Have you ever tried sticky rice, fish sauce, and other Lao food? If yes, you must know that Lao cuisine is a magnificent concoction of different ingredients that makes delicious, finger-licking items one cannot stay without. And if you plan to visit Laos soon, learning some food ingredients in Lao, like ໝາກໄມ້ (Fruits), ຜັກ (vegetables), etc., is a must. Before you enjoy Lao cuisine, it is only fair to go through the different mixes of spices and fresh herbs that the locals use to proffer the delicacy of wonder.
This post will specifically take you on a Lao food ingredient ride that will familiarize you with all the traditional Lao food elements and everyday kitchen items in the native language. If you are excited to learn, let’s get right into it.
The Lao Cuisine: Southeast Asian Food Culture
Before we take up on the different ingredients that help make delicious items like fish sauce, sticky rice, rice vermicelli noodles, crispy rice salad, shrimp paste, etc., this section will give you a quick peek at the Lao food culture. If you are a first-time traveler or a newbie in the country, the following facts and tips will become a significant asset in enjoying your stay in a pure native style. So, let’s begin.
Lao Food Facts
If you have been to Thai restaurants or have tried Thai cuisine, you will find a lot of similarities between the food in Laos and Thailand. It is majorly because both countries eat sticky rice, fish sauce, and other dishes that have the same touch on the flavors. However, before the natives attack, it is essential to mention that they are not the same.
While Thai food and Lao dishes can be similar, Lao foods are more straightforward and have a subtle taste. Lao dishes have more herbs and vegetables that are not simmered. To attain their unique taste, the locals use fermented fish sauce, which is typical of the country and makes dishes less elaborate than Thai delicacy. However, once you visit Lao restaurants, you will realize that Laotian cuisine is much spicier and more fond of condiments than Thai.
Apart from the differences, Laos is the largest consumer of sticky rice. Although sticky rice is quite popular in Vietnam, Thai, Cambodia, and other Asian countries, nobody consumes it in an amount equal to the Laotian people. It is believed that the Lao sticky rice is the glue that holds the Lao community together, and it has become an identity of the Laotian culture that the natives hold dear to their hearts.
Another common fact of the Laotian food culture is that Lao meals typically consist of vegetables and soup. In fact, in every corner of southeast Asia, greens and soups play a vital role in the food culture. However, the thick Lao stew or the spicy green papaya salad with soy sauce is a national signature of the Laotian people, and you will find these side dishes in every place you visit in the country. The vegetables are usually raw, fresh, or steamed, served with sticky rice, grilled chicken, and soups.
The most famous Lao dish is Laap. It is a minced meat salad that is, again, served with herbs and soup. It is considered the national dish of Laos.
Top Laotian Dishes To Try Out!
Here is a list of the best dishes you must try without failure during your stay. Incorporate Lao dishes into your appetite and bless yourself with a unique culture.
- Khao Niaw sticky rice basket (Steamed sticky rice)
- Larb or Laap (marinated meat or Minced meat)
- Khao Piak Sen (wet noodles)
- khao poon nam prik (chicken soup with coconut milk)
- Sai Oua (herbal pork sausage)
- Bia Lao (Lao beer)
- Khao Jee (baguette)
- Or Lam (Lao stew)
- Som Moo (fermented pork sausage)
- Tam Mak Hoong (papaya salad)
Commonly Used Food Ingredients In Lao
Now we will learn about the ingredients that Laotian dishes cannot survive without. These are the elements that every ethnic Lao food item is made of.
1. Chilies – ໝາກເຜັດ
The first most common ingredient is ໝາກເຜັດ. Pronounced as makphed, no Laotian food can be perfect without the hint of chilies. From chili peppers to chili powder, makphed play a vital role in proffering the authentic spicy food that every local is proud of. Especially for food like spicy salad, Khao Poon (Spicy noodle soup), and meat fry, chilies add flavors that one cannot overlook.
2. Bamboo Shoot – ໜໍ່ໄມ້
The essential ingredient in making more ethnic Lao dishes is fresh bamboo shoots, known as nomai. From chicken curry, Bamboo stew to Keng no mai of northern Laos, all the classic Laotian food items depend highly on the flavor and aroma of bamboo shoots. If you are new to this cooking style, you will fall in love instantly.
3. Green Papaya – ໝາກຫຸ່ງຂຽວ
Another potent ingredient in the Laos kitchen is the green papaya known as makhung khiav or mak hoong. The texture and mild flavor of the unripe fruit of the papaya tree are highly used to produce solid flavors and tenderize meat. And as we know, the papaya salad is already a famous dish that makes the green fruit one of a kind in Laos culture.
