Kaipen – Laos crispy river weed
The weeds are washed and rinsed to remove dirt, then drained and dried. Women press it into sheets using a frame with mesh, similar to how one would hand make paper. The thin sheets are left out to dry on racks. The seasoning is what turns what looks like shaved Grinch into something edible. Sheets of dry Kaipen can be found at every market, and many cafes offer fried Kaipen. It is usually served with jeow bong, a paste of roasted chili and fried buffalo skin.
How to make it
Kaipen is produced in the city of Luang Prabang in Northern Central Laos. During the hot dry summer months, when the river level is at its lowest, the green algae, called kai, is gathered from the river bottom.
It is washed in the river and then hung to dry. After drying for a day, the kai is pounded and pressed into thin sheets along with vegetables which may include green onions, galangal, garlic and or tomato, and sprinkled with sesame seeds. It is rich in vitamins and minerals and tastes similar to nori, but is slightly more sweet, bitter, and aromatic. Kai can be eaten by itself or used to flavor other foods. Eating fried Kaipen while drinking a cold Beerlao would be optimal.