this little piggy

After successfully buying a chicken and cooking it, I thought I’d try another meat – pork.  Although the meat section has some red flags in the sanitation and health department, I figured, everyone else eats this just fine, so I might as well try it.  Ignoring the flies and lack of refrigeration, I headed towards the meat section.

2014-01-24-IMG_4278 2014-01-24-DSC_4528I passed the smiling pig face…2014-01-24-DSC_4532the skinless pig head…2014-01-24-DSC_4530and the little bags of blood.

2014-01-24-DSC_4534I had seen a big basin full of ground pork a few days earlier, which seemed like a relatively nonthreatening meat to start with.  I planned on buying a half kilogram, but changed my mind when I saw the amount and price, and instead decided to go ahead and buy the full kilo which was only $3.  The lady weighed out my meat, and handed me the bag by plopping it down on the counter into other porky juices.  I smiled, said thank you, then kindly asked for a second bag to put the first bag in.  We finished the rest of our shopping and headed home.

2014-01-24-DSC_4091Later, I began dinner prep, which was just going to be a simple stir fry.  After chopping the veggies, I took the bag of ground pork out of the fridge.  In only a couple of hours, it had turned into a big solid mass as the fat had cooled and hardened.  I sprinkled some salt and pepper on it and crushed a few garlic cloves.2014-01-24-DSC_4089Ryan thought making meatballs with it would be a good idea to make it more appetizing in a stir fry, so I attempted to give that a go.  I dug into the mass of meat with just one hand as I thought I should try to keep one hand clean.  Remember, the sink is outside in another building.  The kids were playing outside and I thought I should reserve a clean hand in case they needed me.  Anyway, I plopped some rough looking meatballs into the skillet. Once the skillet was full I decided to go ahead and made the rest of the meat into meatballs to freeze and have for another meal.

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At this point, I gave up on my one-handed approach and dug both hands in to form the rest of the balls.  I was quickly surprised, when I started finding little hard bits, white bits, bloody jelly bits and more.  There was SO much of it.  I started to feel a little bit nauseous.  The amount of rind, cartilage, skin and stringy fat was almost equal to the amount of meat!  Had they run the entire pig through the grinder?!  I briefly considered abandoning the bowl of pork, but there was no one around to save me.  Ryan was gone to work.

I pep talked my way through it.  I mean, c’mon, I’ve eaten out many times and had ground pork in lots of delicious dishes here.  This has to be where they all buy it, right?  Maybe once it’s cooked, the hard bits will melt way.  I braved my way through it and threw out the “non meat” bits that were left.

Then I cooked it up and tried to push aside the “non meat” bits that had made it into the skillet earlier, before I had realized what I was dealing with.  Any notion of meatballs quickly faded away as the fat melted and my formed balls all turned into a greasy pile of mush. I’m not at all afraid of fat, but all the unknown bits were a little much to handle.

2014-01-24-DSC_4105Once the veggies were cooked, I stirred in spoonfuls of the meat careful to avoid as many unidentifiable parts as best as I could.

2014-01-24-DSC_4108I decided to take the girls out on a walk to get myself some fresh air and work up some courage to eat dinner when we got back.  We were able to check out the brand new Chinese supermarket – first ever supermarket in town. 2014-01-24-DSC_4112When we got home, I sprinkled some fresh cilantro on top of our meal and served it up.  The girls thought it was great.  Elise had 4 helpings and Talia said “yuuuuumy!” when I asked her how she liked it.  I, on the other hand, wasn’t quite so eager, but did manage to eat a serving while discreetly setting aside or spitting out pieces of rind, cartilage and other strange bits in the meat.  Let’s just say it may be awhile before I work up the courage to buy ground pork again.  Note to self: ask a local friend about the ground pork situation.

Like I said, it’s not the fat the bothers me.  In fact, did you know that your body needs saturated fat to function?  It’s a myth that saturated fat makes you fat and causes heart disease.  It’s the factory fats (margarine, vegetable oils, transfats) and sugar laden processed foods that will cause problems, NOT whole, natural fats. I really just have a hard time with those other bits.

What’s the craziest part of an animal you’ve ever eaten?  Do you have any good ground pork recipes for me to try next time?

