Travel, Where to Eat

Travel Guide: Luang Prabang, Laos – Where to Eat?

Now that you know where to stay and what to do while visiting Luang Prabang, Laos, only one thing remains: where (and what) should you eat?

Travel, Where to Eat

Photo: Chritiques at 3 Nagas Restaurant, Luang Prabang, Laos

Lao cooking is based on the consumption of sticky rice as a staple. Deftly rolled into a neat, small ball, sticky rice is served with almost every meal, and is eaten with the hand. Other essential ingredients include kha, or galagal – a ginger-like rhizome with a peppery flavor, also found in northern-Thailand curries, as well as nam paa, or fish sauce. Dishes are generally cooked with fresh ingredients that include vegetables, poultry, pork, beef and water buffalo. Eating is communal and an important social occasion, and all dishes are eaten at the same time, with food made in quantities sufficient for having twice the number of diners.

Travel, Where to Eat

Photo: Chritiques at 3 Nagas Restaurant and Ice Cream Parlor, Luang Prabang, Laos

Popular Lao dishes include tam som – a spicy salad made of sliced green papaya mixed with chili peppers, garlic, tomatoes, ground peanuts, crab, lime juice and fish sauce. Other popular items include laap, a spicy dish of minced meat, as well as tom khaa kai – chicken soup with galangal and coconut milk, and khao laat kaen, or curry, served on a bed of long-grain rice.

Travel, Where to Eat

Photo: Chritiques at a French Bakery in Luang Prabang, Laos

Laos is an excellent place for breakfast, chiefly because of the French colonial legacy. French bread is freshly baked each day, and good coffee, grown in the hills of southern Laos, is also available. A day started with croissants and omelets is a good day, indeed.

Travel, Where to Eat

Photo: Chritiques at 3 Nagas Restaurant for Breakfast

We were lucky to stay in a hotel, 3 Nagas, that houses one of the best restaurants in Luang Prabang. 3 Nagas Restaurant highlights what is local and fresh that day, from water buffalo meat to Mekong River fish, to mushrooms grown along the riverbanks. The food, service and setting at 3 Nagas Restaurant is exquisite.

Travel, Asia

Photo: 3 Nagas Restaurant in Luang Prabang, Laos

We started with the Signature Cocktail – Tom Yum Luang Prabang – which was spicy, sweet, refreshing and perfect. This was followed by Khaiphaen Jeund – Mekong riverweed which is evocative of a tasty sesame-dusted dried seaweed, and quite possibly the best replacement for potato chips, along with delicate and light fresh summer rolls filled with a heaping amount of vegetables. One of the best bites of the evening was the Mee Gouy Phan – eggplant purée wrapped with fresh rice noodles & vegetables.

Travel, Where to Eat

Photo: Chritiques at 3 Nagas Restaurant in Luang Prabang, Laos

The communal style of Lao dining was evident when we were served four different dishes: Tom Sompaa – fish soup with lemongrass and galangal; Phanaeng Kai – minced chicken cooked in coconut milk & curry; Khoua Pak – stir-fried vegetables and mushrooms with oyster sauce; and and most delectable steamed mushrooms in banana leaf with lemongrass and Lao herbs, also known as Mhok Het.

Travel, Where to Eat

Photo: Chritiques at 3 Nagas Restaurant in Luang Prabang, Laos

We completed our meal with not one but two fantastic desserts: tapioca in coconut milk with seasonal fruit, and an incredibly refreshing rosella sorbet, made in-house.

Travel, Where to Eat

Photo: Chritiques at 3 Nagas Restaurant in Luang Prabang, Laos

3 Nagas also houses the former Royal Family’s official ice cream parlor, which has been reimagined and continues to beckon hotel guests and passers-by to enjoy incredible homemade ice cream. I recommend coconut.

Travel, Where to Eat

Photo: Chritiques at 3 Nagas Restaurant and Ice Cream Parlor, Luang Prabang, Laos

For fantastic baguettes, salads, sandwiches and croissants, stop in at the lovely Le Banneton, a French bakery located just steps from 3 Nagas Hotel. We shared a delicious smoked salmon tartine, served on a freshly baked baguette, and a Mediterranean salad. Luckily, I also grabbed an almond croissant to go, which served as the perfect breakfast treat the following day.

Travel, Where to Eat

Photo: Chritiques at Le Banneton, Luang Prabang, Laos

Finally, the real treat to look out for is the excellent and cheap local product, Beer Lao, which we enjoyed during our cruise along the Mekong River.

