I’ve eaten my fair share of diet foods over the years (I tipped the scales at 275 pounds at one point) but by far the worst was rice cakes. Hoping to make them more palatable, I envisioned a svelte, sexy body each time I chomped into one but they always just tasted like cardboard. Rice cakes are not fit for human consumption; I’m not even sure they should be fed to hogs. So when I happened upon racks of rice cakes drying in the sun on the banks of the Nam Khan River in Luang Prabang, Laos I wasn’t the least interested in sampling the goods, but I was intrigued.
Across the street I spotted additional racks leaning against a dilapidated wood fence surrounding a tin-roofed open air compound. Curious, I stepped inside the dark enclosure. In one corner, steam billowed from wicker baskets set on giant cookers, turning the pseudo-factory into a sauna. A few feet away, a woman scooped golden rice cakes out of sizzling oil and dumped them in jumbo wicker baskets to drain. Behind me, baskets of cooked rice waited to be formed into cakes and two women squatted on their haunches, wrapping the finished product in acetate.
I was nonchalantly eavesdropping as a local tour guide explained the process to his clients when one of the tourists offered me a sample. I accepted only to be polite, took a bite, and then another; it was the most scrumptious rice cake I’d ever tasted. Light and crispy, each delicious bite melted in my mouth! For the next week I binged on the gourmet snacks and stuffed every square inch of extra space in my backpack and duffel with rice cakes when I left Luang Prabang. They were soon gone and I went into withdrawal. Golden temples aside, I’d go back just for the rice cakes.