Have you ever tried the famous Lao cuisine like sticky rice, fish sauce, spicy green papaya salad, and shrimp paste with crispy rice salad? If yes, you would agree that Lao food is filled with unique flavors and tastes that can make one’s craving a real deal. So, we suggest you learn some vocabulary and facts about the common flavors in Lao to make your trip more exciting and eventful.
Laos is known for its extensive culinary habits and authentic Lao dishes that are beautiful inside out. People worldwide have found keen interest in the locals’ taste and cooking habits, popularising the Lao cuisine to a new extent. Thus, learning some flavors in the Lao language, like salty- ເຄັມ, pungent- ຂຸ້ນ, etc., and getting acquainted with essential points will become significant assets while you eat Lao’s food. Want to learn more? Keep reading and explore more!
The Different Tastes Of Laotian Dishes
Before we head on to learning all the individual flavors rooted in the famous food of Laos, let us understand the importance of their cooking culture.
Unlike western countries, Laos food is not very colorful. But what is hidden inside the delicious platter is a mixture of rich flavors achieved through natural fresh herbs and spices that the land grows.
It is remarkable in the sense that most of the dishes feature fresh vegetables may it be in their soups and salad. For this reason, the locals believe that veggies are a staple in Laos food, which is why many are growing their own veggies at home too. It makes the food not only finger-licking good, but it is also healthy.
And as we are talking about flavors, although it has elements like rice, pork belly, steamed fish, etc., common in other Asian countries, Laos food has a special preference for salty and savory items. Lime juice and fermented fish play significant roles in the cooking culture as flavoring condiments, and also the use of coconut milk makes Laos food rich in flavors.
Flavors In The Lao language
Now let us start learning some Lao vocabulary related to flavors. Later, you will also find some dish suggestions that you might want to try out during your stay.
The Primary Flavors Of Laos
- Salty – ເຄັມ (khem)
- Sweet – ຫວານ (van)
- Sour – ສົ້ມ (som)
- Bitter – ຂົມ (khom)
- Umami/ Savory – ແຊບ (aesb)
- Pungent – ຂຸ້ນ (khun)
- Spicy – ເຜັດ (phed)
- Cool – ເຢັນ (yen)
- Hot – ຮ້ອນ (hon)
Top Lao Dishes To Try Out
Since we are talking about flavors in Lao food like rice noodles, rice vermicelli, dipping sauce, etc., here is a food tour of the local Lao diet that you will find on nearly every street corner in Laos. Do not forget to try them!
- Khao Poon – Fermented noodle soup
- Paa Tod – Crispy catfish
- Khao Niew – Laos sticky rice
- Laap – Meat salad with chopped green onions
- Yam Het – Mushroom salad
- Sai Oua Kuang – Herbal pork sausage
- Pa Mak Now – Freshwater steamed fish dishes
- Naem Khao – Grated coconut rice
Flavors In Lao Cuisine
In this section, we shall take a moment and try to learn the individual flavors of Lao cuisine. From salty to pungent, understanding how these flavors are ingrained in the cuisine will help us explore the food culture more profoundly.
As we briefly understood, Lao food is mixed with distinct flavors. Although saltier than other cuisines, the perfect blend and balance of each flavor in the cookery is a commendable job for which every local has a natural talent. From papaya salad to rice noodle dishes, the exquisite flavors are prepared richly with exceptional ingredients that make Lao food heavily delightful. Below we will learn how each flavor acts in the Laotian dishes and how they are obtained.
Salty – Khem
As mentioned earlier, Lao food is known for being salty. For them, it is natural to make main courses salty, and they strictly refrain from making them sweet. They mostly use items like soy sauce, fish sauce, fermented fish sauce (padek), and minced garlic and coriander instead of actual salt that blends and produces a perfectly balanced salty dish.
All fried items and main course dishes are consistently salty and not sweet, from fresh herbs salads to deep-fried rice balls. In fact, some recipes for Lao food can seem to have too much salt and flavor for some people.
Bitter – Khom
Besides being salty, Lao dishes are also known for their bitter taste. Sometimes even the typical watery soup can taste bitter, mainly from the addition of fresh herbs and natural vegetables. Not the unbearable bitterness, but we are talking about appetite-rousing bitterness that can be found in many meaty soups, stews, and even pork meat or dried buffalo meat. It is actually so common in the country that it is impossible to imagine Lao food without bitterness.
Spicy – Phed
You will love Laotian food if you love spicy dishes filled with seasonings and condiments like fresh chili peppers. From the national food Laap to other meat salads and fresh bamboo shoots platters, the mix of spices can be found in every slice and bite.
Even Lao sausages like pork sausage can be found deeply fried in spices making it a zesty meal that will satisfy your appetite with all the flavors. So, make sure you try out the spicy Laotian dishes like the minced meat salad and Lao sausage platter.
Sour – Som
Another vibrant flavor that the Laotian people love is sourness—mainly coming from the addition of lime juice, sour plum, tamarind, or fermented ingredients. Like som moo, a fermented pickled pork sausage that is sour in flavor is one of the favorite items that the residents enjoy. Although it is an acquired taste, it is special, heavily flavored, and has a strong garlic taste with a silky texture.
Astringent – Khun
A flavor that is quite typical in a Lao meal but is considered only a sensation in western dishes is astringent. This flavor is added mainly through unripe fruits. Astringent is a pungent, light, and dry taste, and since Lao people are fond of using vegetables and fruits, this flavor is standard. Some people might find the taste unpleasant, but it is one of a kind for them. Even a simple and satisfying bowl of noodles or rice can have added pungent flavor produced through spices, herbs, and unripe fruits.
Umami – Aesb
How can we not mention umami while talking about Laos cuisine? Umami is a savory meat taste that we all crave once a day. Added mainly from monosodium glutamate or unfiltered fish sauce, the pleasant savory taste is present in most Lao dishes, especially the traditional dishes, starting from steamed fish in banana leaf wrap to hot red peppers fried with sesame seeds. If you like savory delight, you will love the dishes of Laos.
Sweet – Van
There is a reason why we are mentioning the sweet flavor at the end. Unlike western countries who crave sweetness in their main dishes, Laotian people could never do that! It is considered bizarre to have sweetness added to main courses like noodles with pork or soups. They would rather have bitter food than sweet, which is a given in families.
However, there are sweet dishes that the locals enjoy outside of the primary course. Instead of making savory food sweet, they enjoy sweet side dishes or desserts like the traditional dessert Khao lam. It is one of the most desired desserts of the locals, and sweetness is added chiefly through cane sugar or palm sugar.
Vocabulary Related To Lao Flavor
- Lime juice – ນ້ໍາປູນຂາວ (noa punkhav)
- Green onions – ຜັກບົ່ວຂຽວ (phakbov khiav)
- Fish sauce – ນ້ຳປາ (nam pa)
- Coconut milk – ນົມຫມາກພ້າວ (nom makphav)
- Fresh herbs – ພືດສະຫມຸນໄພສົດ (phud samunphai sod)
- Noodle soup – ແກງໜໍ່ໄມ້ (aekng nomai)
- Soy sauce – ຊື່ອິ່ວ (su iv)
- Fruits – ໝາກໄມ້ (makmai)
Over To You
Did you enjoy learning about the various flavors and their perfect blend in Lao cuisine? If yes, you will have a fantastic time in Laos, devouring all the distinctive dishes that are nowhere else to be found. Knowing the flavors will also make you aware of what you are consuming and allow you to appreciate the food better. Moreover, these pointers will help you depict the right components during your journey if you are a food blogger or a cook.
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