Beer Lao, Travel

Photo: Chritiques in Luang Prabang, Laos

While the food in Laos is similar to its Thai and Vietnamese neighbors, Lao cooking still exhibits its own unique characteristics, and reflects French influences, making all Lao dishes flavorful, local, seasonal, healthy and delicious.

Tastefully,

Christina

Laos, What to Do, Travel

Travel Guide: Luang Prabang, Laos – What To Do?

Now that you have the perfect place to stay while visiting Luang Prabang, Laos, what will you do while you are there? A host of varying activities, that is for sure. From the relaxing to the adventurous, Luang Prabang offers something for everyone.

Travel, Southeast Asia

Photo: Chritiques at Le Spa at Sofitel, Luang Prabang, Laos

No visit to Southeast Asia is complete without a visit to a spa – or multiple visits – for an incredible massage. Unlike in the States, the opportunity for affordable, quality massages and spa treatments are endless, and, after days of sightseeing, carrying luggage, and hopping on and off planes, we were ready to get pampered.

Laos, What to Do, Travel

Photo: Le Spa at Sofitel Luang Prabang

As a benefit of staying at 3 Nagas, we were able to visit Le Spa  at the Sofitel Luang Prabang for 50% off. $25.00 US for an hour long massage? Yes, please! While this is still more than double the price you would pay at the many options you will find throughout Southeast Asia, private robes, showers, rooms and quality of service set it apart from the rest. Enjoying one of the best massages I have ever experienced, anywhere, it was definitely worth the “splurge.”

Travel, Cafe

Photo: Chritiques in Luang Prabang, Laos

Now that you are relaxed and rested, it is time to see the sights. Luang Prabang is one of the most intriguing, magical and romantic cities in Asia. Added to UNESCO’s World Heritage List in 1995, the city is filled with fine old temples, and its quiet streets are lined with handsome colonial buildings. Getting around Luang Prabang is quite easy on foot or on bicycle, so take some time to stroll the main streets around town, stop in the local shops, and dine in the lovely cafes. The air conditioning will be a great break from the heat, and you may just find the perfect souvenir to bring home.

French Cafe, Travel

Photo: Chritiques in Luang Prabang, Laos

Close to the tip of the peninsula, on the banks of the Mekong, is Luang Prabang’s most renowned temple, Wat Xieng Thong, or Golden City Monastery. Built in 1560, the temple epitomizes classic Luang Prabang style, and combine gold and deep red that gives it a regal atmosphere.

Travel, Things to Do

Photo: Chritiques at Wat Xieng Thong, Luang Prabang, Laos

Also in the compound are various monks’ quarters, a boat shelter, and a building housing the royal funeral carriage.

Travel, What to Do

Photo: Chritiques at Wat Xieng Thong, Luang Prabang, Laos

A cruise along the mighty Mekong River is not to be missed. The importance of this river to the Lao people and their country should not be underestimated. In addition to depositing fertile alluvial silt, the river is a major artery of trade and travel and source of fish, and the main populations of the country is located along the Mekong.  While transport infrastructure in Laos has improved, the river remains a practical means of moving goods and people effectively and efficiently. It also provides a perfect view of the beautiful countryside and a taste of the daily life of Lao fisherman and children playing along the banks of the river.

Mekong River, Travel

Photo: Chritiques in Luang Prabang, Laos

From river to mountain, Mount Phu Si is a rocky 330 foot tall hill that dominates the center of Luang Prabang and provides the most magnificent views across the ancient city. Best at sunset, the steep hike up the 328 winding steps is worth it for the view of the Mekong and Nam Khan rivers encircling the historic UNESCO-protected peninsula that lies at the heart of old Luang Prabang.

Travel, What to Do

Photo: Chritiques at Mount Phu Si, Luang Prabang, Laos

Perhaps the most remarkable site to be seen in Luang Prabang is the early morning sai baat, when devout citizens gather at dawn to greet lines of saffron-clad and barefoot monks receiving their alms. Lines of as many as 400 monks make their way around the narrow streets on a daily basis, collecting mostly sticky rice and sweets, which will comprise their one daily meal.

Travel, What to Do

Photo: Chritiques during Alms Ceremony, Luang Prabang, Laos

If you are lucky enough to visit Luang Prabang during its dryer seasons, take a walk along the  bamboo bridge that stretches along the Nam Khan River. The bridge is removed during rainy season, as the tides become too high to safely cross, and is then again rebuilt once the tides recede. Remarkably, the bridge is quite sturdy, and makes a visit to the villages across the river an easy task.

