The Farang Roll
Across Southeast Asian traveler haunts, the ubiquity of culinary offerings promising a taste of “home”- banana pancakes, the Israeli shakshuka, and the like – can be both comforting and repelling. While in Northern Laos, my girlfriend and I pondered just how these dishes take root into local hospitality: no doubt originating from a backpacker who teaches a guesthouse owner, who then replicates the recipe to immediate popularity, and the dish spreads like a grease fire to guesthouses across the region.
In Muang Ngoi, a quaint, vehicle-free fishing village along the Nam Ou river, we decided to leave our culinary legacy. We gathered some fresh, local ingredients – sweet sticky rice, bananas, peanuts, sesame seeds, and honey – and created a rather novel spin on a familiar dish: a dessert sushi, which we gave a self-effacing name, “farang roll” (after the Lao word for “foreigner”). We celebrated the result; the proprietors however, unaccustomed to the taste of this combination of local ingredients, didn’t share our enthusiasm. Nevertheless, they asked us to add it to their menu, price it, and we went along our way.
More than two years later, I’ve read online travelogues posted by backpackers describing the popularity of our dish ï¿½ one traveler tells the lore of “some farang who stayed for weeks” (it was only a couple days, actually) and concocted this top-selling and most expensive ($1.20) of local menu items. To this, I derive great satisfaction – and a good laugh. I expect the “farang roll” to start popping up in Malaysian guesthouses sometime next year – keep an eye out for it.