Khao lam ($5) — the Thai name for a food also found in Laos and Cambodia — consists of sections of bamboo stuffed with sticky rice. The rice, which can be white or purple, is sweetened with sugar and coconut milk, and sometimes supplemented by the likes of red beans and coconut flakes. The stuffed khao lam are then baked or, in this case, grilled.
On making a sale, the vendor will notch one end of the bamboo with a hatchetlike implement. At leisure, the customer can then pull free a strip or two with the fingers — the bamboo splits cleanly along its length — and use those same fingers to dig into the rice. Although the exposed end of the rice is crusty from heat and the bamboo may smell of the grill for hours afterward, the bulk of the khao lam is no more firm than the usual sticky rice. Owing to the coconut milk and sugar, however, it is more filling. Have a few bites and save some for later, or hand it off to a friend.
Also shown: dried fish; spit-roasted pig; larb, sausage, jerky, and fish; the Merrimack River and Pawtucket Falls, seen from the School Street Bridge. From this vantage, in person, one could just make out the festival at the center of the horizon line; it's much larger and livelier up close.
Southeast Asian Water Festival
Beside the Merrimack River, Lowell, Massachusetts
(The 2012 festival was held August 18)