has one of the most putrid food smells in the world, even more so than similarly fermented fish dishes such as the Korean Hongeohoe or Japanese Kusaya."

  7. 1) careful, my friend.

    3) okay to meeting up, anywhere in the world. no to surströmming.

    4) on a totally different topic, there's a swedish intern in our office. tall and blonde. i'm thinking of having her. over for dinner. with a group of people. u think i should make köttbullar or kåldolmar as the main dish? i'll start with the pea soup and the ABBA herring.

  8. 1) Although it's a very very sensitive topic, and probably something that should be kept away from this blog to keep it from going amoc into some kind of comment war, I find it interesting how history has shaped the genes and appearances of the peoples of different countries... On my recent trip to Serbia, I was surprised to both meet serbs with dark complexions (dark hair, dark skin) as well as serbs that might well be swedes or norwegians (blue eyes, blond hair)... This probably due to the fact that it has been conquered and invaded numerous times by different empires.. but let's stop the conversation there...

    3) fair enough

    4) tall, what does that even mean? 1,70 m? (I hope the added stops were regular typos, and not freudian typos..) I would definitely go for the köttbullar... It's famous and probably something a lot more people could enjoy than kåldolmar.... Plus it is easier to find a suitable side for köttbullar (potaotes (mashed or boiled), pasta) than kåldolmar (just potatoes). Looking forward to reading about it. I have to update myself on the blog, but I'm just too busy right now.

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