Travel, What to Do

Photo: Chritiques on the Bamboo Bridge in Luang Prabang, Laos

Finally, several waterfalls are in the vicinity of Luang Prabang, allowing for a half-day excursion. Kuang Si Waterfalls are about 20 miles south of town, and are multi-tiered falls with limestone formations and crystal-clear pools, worthy of a refreshing swim.

Travel, What to Do

Photo: Chritiques at Kuang Si Waterfalls, Luang Prabang, Laos

Our three days in Luang Prabang were not nearly enough, but allowed a good taste of the culture and plethora of activities available to visitors. Even with the endless array of options, sitting at a streetside cafe and soaking in the people and the place is the best activity of all.

Tastefully,

Christina

Southeast Asia, Travel

Travel Guide: Luang Prabang, Laos – Where to Stay?

Laos – the tiny, land-locked and least touristy Southeastern Asian country – first made it onto my radar after watching an episode of Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations back in 2008. A visit to Laos is, in may ways, a trip back into the past. Although it opened up to tourism in the past decade, there is still little of the rampant commercialism and vibrant entertainment industry which characterizes nearby Thailand and Vietnam.

Travel, Southeast Asia

Photo: Chritiques in Luang Prabang, Laos

Laos is also set apart from its more popular neighbors by the French influences seen in its architecture and food, due to French colonization in the 1800’s, which lasted well into the 1900s. French colonial design elements, excellent coffee, and fresh baguettes and croissants can be found throughout Laos, and especially in the city we visited, Luang Prabang, the ancient capital of Luang Prabang Province in northern Laos, which lies in a valley at the confluence of the Mekong and Nam Khan rivers.

Southeast Asia, Travel

Photo: Chritiques at 3 Nagas Hotel, Luang Prabang, Laos

When looking for place to stay in Luang Prabang, we wanted somewhere that evoked this rich history and cultural influence. The 3 Nagas Luang Prabang combines French architecture and Lao design, which come together to create an elegant, timeless boutique hotel. With just 15 spacious and well-appointed rooms, 3 Nagas is situated in three beautiful buildings, all built over 100 years ago, perfectly restored, and which are a part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Travel, Hotel

Photo: 3 Nagas Luang Prabang, Laos

3 Nagas, which is an M Gallery by Sofitel hotel, is perfectly situated to explore the city’s main sites by foot, or by bicycle, including lovely street markets and boutique shopping, intricately designed temples and cultural sites of the historic district, as well as for a lovely cruise down the Mekong River, in addition to day trips to nearby spots, including the Kuang Si Waterfalls.

Hotel, Travel

Photo: 3 Nagas, My Gallery by Sofitel, Luang Prabang, Laos

Each guest room and suite at 3 Nagas is unique, and are all beautifully furnished with dark, exotic wood, featuring authentic Lao decor and French colonial furnishings. Spacious balconies afford perfect views of the early morning Alms ceremony, one of the most sacred Lao traditions wherein monks collect rice, fresh fruit and traditional sweet snacks from the locals which are enjoyed during each monk’s one meal of the day.

Alms Ceremony, Travel

Photo: Chritiques at 3 Nagas Hotel, Luang Prabang, Laos

The charm of 3 Nagas is undeniable, and only made better by the exquisite service, one of the best restaurants in Luang Prabang, and plush amenities, which are shared with the nearby Sofitel Luang Prabang Hotel.

Travel, Southeast Asia

Photo: Chritiques at Le Spa at Sofitel, Luang Prabang, Laos

Airport transfers are also available on request, and include an air conditioned, comfortable vehicle, complete with WiFi, cold towels, chilled water, and delicious snacks.

Travel, 3 Nagas Hotel

Photo: Chritiques in Luang Prabang, Laos

Stay tuned for more about 3 Nagas Restaurant and the Spa at the Sofitel coming later this week, when I talk about what do do and where to eat during your visit to Luang Prabang.

For more about 3 Nagas Luang Prabang, please visit its website.

Tastefully,

Christina

Custom Song, Gift Idea

Songfinch Custom Songs – For Any Occasion!

When my Mom recently celebrated a milestone Birthday, I wanted to give her something unique – more of a story-worthy moment rather than a material item. Enter Songfinch.

