Wednesday, 13 July 2005

culinary logisitcs and a minor risk of food poisoning

After what turned out to be a rather depressing end to a reasonable day yesterday, I am pleased to say that I made a remarkable discovery on the culinary front!

My day (apres run) consisted of staring at a computer screen whilst loading up dodgy Lao computer software; trying to master three new computer programmes with which i'll be developing the CD-ROM; and attempting to come up with some design ideas. Unfortunately, the rather vague brief of 'make the CD-ROM better' and the workload – now doubled from one CD-ROM to two – are slightly disconcerting. However, those of you who know me, will know that I like a good challenge. Fingers crossed i'll be able to come up with the goods!

Anyway, I digress. At the end of the day I spent three hours analysing the inspiring yet immensly depressing, Cancer Blog, for my dissertation. The blog is that of a 26 year old American guy suffering from stage IV metastatic melanoma. I noticed that he hadn't blogged for some time and reading the comments section confirmed my worst fears: the author had died. I had pretty much guessed it. As an avid blogger, his sudden departure from the blogosphere last year, at a time when he was particularly ill, suggested that that might be the case. The blog is definitely worth a read. His in-depth, extremely well articulated entries on American politics are interspersed with often humerous depictions of his progressively invasive disease.

Needless to say, I found out he had died and sat alone in my dark, overly air-conditioned office and sobbed. I don't even know the guy, but having read his blog from start to fateful end, it's hard not to become emotionionally attached to someone baring their soul.

Even more upsetting was the fact that i couldn't contact anyone. My phone doesn't work on the Laos network, no one was on msn and emails just take to long on the reply front. I gave up the analysis and stumbled out into the heat in search of an eatery where i could, once again, ask for a table for one.

Thankfully, I couldn't be bothered to go too far and fell into the restaurant next to the office, only to find that I was the only 'falang' there, that there were ominous-looking holes in the middle of all the tables and that there were very unusual culinary proceedings taking place. Feeling slightly out of my depth, I merely asked the waiter for whatever it was everyone else was eating.

Fortunately, I'd found myself the best english-speaking Lao waiter to date. He asked if i'd ever eaten in a place like this before. On my reply of no, he was very good to offer to show me the ropes.

I have yet to discover the name of this culinary delight but i shall pass it on when i do. Basically, a pot of hot coals is placed in the hole in the table and covering it, you place what resembles a giant metal lemon juicer. Hot water is placed in the base around the edge whilst a small piece of fat is placed on the top of the pointy bit. This stops the meat, that you then place on the top, from sticking. Veg, eggs, mushrooms, seafood ball things e.t.c go in the watery moat and you then attempt to turn the meat with chopsticks, whilst it cooks. This is no mean feat, especially for a chopstick amateur like myself. I provided great amusement to the staff who stood in a corner and watched my pitiful attempts.

Logistics, as a 'table for one' are actually quite difficult. Normally, a mate would turn the meat whilst you eat the bits that are cooked, but in my situation I had to simultaneously turn meat whilst attempting to eat. It was an interesting process, that definitely took my mind off Cancerblog. You keep replacing the meat and veg as they cook adding more water to the moat. The water becomes a soup which you can then eat. It is absolutely delicious. Unfortunately, the responsibility of food poisoning is left firmly in your hands as the cook- its been 24hrs and no dodgy stomach signs as yet!

All you can eat for 1 quid - not bad really, although quite expensive for Laos standards (i normally eat for 50p). I took a photo and shall attempt to upload it tomorrow, so you can get some idea of what i've been waffliing about. Tis nearly 9pm so i must head for food.

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