I first remember seeing Pitaya´s or Dragon Fruits on a cart being dragged along the (then) dusty roads of Vientiane by an elderly lady.
She would stop every 50 metres or so and ring a small bell, signalling to the Lao housewives that she had fruits to sell. Her long cart would hold wonderful exotic fruits including Mangoes, Magosteens, Longans etc..
By far the prettiest was the Pitaya. They grow on Cactus like trees, and the wonderful name “Dragon Fruit” stems from Chinese origin (fire dragon fruit).
Those that have tasted them before will tell how sweet the flesh is, surrounding the 100´s of small seeds similar to Kiwi seeds, though crunchier.
So you can imagine how surprised and happy I was to see this fruit again, and how eager I was to use it in the kitchen, but another surprise awaited me…
All the Pitaya´s I had eaten and seen Laos and Thailand had white flesh, and when I cut open the ones in our kitchen I was greeted with this vibrant glistening redness.
It wasn’t just a shock to me, neither of the Laocooks had seen the red variety before.
The taste is a little somewhat “heavier” than its white cousin. We used thin slices of the fruit in our “Salat Lao”, which is our modern version of the Lao Salad with Egg Dressing. We couldn’t explain to customers what it was (I raised a few eyebrows by calling it “Fruta de Dragón”), so I decided to let our Service staff show them the whole fruit.
Another great fruit that we use is the Passion Fruit.
The fruit looks kind of boring and unassuming until you cut it open to reveal the sweet and tangy treasures inside.
We use these on our Fresh Fruit Plates, which have been a really good seller during the summer months, when Melons, Wild Strawberries, Mangoes and Raspberries are at their best. We also use the pulp in our Passion Fruit Brûlée.
This next fruit is more famous for its Leaves than the actual fruit.
Kafffir Limes, or Makgeehoot in Lao.
South East Asian cuisine would not be the same without the use of the fragrant Leaves from the Kaffir Tree. Along with Lemongrass and Galangal, it makes the basis for most “Gaengs” and Curries.
The Lime has a “knobbly” exterior, and the fruit renders very little juice.
The freshly grated zest has a very unique aroma, far different from the everyday limes that we see.
The Kaffir Lime also has many medicinal properties, mixed with rice water it is used in a homemade Shampoo in Laos that is said will help keep the hair strong and black. Perhaps that is the secret to the long flowing hair of our Sao Lao…