Among restaurateurs and chefs is a thread of discussion about what the make explicit and what to reinforce through familiarity and repetition. Training customers, which sounds like a nefarious head of some marketing hydra, is a gigantic task for food businesses. It is to say, there is a way that we do it, and it’s easier for all of us if you play along. Be it picking out an item from a blackboard and walking up to the till, taking a number and waiting for your digits to be called, or sitting down and waiting to be served, the customer needs to learn whats appropriate, where and when. Simply put: the question restaurateurs ask is ‘how do we have customers set down other restaurant’s baggage and adopt our own when we are here?’
Historically restaurants have conformed to the way of eating that’s prevalent. North Americans are accustomed to ordering their own plate of food and working at it like its their private task. No matter how people of other places eat, they’ve in the past been encouraged to adopt to the manner of eating that their customers are used to, and if you want to break that mold you need to make explicit their expectations. Ethiopian restaurants with their large central platters have been successful at this, but that involves both written instructions on how to eat and an elucidation from the server. Even with the recent surge of acceptance of the shared small plate, people will walk into a place, order three ham crostini to themselves and tell their friends they ate ‘tapas’ and furthermore ‘it wasn’t very much for its price.’
So I guess it’s hard for people to form new habits. Especially habits that are both fundamental and were likely taught at such a young age that the explicit learning of them is forgotten – like how to eat.
All this to say: how people eat in Laos is different, and how you should eat in Laohaus is also different, and you can have a knife in fork, but you’re just playing yourself out, fool.
HOW IS IT DONE, WISE ONE?
Jesus, tone down the bold! I’m right here!
1. Share your order with your friends and family.
I wouldn’t suggest that you don’t order nam khao, but it’s going to be a pretty big platter of food, like, a sharing portion. It’s going to come with lots of lettuce leaves to make wraps with using your hands, the same tool you’re going to use to put that lettuce wrap inside your face. The same goes for pretty much everything else. The menu is designed for sharing. I know, it’s not as explicit as the hip tapas bar that sends the table of three three dressed up bites of bacon wrapped dates.
2. Eat with sticky rice
Many of the dishes at Laohaus come with complimentary sticky rice in a little woven basket. If you’ve never used it before then it makes sense why you’re confused. This wonderful rice is utensils. Take a small ball of it into your hand, and flatten it with your thumb against your index and middle fingers, leaving an indentation with your thumb. Pick up your desired morsel of food with your sticky rice, pressing the food gently into your rice patty, and eat it.
The food at Lauhaus, like much Lao food, is generously seasoned. This is because the intention is to eat it with sticky rice, which is not seasoned. Combined in your hand and then mouth, you have a perfectly seasoned bite.
Chopsticks are brought to your table, as are knives and forks. That’s because Charlie is polite. The main usage of chopsticks are in combination with spoons to enjoy the noodle soups. Besides that, everything on the menu is presented to you with the appropriate medium to eat it with: sticky rice, lettuce, and pork rinds. Unlike complicated chopsticks that really make everything hard to eat, you don’t need to pick up any skills to eat with your hands. You’ve got digits, don’t keep them in the bank.