Episode 24: Seng Luangrath + Lao Sticky Rice

Photo credits: Portrait by Jai Williams, Others by JC Gibbs

While the food of Laos is underrepresented here in the West, you’d be surprised to learn that you may have actually already had Lao dishes, but thought they were Thai! Restauranteur and James Beard Award Semifinalist, Chef Seng Luangrath, joined us in the studio to help us navigate the world of Lao cuisine and talk about sticky rice, a Lao staple food.

Lynda and Iris review the best things they ate in the past week. Lynda hopped on the #NationalIceCreamDay bandwagon by visiting OddFellows Ice Cream Co. in Brooklyn, while Iris finally got a good banh mi at Le Petit Saigon in Hong Kong. If you've never heard our pre-HRN episode on banh mi, check it out here!

Iris then defines the subject of the day: sticky rice. A lot of people in the west associate it with Thai cuisine, but it's actually a staple of Lao cuisine and not eaten everywhere in Thailand! She also gives a quick overview of Laos geography, and the many political changes it has gone through over the centuries.

Lynda then asks Chef Seng about her story, and she tells us how she grew up learning to cook with her family, her neighbors, and at the refugee camps in Thailand. Her first cooking lesson was making sticky rice! She then tells us how cooking continued to be a huge part of her life, and finally realized she wanted to cook professionally at age 40.

Chef Seng tells us about her restaurant, Thip Khao, and the bamboo baskets that sticky rice is served in. She tells us about the significance of sticky rice to the Lao people and culture, how it's eaten, and the different ways it can be prepared. The Lao people call themselves luk khao niaow, or "children of sticky rice", for a reason!

Lynda and Chef Seng then switch the conversation to Lao cuisine in general. They talk about its unique attributes, and how it's different to other Southeast Asian cuisines. She also tells us about the #LaoFoodMovement she started.

23:33 "A lot of people are afraid to present [their food] as Lao because it's hard to market. Part of the Lao Food Movement we set up is to encourage people to come out, be proud of our own identity, and be proud of what we grew up eating." -  Chef Seng on Lao food in the US.

Chef Seng tells us what she hopes to continue achieving and her hopes for the future of Lao cuisine. We are personally very excited to see the #LaoFoodMovement take off and you can follow it on Twitter and Instagram.

Finally, as you may know, this show is only possible thanks to member donations. We wouldn’t be able to reach you every week without the generosity of our HRN members around the world. Join the club and keep food radio on the airwaves this summer by signing up at heritageradionetwork.org/donate.