Laos cuisine impresses the culinary world with its capacity to transform simple local ingredients into delicious and authentic Laos dishes by using traditional cooking skills. Let’s embark on a delectable journey through Laos that pairs with artfully crafted dishes which showcase the country’s rich culinary heritage and distinct flavors in order to refresh your sense of taste.
Khao Niaw – Sticky Rice
While many people may associate sticky rice with Thai food, the country where sticky rice is more appropriately called national staple is the neighboring country of Laos, they even have sticky rice for any meals of the day. The steamed sticky rice is meant to be eaten with not only hands but also a utensil. (Scoop up a mound of rice forming it into a little cup, and using it to scoop up your food).
The reason why sticky rice is so popular in Laos is that it takes longer to digest than regular rice, which makes it great food for monks to eat as their single meal of the day. Buddhist monks in Laos typically eat just one meal a day, and people give rice — typically sticky rice — to monks as donations. Sticky rice is favorable because it will keep the monks fuller, longer. Therefore, take yourself a chance to try this dish. And despite its name, glutinous rice contains no gluten. It’s safe for all you gluten-free folks out there, so have at it!
Khao Jee (Baguettes)
One of travellers’s most favorite dishes is Khao Jee – A kind of baguette sandwich influenced by French bread and given a Lao twist. Khao Jee is filled with a combination of delicious pork liver Pâté, some kinds of sauces, coriander leaves, radish, carrots, cucumbers, pork floss and a sweet and spicy dressing including mayonnaise, chili sauce, a special brown sauce. This is a quick meal that can be enjoyed on the go for either breakfast or lunch.
Tam Mak Houng – Spicy Laos Papaya Salad
It’d be difficult to refrain from tasting this Laos dishes throughout your Laos tours. First off, the best place to get it, is at a roadside stall, where you can watch the vendor pound all the ingredients in a large mortar and pestle, and tell them exactly how you like it. Roadside stalls are the cheapest, too, starting at 5,000 kip for a serving; restaurants can perhaps charge up to 25,000 kip.
In general, papaya salad is made with green (unripe) papaya, which is distinctly tangy and crunchy. The base is usually salt, sugar, chilies and small limes. The vendor will usually ask how many chilies you want. If you ask for it Lao style, you’re looking at winding up with seven or eight chillies. Good luck eating that without crying and developing a purple facial hue!
Larb (Laap, Larp or Lahb)
Like sticky rice, Larb is also an essential dish in Laos. This dish is a type of minced meat salad, and widely considered to be the national dish of Laos. You can find Larb made with chicken, beef, duck, fish, or pork. It is usually flavored with fish sauce, lime juice, fermented fish juice, ground rice, and fresh herbs. It will usually come with a few chili peppers, which you can avoid eating if you cannot handle spicy food.
If you’ve visited Luang Prabang you probably know aw lahm / or lam, a spicy stew of bone stock, chilli, lemongrass, smoked meat and pounded eggplant, barbecued and then pounded sticky rice, and most crucially, the bark of the sakan tree, also known as pepperwood, which is gathered from local forests and boiled for a peppery tinge, came back to the table. This dish is a truly bizarre sensation for those of us used to the limitations of the usual taste dimensions of sweet, sour, salty, and bitter.
Sai Qua (Laos sausage)
Laos sausage, also known as Laotian sausage (Sai Oua) usually refers to a popular type of Laos sausage made from coarsely chopped fatty pork seasoned with lemongrass, galangal, kaffir lime leaves, shallots, cilantro, chillies, garlic, salt and fish sauce. It uses cooked Laos sticky rice as an additional ingredient in the filling, which is then allowed to “sour” at room temperature for a couple of days. Sai Qua makes a pleasant appetizer or snack.
Laotian Sausage (shown here in pork, but it also exists in spicy beef) is one of the most eaten specialities in Luang Prabang. Marriages, religious ceremonies, and other festivities normaly have a meal and include this sort of sausage, which is very much appreciated by Laotians and even tourists who have more delicate taste buds.
Ping Kai / Kai Yang (Laotian Roasted Chicken)
Ping Gai literally means roasted chicken or barbecued chicken, and here the chicken is coated with an aromatic marinade for hours before grilling over low heat over charcoal. You can easily find Ping Gai at stall in street markets.
The processing of Kai Yang calls for a lot of skills and efforts. The whole chicken after halved and pounded flat will be seasoned with different ingredients of fish sauce, black soy sauce, hoy sin shallots, garlic, turmeric, cilantro, lemongrass, chilies, ginger, vinegar, palm sugar and white pepper. After chicken absorbed into spices in about 1 hour, it will be grilled without letting it burnt or dry. Kai Yang is soft, aromatic and a bit sweet which would surely satisfy your taste.
Khao Piak Sen – Wet Rice Strands
Khao Piak Sen is the Lao version of homemade chicken noodle soup. Literally meaning wet rice strands, this dish is made of slightly chewy noodles and a simple chicken broth. Khao Piak Sen is the ultimate comfort food, perfect for the cold weather, a sick day, or just when a warm, hearty meal is desired.
Although the words literally translate to “wet rice strands,” this soup is significantly more appetizing than its name implies. The thick round noodles are made from a mix of rice and tapioca flour, which gives them a delightfully chewy texture and usually leaves the broth they’re cooked in slightly viscous, too. Meat toppings vary but can range from chopped chicken to fried pork and blood cakes, and bowls come topped with a spoonful of fried garlic. You’ll know which vendors have khao piak sen because the noodles, which come in different widths, are dusted with white flour.
Often sold alongside khao piak sen, khao pun is made with thin fresh rice noodles, similar to vermicelli. They come in a clear broth flavored with herbs, fish-balls and unidentifiable pork parts. Toppings include roughly chopped strands of lean pork, sausage slices and offal, and khao pun is always served with a separate platter of raw vegetables and herbs—less to add to the soup itself and more to snack on between slurps.