So you think you have seen it all at produce markets in South East Asia?
Wrong! You haven’t seen the Luang Namtha fresh market; one of the coolest of the many we have seen throughout South East Asia.
For a start the local ladies running the market are lovely, encouraging you to try a free sample of the weird and wonderful foods they have prepared. And if you don’t want to buy they will still give you a smile as you walk away.
The diversity of fresh produce from the local river banks (where they grow all the food crops), the jungle and from southern china is amazing! You are sure to see many types of vegetables, fruit, herbs and animals you have never seen before and get some amazing photos to show people back home.
Highlights of the Luang Namtha fresh market:
- The cooked food aisle: Sample northern Lao delicacies like boiled chicken innards (apparently the best part of the chicken!), dog liver on a stick, stuffed Rhinoceros beetles, dried water Buffalo skin jerky, bamboo rat or smoked squirrel. There are also plenty of snacks more appealing to the western palate like delicious fried bananas, sweet sticky rice balls flavoured with Pandan leaf, deep fried bamboo parcels stuffed with pork mince and many other palatable delights.
- Local “wild” foods: Animals unfamiliar to us westerners gathered from the forest, rice paddies and rivers are still on the menu for the local Lao people. Freshwater snails, strange tiny fish and invertebrates from the river, huge beetles in swarming bowls, giant wasp larvae, Silk worm pupae, many varieties of frogs and even flying squirrels can be found for sale with enthusiastic owners telling you how good (sep lai) they are! Occasionally a protected wild animal will slip into the selection, so if you see a protected Lao animal be sure to take a photo and tell the vendor you will show it to the department of tourism; with continued education and reinforcement local people will stop harvesting the amazing animals from the jungle.
- Awesome jungle fruit and berries: We are still finding new fruits and nuts we have never seen before from one tree or another in the jungle. Everything is seasonal and fresh and is only on sale depending on when the fruiting trees bear fruit. The vendors will show you how to eat whatever fruit/nut/seed/plant it is. Some highlights are giant purple fig-like jungle fruits filled with jelly, “pumpkin” fruit; a teardrop shaped fruit with flesh the colour of pumpkin and taste of pumpkin pie and wild cardamom berries (quite possibly the most delicious, aromatic fruit ever).
- The meat section: Live fishes in small ponds is one thing but the butchery section has an impressive selection of offal and curdled blood jelly. It is amazing to see that no piece of animal goes to waste and if you are feeling peckish for that pigs face or water buffalo foot it can be found here. Vegetarians will rejoice in their choice of diet after visiting the Luang Namtha fresh market meat section; not to be missed.
- The Chinese market: Located behind and to the right of the fresh market is the Chinese market where you can buy cheap chinese clothes, toys and electrical goods priced for the Laos market. The fashions are hilarious and most items break on first or second use. Worth a visit for the amusement factor.
Even after being here almost 2 years, we still see jungle fruits we’ve never seen before, vegetables that are out of this world, and parts of animal anatomy that we’d rather not see. The fresh market is always an adventure and highly recommended!