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Sticky rice is so ingrained in Laos' culinary heritage that most Laotians don't think about it in isolation. (Ashley Szczesiak)

A Taste of Sticky Rice, Laos’ National Dish

One cannot travel to the Southeast Asian country without many meals of sticky rice, the versatile staple of Laotian cuisine

The threat of hunger didn’t diminish their hospitality. As stars replaced the sun in a cloudless sky, the farmers invited us into a stilt house and served us spicy jeow, pickled bamboo shoots, fresh chicken soup and steaming hunks of khao niaw. I handled my sticky rice carefully, conscious of how much elbow grease had gone into each grain. We ate and chatted, and ate some more, until about 8 p.m.. Afterward we were so full that we went directly to bed.

Lying under a mosquito net in the head villager’s drafty stilt house, I listened for sounds of evening activity. Silence. The farmers were sleeping, and for good reason: There was more sticky rice to harvest, starting at daybreak.

Mike Ives is a freelance writer based in Hanoi, Vietnam.

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