Diaspora is a word to originally describe the Jews dispersed from Israel, forced to live outside it’s borders. Capital D Diaspora still refers to that. It has transcended its original context though, and can now be used for any movement that displaces people from their ancestral homeland. Diaspora is when people live juxtaposed, with an ethnic and national identity but in another land, dispersed by circumstance.
A major reason for this blog, and the intention behind the book project, is to disentangle some of Lao food culture and make it accessible to whoever wants it. Readily available in English there are only four Lao cookbooks, spanning several decades in scope, and all very focused on Laos the place. So when we say that we are focusing on Lao food as a diaspora tradition, it means that we are looking for the essence of it as it transcends Laos itself.
People learn to adapt to ways of cooking with new ingredients, seeing similarities and potentials in a new place. The Jews of Eastern Europe have allowed horseradish and romaine lettuce to be substituted for the bitter herbs on the Passover Seder plate. The forms of things change with where people are, but the practical approach and essence remain the same.
Thankfully, Asian grocery stores are accessible almost anywhere there’s a sizable population, so many of the lesser used ingredients in Canadian cooking, like galangal, lemon grass, and dried shrimp, can be acquired simply with a trip to an Asian grocery store. Other more difficult to obtain ingredients, like pepperwood, have to be substituted with what’s available or, in the case of some ingredients that would be purchased easily in a Lao marketplace like padaek or smoked water buffalo skin jerky, must be handmade. This is a chef driven project, so we intend to give our best effort to making and demystifying some of those products.
Some cooking implements and utensils that are used in Laos are not used in Canada, but some that are considered absolutely essential have been made available and fulfill their duty as kitchen workhorses. With equipment, like ingredients, we’ll explain how its done here, and what’s reasonable for the cook in the Canadian context to do without absolutely bastardizing the source material.