4. Yanang Leaf – ໃບຍາງ
Something that must be pretty new to you, the ໃບຍາງ or bai nyang comes from a climbing plant with green leaves and yellow flowers. It is used in almost every traditional soup item to thicken the liquid and give the dish a fresh aroma. It is quite popular in Cambodia as well.
5. Fresh Herbs – ສະໝຸນໄພສົດ
Fresh herbs like lemongrass, basil, coriander, green onion, mung bean sprouts, etc., are the primary ingredients in Laotian food. No matter how savory or sweet an item you order, you will always find the hint of fresh herbs in the dish that leaves behind a beautiful aroma and taste.
6. Buffalo Skin – ຜິວໜັງຄວາຍ
As surprising as it sounds, ຜິວໜັງຄວາຍ or phiuanang khuaai is a unique Lao ingredient that every local of Luang Prabang keeps safe in their kitchen. Lao stew with dried skin and the Vheo Bong, a chilly paste made with buffalo skin, are the two favorite items you can try. Besides buffalo skin, boiled pork skin is also commonly consumed, and many unusual and mouthwatering dishes are developed with it.
7. Salt – ເກືອ
Coming to a more common ingredient, no food can be complete without a hint of salt. And when it comes to Lao food, locals are strict with savory food being salty and not sweet. They consider it unnatural to make savory food sweet in any proportion and have rigid boundaries between salty and sweet dishes.
8. Rice Flour – ແປ້ງເຂົ້າ
Where crispy chicken meat and fish items are concerned, ແປ້ງເຂົ້າ or aepng khao is essential. Although seafood is not popular, you will find many things that can make you go crazy. Mainly, to make crispy fillets or nuggets, locals use aepng khao to wrap the item and then fry it till crispy. It tastes mindblowing, and you must undoubtedly try out their deep-fried seafood items.
Different Food Ingredients In Lao
Now we will dive into different ingredients under different categories. From green leafy vegetables to condiments, we will discover translation of every component that a standard food item requires to be whole.
Condiments – ເຄື່ອງປຸງ (Kheuong Pung)
|Bay leaves||ໃບ Bay||bai Bay|
|Black pepper||ພິກໄທດຳ||phik thaidam|
|Cloves||ຫົວຜັກທຽມ||hua phak thiam|
|Cumin seeds||ແກ່ນຜັກກູດ||aekn phak kud|
|Fennel seeds||ແກ່ນ fennel||aekn fennel|
|Fish sauce||ນ້ຳປາ||nam pa|
|Garlic powder||ຜົງຜັກທຽມ||phong phak thiam|
|Mustard seeds||ເມັດ mustard||med mustard|
|Onion powder||ຜົງຜັກບົ່ວ||phong phakbov|
|Soy sauce||ຊື່ອິ່ວ||su iv|
Fruits – ໝາກໄມ້ (Makmai)
|Avocado||ອາໂວກາໂດ||a ov ka od|
|Berries||ຫມາກໄມ້ປ່າເມັດ||makmai pa med|
|Strawberries||ສະຕໍເບີຣີ||sato boe ri|
Vegetables – ຜັກ (Phak)
|Green onions||ຜັກບົ່ວຂຽວ||phakbov khiav|
Leafy Greens – ໃບສີຂຽວ (Bai Sikhiav)
|Broccoli||ບຣັອກໂຄລີ||braok okh li|
|Cabbage||ກະລໍ່າປີ||ka loa pi|
|Celery||ຜັກຕັ້ງໂອ||phak tang o|
|Spinach||ຜັກຊະນິດໜ່ຶງ||phak sanid nung|
|Spring onion||ຜັກບົ່ວພາກຮຽນ spring||phakbouaphakhian spring|
Meat – ຊີ້ນ (Sin) And Seafood – ອາຫານທະເລ (Ahanthale)
|Oysters||ຫອຍນາງລົມ||hony nang lom|
|Turkey||ຕຸລະກີ||tu la ki|
Healthy Sauce – ຊອດສຸຂະພາບ (Sod Sukhaphab)
|Lime juice||ນ້ໍາປູນຂາວ||noa punkhav|
|Olive oil||ນ້ໍາມັນຫມາກກອກ||n o a man mak kok|
|Sesame oil||ນ້ຳມັນງາ||namman nga|
Enjoy Laotian Food!
Now that you know what to eat and what elements to use while cooking, I am pretty sure you will have a splendid time in Laos. Visiting a country rich in culinary habits and knowing these terms and facts will help you adapt to the environment and relish the culture as an actual native person. Moreover, you will also make many new friends with your language skills and receive a wholesome response.
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