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  • Writer's pictureEric

The one about the buffalo in Laos

Winston Churchill famously said in November 1942: “Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.”

The experts are saying: Tourism? It could take 2 years or more until it STARTS recovering.

I say: “Today we are closer to the end than we were yesterday.” (I like to make meaningless, optimistic, grand statements that are irrefutable).

Whatever view you take of the current situation, we all wonder how life will look the day after.

Ver veyst – who knows? But different. It’s already changing.

To quote the Conde Nast Traveller:

With much of the world on lockdown, the planet seems to be healing. Air quality is improving across the globe, including in Italy, the United Kingdom, China and India, and polluted rivers appear cleaner. At the same time, wild animals seem to be reclaiming lost territory, venturing into areas usually off-limits to them. From Wales and Chile to Japan and Mumbai—various species are taking advantage of the unfamiliar quiet and having some fun of their own.

I’m sure most, if not all, of you have received this piece recently in one of the many languages in which it appeared:

We fell asleep in one world, and woke up in another.

Suddenly Disney is out of magic, Paris is no longer romantic, New York does sleep, the Chinese wall is no longer a fortress, and Mecca is empty.

Hugs & kisses suddenly become weapons, and not visiting parents & friends becomes an act of love.

Suddenly you realize that power, beauty & money are worthless, and can't get you the oxygen you're fighting for.

The world continues its life and it is beautiful. It only puts humans in cages. I think it's sending us a message:

"You are not necessary. The air, earth, water and sky without you are fine. When you come back, remember that you are my guests. Not my masters."

There is good news in there.

We WILL come back, “when” not “if”. It could take a loooong time, maybe years.

Our business, and even the entire tourism industry, may not survive, but … the planet WILL survive.

Everything the Creator created will be there: the oceans, the rivers, the waterfalls and the lakes, blue (even very blue) skies, mountains, hills, cows and sheep, the sun, the moon and the stars.

And in Laos, there will be buffalo!! Excuse me… Yes, BUFFALO!

As part of our keeping in touch, we’re sharing with you more secrets of Naomi Boutique Kosher Tours. By the time you’re ready to get back on a plane for fun, we may or may not be able to take you around. However, we will help you run your own tours, starting now. We’ll show you how best to appreciate the wonders of Creation, the NBKT way.

So here’s a story… about Laos and buffalo. For those who like to know the Halachic angle of everything, it’s also the story about Laos and the kashrut issue regarding buffalo.

In an earlier blog we explained that when we decide to visit a new country there is a process. Our many trips to Vietnam and Cambodia had already become a classic. We love(d) that tour and had many requests to extend to other countries in the region. The obvious candidates are Thailand and Laos. Thailand is quite easy for kosher solo travelers to tour and we had visited many times. We felt it was time to explore.

So Laos it was.

The plan was to visit by ourselves, alone, to do the research after one of our Nam-Cam tours.

In the end we were thrilled to have a Melbourne couple from the Nam-Cam tour continue with us to Laos for the adventure. We decided that Luang Prabang, as opposed to the capital Vientiane, was the right place to be based for our 3-4 day foray. A hotel was found that agreed to meet our SKN (Special Kosher Needs). The monuments were all there in every tour itinerary.

But what about the fun stuff? No problem – plenty to do, eg the Elephant Sanctuary…

And how about some unique gastronomic experience??

We don’t always find these, but we often do: there are churros in Spain (not all: you have been warned), there's limoncello in Southern Italy (not all: you have been warned), there's incredible bread in Altamura, Puglia and there's extra virgin olive oil … everywhere; there's ouzo in Greece (not all: you have been warned), there's sake in Japan (not all: you have been warned) When you come on the tours we’ll tell you how to find the kosher versions of local delicacies, where they exist.

We searched and looked in all the usual places for ideas. And there it was: a buffalo dairy farm, started by two Western couples who’d had enough of the rat-race in Singapore and decided to spend their resources and their time making the world a better place.

The “overviews” we read described a tour of the farm, an explanation of the concept, the co-operation of the Lao authorities with their venture… and the possibility of tasting buffalo dairy products. Looked very promising!!

So for the halachically curious, water buffalo are similar to the American bison. They are the source of the milk for real mozzarella cheese and are quite beautiful beasts. But that is the problem. Here’s the algorithm.

Are they beasts (חיות) or cattle (בהמה)? Beasts are not kosher. If they are cattle are they kosher (ie cloven hoof and cud-chewing)? If they are kosher, do we have a tradition of Shechitah? If they are kosher but have no tradition of Shechitah, can we use their milk? (You can research this yourselves but basically in 2006 Rav Amar gave the Psak that they are kosher with a tradition. Good enough for Naomi BK Tours!!)

So we decided to give them a call. I explained our interest to the local-sounding lady who answered and she informed me that there were two bosses – the farmer, Susie, and the chef, Rachel.

I guess it took a nano-second to decide which of these two ladies to speak to: Susie is a wonderful name and I know a lot of Susies. Rachel sounded like it could give me a story…. this one!! And, yes, Rachel (pictured on right) is indeed an MoT (Member of the Tribe) from the good old USA, Jewish through and through, as are her two children.

She GOT it immediately!! We were there the next day. She showed us the ice-cream production and yes, unbelievably, all the imported technical products she uses to make her ice cream proudly bear the OU Hechsher. And the flavours – all picked straight from the ground in the farm. H.E.A.V.E.N.

We were SO excited. The evening before we had met the Glitzensteins, the lovely young Chabad couple who had just opened shop in Luang Prabang. The Rebbetzen was about to give birth to their first child. Knowing how makpid the Chabad Shluchim are about Chalav Israel we couldn’t wait to tell them that less than a half hour drive from their home was absolutely 100% Chalav Israel being produced every day. What better news for new parents!!

The Shidduch was made and Rachel and her kids met the Rabbi. The Rabbi later reported to us two things: first, Chabad Minhag doesn’t allow using water-buffalo milk (although for everyone else it’s fine and it can even be Chalav Israel if Rachel is there). Second, Rachel has become one of the active members of the Luang Prabang Kehilla.

The Kehilla of LP numbers about 15 Jews living permanently in the area. Don't rely on there being a minyan!!

As to eating kosher in Laos, the resourcefulness of the hotel people was fantastic.

Within 10 minutes of our arriving and explaining how we would ask them to co-operate with us, the staff had built us a spit from bamboo branches and suspended it over a fire pit designed for keeping guests warm in the evening.

It was PERFECT to grill some delicious fish. A little garlic, salt, pepper, fresh herbs and olive oil…. I think I can smell it now.

But perhaps what I can smell are the incredible aromas coming from the kitchen of our home here in Jerusalem where Naomi has just come back from shopping and is preparing the Seudat Chag.

You’ll notice that the item we produced in Vietnam to protect our guests as they wove in and out of the Hanoi traffic, each on their own motor-scooter, has come in extremely useful these past days.

May the Creator see fit to send full recovery to all those who are ill and may the terrible price that has already been paid be sufficient to merit those of us who remain a long healthy life, filled with the desire to be better-behaved guests on the earth.

השמים שמים לה' והארץ נתן לבני אדם

Please can we have it back

Chag Sameach

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