Looking back at all the countries I visited during my 5 months of travel, Laos was the country I knew the least about. Having never tried Laos cuisine, or even come across it, I had no idea what to expect food-wise, but was keen to find out. I guessed that there would, of course, be tastes influenced by its neighbouring countries in South East Asia, but Lao food is actually quite distinctive.
One of the biggest misconceptions about Laos food is that it is similar to neighbouring Thailand’s cuisine. Dishes such as sticky rice, papaya salad and grilled chicken are seen as being Thai, but were actually derived from Lao cooking (parts of Northern Thailand used to be part of Laos). Certain dishes in tourist-focussed establishments offering Lao green curry or Lao fried rice, are also misleading, as these are not seen as authentic Lao dishes.
The biggest revelation for me was just how central a role sticky rice plays in Laos cuisine. Sticky rice is actually the staple, influencing a lot of traditional Laos dishes. The way in which food is eaten is also important, with sticky rice eaten with fingers and dishes shared across the table. To minimise the chances of rice dropping into dishes, and to keep fingers clean, Lao food tends to be less liquid / soup-like in consistency.
Sticky rice also plays a big role in Laos desserts, as do coconuts and tamarind.
Surprisingly, differing from my experiences in the rest of SE Asia, I found Laos street food to be ok at best, preferring to eat instead at proper, authentic Laos restaurants.
I wasn’t, for instance, interested in these super cheap buffets on offer in the Luang Prabang market.
But I will say that this slightly spicy chicken noodle soup I got at a nearby stall filled with locals was not bad.
French influences are also evident in the form of crepes and baguettes, great when accompanied with a strong cup of coffee in the morning.
Some of the best food I had in Laos came from a grill. And that’s not to mention the added benefit of being able to see the food cooked in front of you.
This here was one of the best dishes I ate in all of Laos. Simple, but ridiculously tasty.
And finally, the one dish you will need to eat at least once, when visiting Laos is laap. I tried the fish laap in Vang Vieng and found it to be light, fresh and delicious. If you like your meat, there’s also chicken, pork, beef, buffalo and duck.
Ever tried Laos food? What did you think?