In Laos food takes on a central role and is always a joyous family occasion. Local people enjoy fresh vegetables and herbs, for this reason they appear in almost every Lao meal.
One of the wonderful features of the Lao diet is the almost complete absence of processed foods. You can either enjoy an authentic Lao meal (khao niew or sticky rice is a staple) in many of the restaurants or spend the morning learning how to cook scrumptious Lao dishes for your lunch.
In Laos, food is traditionally eaten with sticky rice by hand. In the countryside, people sit on the floor, sharing a variety of dishes. Traditionally food is dry with a spicy kick to it. Fish, buffalo meat, pork, poultry and especially herbs are expertly arranged to be the stars of the show. Other than sticky rice, which can be either sweet, sour or fermented, Laotian food is very rich in vegetables and is often browned in coconut oil.
Our Top 10 dishes that you absolutely shouldn’t miss are:
Khaipen (Fried Seaweed) with Jaew Bong
Kaipen is a popular snack made of freshwater green algae, peppered with sesame seeds and sundried into paper-thin sheets. These raw Kaipen are stored away in rolls. For consumption, the Kaipen sheets are flash-fried in a pan and usually served with jaew bong (chilli paste).
Khao Piak Sen
Khao Piak Sen is a rice noodle soup that is very traditional. You can find it in almost all the shops, sidewalk stalls or carts and is the perfect meal to set you up for the day. Khao Piak comes in two styles, a pork or chicken broth. It’s served with a sticky white noodle that comes in regular or thick size.
Khao Poon (Rice Vermicelli Soup)
Lao noodle soup, is a simmered chili-and-meat-based soup (e.g. fish, pork, chicken). The soup is ladled on the cooked rice vermicelli and a bed of chopped up vegetables such as shallots, spring onion, coriander, mint leaves and string beans. Add fish sauce to taste and enjoy.
Khao Poon Nam Pa
Vientiane has Khao Piak for breakfast. In Pakse, they have Khao Poon Nam Pa for breakfast. In the morning, visit the docks where long boats or small barges ferry people and merchants across the Mekong River, bringing fresh vegetables to the market every day. There you’re sure to find at least one mobile stand where people are crowded around in silence because they’re busy indulging in their noodles
Also known as ‘sai oua’, Lao sausage makes a pleasant appetizer or snack. Chopped pork meat, seasoned with herbs such as lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves, shallots, cilantro, galangal and flavored with fish sauce. This dish is excellent with sticky rice and fresh vegetables.
Laap is a traditional dish made from chopped meat, chicken or duck and is a favorite among Laotians. The finely chopped spicy meat broth is mixed with uncooked rice grains that have been dry fried and crushed. Laap is eaten with a plate of raw vegetables and sticky rice.
Tam Mak Houng (Papaya salad)
Papaya salad is a type of salad made from sliced raw papaya, garlic, chilli, peanuts, sugar, fermented fish sauce and lime juice. This one is sure to pack a punch so approach carefully.
Or Lam (Lao Stew)
Originating from Luang Prabang, this tasty stew is comprised of mainly vegetables. Beans, eggplant, lemongrass, basil, chilies, woodear mushrooms, cilantro, green onion and locally grown vine called ‘sa kaan’ go into the dish, with optional meat (classically prepared water buffalo meat).
Sin Savanh (Lao Beef Jerky)
Sundried beef strips go great with a local lager or simply as a snack. Made from beef flank steak (sometimes water buffalo meat is used), marinated in a mixture of garlic, fish sauce, ginger, sesame seed, sugar, salt and black pepper.
The strips are then left to dry in sunlight, then deep fried until lightly crispy and served with sticky rice or jaew maak len (tomato-based chili dip).
Ping Kai (Grilled Chicken)
A whole chicken is marinated in black pepper, garlic, coriander root, fish sauce and salt and is then cooked over hot coals. You may try it with sticky rice and sometimes with raw vegetables in Luang Prabang.