What’s spicy, eaten with your hands, and usually involves a shot of Hennessy? The answer is Laotian cuisine, which is often billed as Thai food in the United States due to lack of awareness. But the traditional dishes of Laos deserve to be recognized by name; the varied cuisine from Mainland Southeast Asia includes fish jerky (pa-haeng) and smashed papaya salad, and lends itself well to celebratory dining.
This week on Cooking in America, host Pelin Keskin visits Khe-Yo, one of New York City’s first Laotian restaurants, to celebrate Pii Mai, or Lao New Year. Executive chef Soulayphet Schwader and his mother — who is skilled in the arts of New Year’s blessings (called su-kwan) and drinking cognac straight — educate Keskin about the traditions surrounding the annual event, and treat her to some Laotian staples. Watch the video above for a look into the ceremony of Lao New Year, and for a crash course on sticky rice and red hot "bang bang" sauce.