Home-made crab sauce adds bite to Lao meals
My mouth began to water as soon as I smelled the crab sauce when its maker slowly opened a jar for potential customers to sample.
Some people couldn't help themselves and shouted with delight, saying it smelled great and tasted every bit as good when they put just a small amount on their tongue. Some were so impressed they immediately bought a jar.
The satisfied maker of the sauce, Ms Manivone Chanthavong, was very pleased to see people standing in line to sample her product and when they had done so shaking their heads in amazement and raising their thumbs to show their approval.
Ms Manivone Chanthavong.
Fortunately this reporter was on the spot and enquired as to the origins of this fine condiment. Ms Manivone, from Namonmai village in Kasy district, Vientiane province, was happy to oblige.
Crab sauce is not something that has been made for just one day, one week or even one year. It has been prepared and enjoyed by her family for over 100 years, with the recipe handed down from generation to generation.
It is her good luck to have been born into a family that knew how to make this very special product.
The sauce can be stored and eaten all year round. As well as appearing on the table at every meal, it is a main ingredient that adds extra flavour to papaya salad, arguably the most popular dish in Laos. People usually exclaim ‘Delicious!' whenever Ms Manivone includes the sauce in the papaya salad she makes.
Finally she decided it was good enough to make on a commercial basis and stared making it in small amounts to provide to markets. It very quickly proved to be a best seller, including among vendors selling papaya salad by the roadside and using crab sauce as an ingredient.
How to hunt for crabs
Crabs are plentiful in ricefields in the wet season when their normal habitat gets flooded with rain, and make easy prey for patient hunters.
If the crabs are not driven out of the ground by heavy rain, another way to catch them is to trample on the ridges of earth in ricefields. You will see crabs emerge from the soil and you should immediately close up the entry to the hole and try to catch them. As well as catching crabs to grill and eat, Ms Manivone's parents also used them to make a tasty sauce.
But as a child she was nipped by a crab and the wound she suffered made her afraid of crabs for some years. To avoid a similar fate, you are advised to insert a small nail to lock the claws in place. Since Ms Manivone has been making crab sauce commercially, people living near her have been earning extra money by catching crabs and selling them to her.
How make crab sauce
To help others profit the same as she has done, Ms Manivone is ha ppy to explain the method for making crab sauce. She is careful to explain that cleanliness throughout the process is essential, including cleaning the crabs and the pestle used to crush the crabs before they are bottled. The main flavouring ingredients are citronella leaves and salt. The crabs must be boiled overnight to ensure the sauce will last for three years without the addition of preservatives, and to produce the right flavour.
Her product has been approved by the Food and Drug Department of the Ministry of Health.
Recently, the Vientiane provincial Industry and Commerce Department certified the condiment as a One District, One Product item, which has helped to boost sales.
The sauce is sold in three sizes of container – small, medium and large. A small jar costs 30,000 kip, the medium size costs 70,000 kip, and the large one costs 140,000 kip.
Today, Ms Manivone's crab sauce is well known in Vientiane province and she is now looking for other markets in the capital.
She is also discovering new ways to eat crab sauce. Normally, it is added to enhance the flavour of papaya salad. But Ms Manivone suggests that people try eating it with sticky rice and boiled fresh bamboo shoots.
“If people try this, they will find it's so good they won't want to stop eating even if someone attempts to pull their ears out,” she declared.
By Xayxana Leukai
(Latest Update March 18, 2017)