Custom Song, Gift Idea

Photo: Songfinch

Songfinch is a Chicago-based company that brings stories, feelings and memories to life through one-of-a-kind, personalized songs. Songfinch has a community of songwriters and musicians who take your ideas and preferences, and write the lyrics and record the perfect song, all within 7 days. Best friend getting married? Have a sweet song written about all of your favorite memories. Want to propose in a special way? What about a custom song? Your favorite boss is retiring? Why not gift a song that makes him laugh and reflect? After reading about Songfinch and listening to some sample tunes, I knew this was the perfect unique gift for my Mom.

Custom Song, Gift Idea

Photo: Songfinch

My experience with Songfinch was smooth and effortless. I wanted to create a light-hearted yet meaningful song for my Mom that was would make her laugh with reminders of all the things she did to embarrass my sister and me growing up. The process starts with completing a fill-in-the-blank “Mad Libs” of sorts, followed by the opportunity to tell stories and describe the person to whom the song is directed. One has the option of a male or female artist, the mood of the song, as well as the type of genre – or you can leave these options to the songwriter to decide. The mood I chose was comical and lighthearted, and the songwriter controlled the rest.

Custom Song, Gift Idea

Photo: Songfinch

Once I submitted the easy-to-use online questionnaire, my custom song was delivered via email within 7 days, and the outcome was perfect! The songwriter picked up on all the little details provided, and created the perfect song that made my Mom both laugh and cry. She immediately wanted to share the song with her friends and family. The song, titled “Wine and Water,” plays off the point that sometimes we laugh so hard that wine or water comes out my Mom’s nose – sorry Mom!

Feel free to have a listen to or read the lyrics of the song written and recorded for my Mom. It is a pretty catchy tune!

Interested in having a personalized song written? Head to Songfinch and use the code CHRITIQUES25 for $25 off. It will be the most unique and meaningful gift anyone has ever received.

Tastefully,

Christina

While I received a complimentary product to facilitate this post, all opinions expressed herein are my own. 

River North, Mediterranean

Ēma River North

Working in the Loop, I am always looking for new lunch destinations – especially those located outside of the business district. Lately, I have been finding myself finding any excuse to make my way to Ēma in River North for its delicious Mediterranean-inspired cuisine and clean, minimalist decor, which always seems bright and sunny, despite the gloomiest of weather.

River North, Mediterranean

Photo: Ema

While dinner at Ēma focuses on shareable small-to-medium plates, the lunch menu focuses more on individual entrees – salads, sandwiches and kebabs. However, if sharing is your thing, plenty of spreads, mezze and large plates are available to share.

On any visit, a sampler of Ēma’s spreads must be ordered. All six of the options are flavorful and fantastic, but among my favorites are the Spicy Hummus, topped with marinated Fresno peppers and sweet roasted chilies, the Avocado & Sweet pea, with jalapeño, lime, cilantro and mint, and the Toasted Almond & Garlic, with Castelvetrano olives and fresh herbs. If nothing else, order at least one just to have the warm and addicting house bread – essentially the best pita bread ever tasted.

River North, Mediterranean

Photo: Chritiques at Ema

Of the salads, the Mediterranean Chopped is my favorite, especially when topped with the perfectly cooked grilled salmon or green falafel. Made with arugula, romaine, shaved cauliflower, capers, dates, Parmesan, olives and red peppers, the salad is sizable and filling, but will not put you in a coma when you return to your desk.

River North, Mediterranean

Photo: Ema

The Grilled Octopus is a must as a shared plate, appetizer, or side dish. Tender octopus is served with fried kale, fingerling potatoes, and topped with a zesty preserved lemon vinaigrette.

The Winter Squash Risotto is another perfect sharing plate. The current iteration includes Parmesan cheese, crispy sage, and a butternut squash vinaigrette. Naughty in the health department, but so nice in taste.

River North, Mediterranean

Photo: Ema

Other lunchtime favorites are any of the kebabs – chicken, lamb, beef and salmon are all available, and are served with rice and an Israeli vegetable salad.

River North, Mediterranean

Photo: Ema

If dessert is an option, do not pass up the Frozen Greek Yogurt. Smooth and creamy, and topped with a drizzle of California Olive Oil and a sprinkle of sea salt, it is a refreshing end to the meal and combines a perfect balance of sweet, salty and savory.

I hope that Ēma will eventually serve breakfast and brunch, but for now, lunch is offered Monday through Friday, and dinner is available seven days a week. Reservations are accepted, and encouraged, especially during the busy lunch and dinner hours.

Ēma

74 West Illinois Street, Chicago, Illinois 60654

Tastefully,

Christina