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chicken soup for the heartless soul

live chickens at market Northern Laos

Now that we had somewhere to do some cooking, we ventured out to the poultry section at the market.

live chickens at market Northern Laos

These aren’t frozen boneless, skinless chicken breasts.  These are live free range organic (as far as I know) chickens, roosters, and ducks brought daily to the market to await their fate.

live chickens at market Northern Laos

If you know what you’re doing, you can pick out your own chicken, feel it, pinch it, and make sure it’s healthy and the exact size you want.

live chickens at market Northern Laos

If you don’t know what you’re doing, like us, you can just let the nice vendor lady select your bird for you.

live chickens at market Northern LaosAfter she made the choice for me, she took my chicken, hung it from a plastic string and waited until it stopped flapping wildly around.  I’m not even a huge “animal lover,” but at this point, I felt a little bad for the poor chicken.

live chickens at market Northern Laos

She stoked her fire until the water was boiling, and plunged my now dead chicken into the water to loosen up its feathers.

live chickens at market Northern Laos

Then, she expertly finished plucking it with one hand, while taking a call with the other.

live chickens at market Northern LaosAfter she hung up, she dug out the entrails.

live chickens at market Northern Laos

It is default that the customer takes the entrails home with them.  But, I declined the “best parts,” and my gutless little chicken got plopped into a plastic bag for me to take home.

chicken stock

I bought this chicken with the purpose of making chicken stock.  We’ve been making chicken stock for a while now but we’re having to relearn the part of acquiring the chicken.

When I make my stock, I fill the stock pot, and soak the bird with a little vinegar for about an hour.  Then, I bring it to a boil and skim the scum off the top.  After the scum is skimmed, I then add some vegetables and herbs and allow it all to simmer for several hours.  When it’s done I strain it and let the broth cool.  You can click here for more details and a video instructional on how to make stock.

chicken stock

It’s a little disturbing that the chicken opens its mouth and sticks its tongue out while it simmers away.

chicken stock

I reserved a pot full of broth and the meat (which only ended up being about a cup’s worth) to make a big batch of chicken and vegetable soup.  The rest I poured into containers and froze it so that we can have a cup of broth with our lunches for it’s warming and immune boosting properties during the cold winter.

superfod chicken broth

As it turns out, grandmas weren’t wrong about the benefits of chicken soup.  Broth made from scratch using bones of good quality animals has huge health benefits.  Broth is easy for our bodies to digest and delivers a ton of minerals in a form that is really easy for our bodies to absorb.  It actually even helps strengthen the digestive and immune systems and will help in recovering from most any illness. (source)

What is your favorite kind of soup?  Have you ever picked out a live animal for your dinner?

local eats: market lunch

Since we haven’t done a lot of cooking in our first few days (or weeks) here, we’ve set out exploring to see what local eats we could find.northern laos morning market

It didn’t take long to discover this long aisle in the large covered building at the market full of wonderful pre-made lunch dishes.

northern lao market foodIf you’re there at the right time, both sides of the aisle are lined with little plates topped with a jeow ແຈ່ວ, a dish to be eaten with sticky rice.  The choices seem endless.  There are meats, greens, mushrooms, snails, innards, and many jeow that we have yet to identify.  The vendors are even happy to let you sample a dish before purchasing.2014-01-10-DSC_4548The girls are often recipients of free samples, like from the lady snipping her freshly made rice noodles.

2014-01-10-DSC_5448Each plateful costs only 5,000 kip (around $0.60).  Some of our favorites so far are the bamboo shoots (left) and greens.

2014-01-10-DSC_5440As well as the rattan shoots (yes, the same wood used to make furniture!) and mushrooms.

2014-01-10-DSC_5456So far, we’ve shied away from the intestines and other less-identifiable items.

2014-01-10-DSC_5459These smoked pork sticks are incredibly delicious and a great protein addition to the lunch purchase.2014-01-10-DSC_5464There are also these homemade sausages.  Each vendor has their own recipe.  We’re still working out which is our favorite.

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Finally, there are the thermoses full of steaming hot sticky rice sold by the 100 grams.  2014-01-10-DSC_4804The morning market provides a delicious, inexpensive lunch for people with all diet preferences.  From vegetarian to paleo and everything in between.  Over the past two years, I’ve drastically improved my health through dietary changes alone.  Now, we eat a modified paleo diet…. no grains (except some rice), only natural sweeteners (like honey), and lots of veggies, good meats and fats.  More on that another time.

What’s your go to lunch if you don’t make it yourself?