Have you ever had the pleasure of tasting the unique flavors of Lao cuisine? Lao food is an absolute joy!
Although very authentic to the Laos region, Lao food is by no means restricted to only one country. The unique flavors and distinctive concoctions have traveled wide across the Mekong River. Its special features have made millions of people smile and secured a safe corner in the hearts of food lovers worldwide. So, if you are a foodie too and want to know more about the food culture of Lao people, you have come to the right place. Continue reading to discover all the cultural food facts that reside in the Laos region.
If you have read our previous blog on food ingredients, you might already have a brief idea about the type of food that Lao locals consume. However, Laotian food is more than just a delicious cuisine. It plays a crucial role in the Lao culture and heritage and goes deeper than just the flavors you put to taste.
So, join me as we walk through the Laotian food culture with a closer and more precise look this time. Whether you are a foodie or a traveler, this blog with all the cultural facts about traditional Lao food and Lao dishes that has a special essence for the locals will surely amaze you!
The Special Food Culture Of Lao People
Lao cuisine is distinct from that of other Southeast Asian cuisines. It has uniqueness in itself with a fusion of authentic and famous Lao dishes to French delicacies, known worldwide, like baguettes and breads.
However, due to the originality of the region deriving from the North region of China and Lao migrations from Laos into neighboring countries like Thailand and Cambodia, you will find that the Lao cuisine is somewhat similar to that of other Asian cuisines. Especially if you have experienced Thai food before, you must have sensed that Laos food is quite similar to Thai cuisine. It is mainly because of the obsession with sticky rice that is dear to the Southeast Asian people.
Nevertheless, what makes Lao food unique from Thai food is the use of more and larger quantities of raw and fresh herbs. The locals would always come for the maximal use of vegetables, herbs, and raw greens usually served undressed on the side of the main dish. Another element that makes Lao food differ from its neighboring cuisines is the preference for savory dishes being wholly savory without any hint of sweetness. The concept of sweet and sour is frowned upon and is considered bizarre. If any dish in Laos is savory, sweetness is kept far away from the radar.
Lastly, there is also a popular saying that goes like this, “Sweet makes you dizzy, and bitter makes you healthy.” So, Lao food has a greater inclination towards bitter ingredients like green herbs, especially mint and dill. So, if you think Thai and Lao food has no difference, I hope the facts above will help you differentiate them in the future.
Apart from the sticky rice frolic, there is a huge French influence in Laotian cuisine. Since Laos was colonized by the French for a long period of 50 years, its food habits found ground even after its independence, similar to the French architecture in the Luang Prabang region. You are still likely to find many French restaurants with French baguettes, tossed salads, coffee, and more. So, once you land in the country, you will be overwhelmed with the pool of authentic choices.
Staple Food Of Laos
Let us now look into the most famous Lao dish or the staple food of Laos that the locals cannot live without. It takes a dominant part of the population’s diet and is a part of their everyday culture. So, once you land in the country, you will undoubtedly feel the essence that such an item carries.
Sticky Rice – Khao Niew
As mentioned earlier, every Southeast Asian cuisine is connected because of rice. Rice is a dominant part of the local diet, and every meal is served with rice as its base. However, we are not talking about the long-grained rice that is consumed by Viets or most Western people. Khao Niew or sticky rice is the staple food of Laos.
Glutinous or sticky rice remains the basic staple food, which marks the single most distinctive feature of Lao cuisine. Days of Laotian people start by cooking the sticky rice that has been soaking wet overnight over an open flame, fueled by a tree branch. It is wrapped with leaves and inserted in a bamboo tube before cooking it. The rice is served with a selection of boiled vegetables, soups, salads, meat and fish dishes.
Sticky rice is generally boiled in a woven basket and is carried in a woven bamboo container known as the Tip Khao. If you visit Laos, you will notice people who go to work carry a small container where they keep their sticky rice along with some meat dishes like grilled chicken or steamed fish.
Sticky rice is usually consumed by hand, whereas long-grained rice is eaten with a spoon or fork. Even chopsticks are used only when it comes to Chinese dishes like noodle soup.
Although Laotian people are crazy about raw vegetables and fresh herbs, one cannot forget that Laos is a country for fishermen. Laotians love to eat fish and use it almost in every dish in different styles, like fermented fish sauce, spicy fish soup, and many more. They love the protein that fish provides and makes wonderful concoctions with their extraordinary skills.
However, one important belief of Lao people is that when you eat a whole cooked fish, you should never turn the fish over. You must always start eating the flesh of the fish from the top and only then peel off the bones. It is said that when one turns their whole fish on their plate, they become responsible for causing a fishing boat to capsize. Even in modern times, with fewer boats and more cars, it is believed that turning your fish on the plate can cause the turning of a car on the road. So, if you don’t want to be held responsible for such things, you better be aware while eating your delicious fish dish in Laos.
