Interesting foods to try in Laos

Sebastien

The food in Laos is not very well known compared to its Thai, Chinese and Vietnamese neighbours.

Laotian cuisine has similarities with Thailand (such as the spicy papaya salad) and Vietnam (the noodle soups popular in Laos reminded us of Vietnamese Phos).

We set out to discover the more unique aspects of the Laotian cuisine and what we think are the best food to try in Laos.

Freshly made Laotian stuffed chicken in lemongrass
Showing off our freshly made Laotian stuffed chicken in lemongrass during our cooking course at Luang Prabang

#1 Best food 1: sticky rice (“khao niaow”)

Sticky rice is the staple accompaniment to all meals in Laos. It is made from glutinous rice, which has a higher sugar level than normal rice, hence its stickiness. Despite the name though, glutinous rice is gluten free so ideal for celiacs.

Sebastien discovering sticky rice in Vientiane, Laos
Sebastien discovering Laotian sticky rice which is served in small bamboo baskets called lao aep khao

The recipe for sticky rice involves steaming it and serving it in small bamboo baskets (called lao aep khao). Most traditional Laotian dishes were designed to accompany sticky rice so they can be eaten by hand, hence they are dry and served at room temperature.

Man eating sticky rice with fingers
Man eating sticky rice with his fingers during our boat ride from Luang Prabang to Pak Beng

To keep the fingers clean and prevent the rice dropping into communal food, Lao dishes do not have a liquid consistency. In contrast, Thai dishes are more soup like using coconut milk, so steamed rice is a more suitable accompaniment.

Black or purple sticky rice is a healthier rice grain and more commonly used for “khao gam” (purple sticky rice with coconut milk).

Purple sticky rice is popular food in Laos
Purple sticky rice (sometimes called black rice) is popular food in Laos as a desert with coconut milk

#2 Laap (minced meat salad)

Laap is the national dish of Laos. It is a salad with minced meat (or fish). Traditionally the meat is served raw, similar to the recipe for Peruvian ceviche whereby the meat/fish “cooks” in the lime juice.

Freshly made laap (minced meat salad)
Stefan and new friend showing off this tasty freshly made laap

Our favourite meat base for laap was buffalo because it is chewy with lots of flavour. Traditionally, the buffalo bile is used to tenderise the meat and add a slightly bitter flavour, but for our recipe for buffalo laap, we didn’t use bile.

Stefan with buffalo laap and sticky rice
Stefan showing off his freshly made buffalo laap and sticky rice

#3 Lam stew and spicy chilli wood

The “Or Lam” (also spelt/pronounced, aw lahm) is a stew from Luang Prabang and our favourite food in Laos. Or Lahm is a green vegetable based stew, composed with herbs and basic ingredients, like: chilli wood!

Stefan with tasty buffalo Or Lahm stew
Stefan with tasty buffalo Or Lahm stew in Luang Prabang

Yes, you read correctly! Scrapes of wood bark from the chilli tree are added to this delicious stew (and other dishes) to give it a smoky peppery flavour. Sichuan pepper can be used as an alternative.

Spiced wood used for cooking
Spiced wood sold at the local market in Luang Prabang

#4 Our favourite drinks in Laos

No food article about a country’s food is complete with mention of how we washed it all down. Despite being a country not well known internationally, Laos packs a punch when it comes to its drinks.

Beerlao

Beerlao is the national drink and surprisingly popular, considered by some (like Time Magazine and the Bangkok Post) as the best beer in Southeast Asia. We obviously *had* to give it a try.

Our Beerlao selfie
Our Beerlao selfie – trying out this highly regarded beer

Laotian coffee (kaa-feh)

Coffee was introduced to Laos by the French in the early 1900s and has become its largest agricultural export. A lot of the (good) coffee in Thailand is in fact imported from Laos.

Iced Laotian coffee from street stalls is a refreshing drink in the midday heat. It is served in a small plastic bag of ice with condensed milk at the bottom.

Iced coffee in a plastic bag
Stefan tucking into a refreshing iced Laotian coffee in Vientiane served in a plastic bag of ice cubes

Laotian Margharitas

Laos produces its own brands of alcohol equivalents to whisky, rum and vodka. The most popular one we encountered was the Lao rice whiskey called “Lao Lao”.

As a result, Laotian versions of popular cocktails like Margaritas are produced very cheaply, which makes Laos a cocktail lover’s paradise.

Sebastien with a Laotian Margarita
Sebastien with a Laotian Margarita (made using some form of Laotian alcohol)

Check out our Laotian recipes and watch our Laos travel video.

 
Sebastien

Sebastien is the co-founder, editor and author of nomadicboys.com. He is a tech geek, a total travel nerd and a food enthusiast. He spends the majority of his time planning Nomadic Boys' travels meticulously right down to the minute details. Sebastien has travelled to over 80 countries with his partner in crime and the love of his life, Stefan. He regularly shares his expertise of what it’s like travelling as a gay couple both on Nomadic Boys and on prominent publications ranging from Pink News, Matador, The San Francisco Chronicle, The Guardian and many more. Originally from France, Sebastien moved to London in the early 2000s where he pursued a career as a computer programmer for Thompson Reuters and Bloomberg. He subsequently left it all to explore his passion for travelling around the world with Stefan to hand, and thus Nomadic Boys was born. Find out more about Nomadic Boys.

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