While Laotion food is generally overlooked compared to its neighboring culinary giants, Thailand and Vietnam, a lot of common thai dishes actually originate from Laos. Dishes like sticky rice, laab, and papaya salad, are all identified as Thai dishes but have actually originated in Laos. As parts of Northern Thailand was once a part of Laos, the food here is very similar but of course made with different variations. Like in most parts of Asia, food plays a large part of the culture. I promise you there is no better way to get to know the local culture than by sipping on a hot pipping bowl of noodle soup as you take in the sights and sounds around you. While the food is highly underrated, here are a few dishes that you NEED to try during your trip to Laos.
Khao Jee Sandwich
Similar to Vietnam’s Bahn Mi sandwiches, the Khao Jee sandwich is a French baguette filled with lettuce, carrots, tomatoes then filled with luncheon meat, chopped ham, pate and a chili garlic sauce. This quick and delicious snack is sold by almost every street vendor in Laos and is readily available everywhere.
Laab (Minced Meat Salad)
This dish, although popular in Thailand’s Isaan region originated in Laos. This stirfried minced meat dish is cooked with shallots, lots of chillies, fish sauce, lemon juice, and ground rice. Various aromatics like mint and coriander are also added to this spicy and falvorful dish. Best eaten with sticky rice, you often get different variations of this as they often use chicken, beef, duck, fish, or pork. The locals like to eat a raw version of this dish while taking shots of the local whiskey. While we love the whole local experience, we don’t recommend eating raw meat while in Asia.
Tam Mak Hoong (Papaya Salad)
Similar to the Thai som tam salad, this refreshing salad is often served as a side dish to grilled meat. Unlike the Thai version, Tam Mak Hoong is made with fish sauce and shrimp paste along with lots of chillis, garlic, and tomatoes. The Laotian people often make this very spicy so it is best to eat it with some sticky rice to balance the spiciness.
Khao Niaw (Sticky Rice)
Rice is a staple in almost every meal in Laos and traditionally, it can be eaten at all times of the day. Served in a cone shaped woven basket, this is used as an accompaniment to almost every Laotian meal. One of the best yet simplest meals that we’ve had in Laos is sticky rice served with jeow which is a mixture of tomatoes, eggplant, chillis, and peanuts.
Mok Pa (Steamed fish in banana leaves)
Similar to the Cambodian Fish Amok, this delicious fish dish is cooked with lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves, fish sauce, and lots of chillies. It is then wrapped up then steamed until the fish is soft, buttery, and cooked beautifully. The difference between Mok Pa and Amok is the latter is cooked with coconut milk, nonetheless, the Laotian version is as good, if not even better.
Khao Piak Sen (Noodle Soup)
This Laotian staple can be found in almost every street corner is considered as a quick no brainer meal. SImilar to the Vietnamese Pho, Khao PIak Sen is a tasty bowl of flat rice noodles served with either beef, chicken, or pork and a handful of greens. If you want to enjoy it local style, you can have it with a few innards like liver, heart, and tongue. Various vegetables can be added to this such as bean sprouts, cilantro, beans, and of course, chillis.
Naem Khao Tod (Crispy Rice Salad)
This filling salad is made up of deep fried rice balls, peanuts, freshly grated coconut, dried chilli and large chunks of pork sausage. Traditionally, you eat Naem Kha Tod by getting large pieces of lettuce and filling it with the rice mixture. The textures of this dish is pretty incredible as you have a large variety of flavors and ingredients.
This smokey sausage is popular in Luang Prabang but can be found almost anywhere in Laos. Made from chopped pork, seasoned with ginger, fish sauce, lemongrass, kaffir lime, and lots of garlic. This is then strung up, dried, and sold in the markets. This is definitely very local and is worth trying as a quick snack.
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Similarly, Laotian cuisine serves a beef jerky inspired meal which is made up of small bites of beef marinated in soy sauce, garlic, pepper, sugar, and oyster sauce. This is then dried in the roadside then grilled quickly to add the smoky beef jerky flavor. Sold is loads of street vendors for long buses or as a midday snack, this is definitely a great way to sample the local cuisine. Locals like to dip it in a spicy tomato chilli sauce and a bit of sticky rice.
Bia Lao (beer)
While this does not exactly qualify as a dish, this is still a staple in almost every meal in Laos. I have fond memories of referring to it as “liquid bread” during my travels to Laos as the sheer size of the beer is enough to fill you up. If you want a real local experience, pop open a beer Lao, get a few glasses with ice and invite a local to share it with you.