Talking about Lao cuisine, we cannot miss out on the most famous dish, Laap. Laap is a spicy food containing minced meat salad. All the ingredients used in Laap, from meat, fish, poultry, onion, chilli peppers, and other herbs, are minced and chopped finely and mixed with lime juice, garlic, and mint. Everyone is fond of Laap in Laos, and once you enter restaurants, you are sure to find this dish on every menu. However, people also consume raw Laap, where all the ingredients are uncooked. Although restaurants usually provide the cooked version, if you want to be very sure it is cooked, mention Laap Suk, which means cooked Laap.
Along with Laap, Tom Sam or Tam mak– spicy green papaya salad mixed with garlic, chilli peppers, ground peanuts, crab, fish sauce, shrimp paste, and tomatoes is another common and loved dish of the Lao cuisine. Apart from these, you will find other popular dishes like spicy vermicelli noodles salad, tom khaa kai– chicken soup with galangal and coconut milk, khao poun– rice vermicelli soup, or lam– dried buffalo meat, along with many dipping sauces like soy sauce, Lao fish sauce, spicy soup, fresh raw greens as sides, and other many types of Lao noodle soup. Even green vegetable stew and chunky pork sausage are popular dishes in Laos that you will find in all Lao restaurants.
All in all, locals prefer sticky rice, minced meat salad, and rice noodle soup to anything else. However, as mentioned earlier, you always have a choice of experiencing a French dish in Laos.
Laos Food Preparation
While eating is what Lao people are fond of, they are also very communal about their food preparation. A crucial part of the Lao food culture is the preparation of the food. Instead of individual cooking, Lao families prefer sitting down and chopping vegetables together. In fact, from a very young age, girls are taught to join their mothers in the kitchen and give a helping hand. So, you will see that mostly the wives sit together, chop vegetables, and cook different kinds of soups. This also becomes a great time for gossiping and sharing advice.
Laotian wives are also very much fond of singing. So, when the gossip ends, the singing starts. Joining such preparations are not hard as Lao people are very welcoming. Coming from a poor state, they always want to share and eat together instead of keeping it to themselves. Even when Lao people greet, an alternative to the general “Hello” is “Have you eaten today.” They are very caring of one another.
Laos Food Rituals
Did you know the Laotians care not just about one another but also for those who no longer live among them? Yes, they have a ritual where they always give food to the spirits of the people who left the world. You will find small spirit houses near residents’ houses, where they leave sticky rice balls. They believe that the ones who have left the world also need feeding. Moreover, they also believe in appeasing the spirits all around, from the river to tree spirits.
Also, locals always offer food to the monks. It is said that when they feed the monks, they get blessings for different needs. It can be a small need, from passing exams to recovering from an illness. Thus, you will find that Laotians cook plenty of food just for one meal.
Lao food also holds a special part in weddings. There is a ritual called the Baci, a ceremony of blessing where the bride and groom share an egg to mark the beginning of their marriage journey. You will also see sticky rice and fruits being handed to them to show the official engagement of both souls. Thus, food in Laos is not just limited to serving one’s appetite. It also plays a crucial role in the everyday life of people.
Lao Food Phrases To Practice
Here are some Lao phrases that will help you once you land in the country.
|What do you recommend?||ເຈົ້າແນະນຳອັນໃດ?||Chao nae nam an dai|
|I am a vegetarian||ຂ້າພະເຈົ້າເປັນ vegetarian||Khaphachaopen vegetarian|
|How spicy is this dish?||ອາຫານນີ້ເຜັດຫຼາຍປານໃດ?||Ahan ni phed rai pandai|
|How long will the food take?||ອາຫານຈະໃຊ້ເວລາດົນປານໃດ?||Ahan cha saiuaela donpandai|
|Do you eat beef?||ເຈົ້າກິນຊີ້ນງົວບໍ?||Chao kinsin ngua bo|
|What is the specialty of this restaurant?||ຮ້ານອາຫານນີ້ມີຄວາມພິເສດແນວໃດ?||Hanoahan ni mikhuaam phised aenuadai|
|Could I have some water?||ຂ້ອຍສາມາດມີນ້ໍາໄດ້ບໍ?||Khony samad minoa daibo|
|Please make it less spicy||ກະລຸນາເຮັດໃຫ້ມັນເຜັດໜ້ອຍລົງ||Kaluna hedhaiman phed nonylong|
Over To You!
So, there you go! Now you know well enough about the food culture of the Lao people. However, there will always be more surprises waiting for you when you visit the country. One thing that will surely take you by shock is the preference for raw meat in hilly areas. So, if you are fond of trying something new, Laos has a lot in store.
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