The first time I bit into Lao desserts was at a quaint little Laotian eatery that my friend took me to. One bite of Jeun Kuay and Nam Van Sal Lee and I was swooning! Thereafter, there was no going back. As I started exploring Thai and Lao food, I noticed a wide variety of desserts that are common between the two countries.
In this article, we are going to learn of many a traditional Lao dessert whose popularity has crossed many international borders and become a mainstay in many countries across the world. Let’s get started!
Why Should You Try Lao Desserts?
Laotians have a serious sweet tooth! From traditional desserts to Western-style treats like ice cream and cakes (in surprising flavors!), Laotians love indulging in sweets. In fact, sugary snacks are often a part of everyday life in Laos – you can find street vendors selling sweet treats on nearly every corner.
Laotians are always ready to satisfy their sweet cravings, whether it’s a midday pick-me-up or post-dinner dessert. And with so many delicious options to choose from, it’s no wonder that sweet treats are such an integral part of Laotian culture. So if you ever find yourself in Laos, don’t forget to treat yourself to some of the country’s delectable desserts listed below!
What Are The Most Popular Lao Desserts?
Traditional Lao desserts are made of sticky rice, tapioca pearls, coconut milk, and sugar. These are the main ingredients to come up with delicious Laotian sweet treats. But most importantly, the sweet banana acts as the main star of Laotian culinary delight when it comes to desserts.
In Laos, the word used for ‘sweet’ is van (ຫວານ), while khanom (ອາຫານ) is the generic term for the word ‘treat.’ Most Lao desserts are generally categorized into four categories: Dishes made from agar jelly called khanom, treats made of rice (ເຂົ້າ – khao) like khao niao mak muang (ເຂົ້າຫນຽວຫມາກມ່ວງ – mango sticky rice), deep fried Lao desserts like jeun kuay (ກ້ວຍຂົ້ວ – fried bananas), and egg-based treats like sang kaya mak eu (ສັງກະຢາມັກເອີ). Let’s read more about them in detail below.
This is one of the most popular traditional Laos desserts. Khao lam means sticky rice. In this dish, white or purple sticky rice is mixed with sweetened coconut milk (nom makphav – ນົມຫມາກພ້າວ) and chopped taro (a type of yam, and filled into bamboo tubes). These tubes are then roasted over hot charcoal or high flame. The result is a melt-in-your-mouth sweet dessert.
Khao Niaow Mak Muang
Khao niaow mak muang is a popular Laos and Thai dessert. The name of this sweet dish literally translates into sticky rice with mango. This is a perfect after-meal snack to satiate your sweet tooth. It is made with rice and coconut milk and paired with thinly sliced ripe mango. One can also find it garnished with roasted sesame seeds (maknga – ໝາກງາ).
Nam Wan (ນ້ຳແວນ) is a very basic yet delightfully refreshing sweet drink that is made of sweetened coconut milk and crushed ice. It is always served with toppings such as tapioca root (hak manton – ຮາກມັນຕົ້ນ), sweet potatoes (manton – ມັນຕົ້ນ), sweet corn (salivan – ສາລີຫວານ, and ripe bananas.
Khao tom (ເຂົ້າຕົ້ມ) is a chewy treat made of rice, sweetened coconut milk, sweet bananas. All these ingredients are mixed together and formed into lumps. These lumps are often filled with different fillings, such as black beans, yellow soybeans, sweet potatoes, or tapioca starch. Then these lumps are wrapped in banana leaves and steamed. This easy-to-carry snack item is popular during Pi Mai or Lao New Year.
Nam pans are popular Lao fruit shakes that are sold across the country on vendor carts. These are made of locally available fresh tropical fruits like mangoes (makmuang – ໝາກມ່ວງ), watermelon (makonm – ໝາກໂມ), dragon fruit (makmakong – ໝາກມັງກອນ), passionfruit (makphed – ໝາກເຜັດ), pomegranate (maknav – ໝາກນາວ), and pineapple (maknad – ໝາກນັດ). You can customize your fruit shake or smoothie by adding palm sugar syrup or sweetened coconut milk.
Kanom san is a traditional Lao dessert with a smooth yet sticky texture. The word san means ‘layers.’ This sweet jelly treat is made with tapioca flour, rice flour, agar, and coconut milk. It is also known as Khao pard in some regions. The dessert is in a jelly form made of different colored agar like pink, green, white, and chocolate.
Khanom Man Tone
This is a chewy steamed cake made of grated cassava. The other ingredients are coconut milk and sugar. It is generally garnished with shredded coconut and eaten at room temperature.
Khao Nom Kok
This ‘crispy on the outside and creamy inside’ dessert is quite popular across Laos. Khao nom kok is made of rice flour, tapioca starch, coconut milk, sugar, salt, and oil and is shaped into a semi-circle. Green onions are the most popular ingredient in the savory version of this cake-like treat. These addictive, golden brown balls of gooey goodness are served warm in banana leaf bowls by roadside vendors.
It is a coconut milk jelly dessert with a yogurt-like consistency. In a bowl or small cup-like container, the coconut cream jelly layer is topped with a creamy egg custard. To give it a subtle aroma, pandan essence is added. It is often paired with sliced fresh fruits, ice cream, or coconut cream.
Jeun kuay is a street-side treat made by slicing ripe bananas lengthwise, dipping them in a rice or tapioca batter, and deep frying them in hot oil. These are then garnished with sesame seeds and served at dirt-cheap rates.
Tom Nam Mak Pao
Often eaten as a breakfast dish by the locals, this sweet treat is made of purple rice that is made sweet and sticky using sugar and coconut milk. It is usually garnished with grated coconut and served on a banana leaf.
Nam Van Sal Lee
Nam van sal lee (ນ້ຳແວນ ສາລີ) is a sweet Laos pudding made of sweet corn kernels and hearty coconut cream. The fresh sliced corn gives this sweet dessert a distinct texture.
Sang Kaya Mak Eu
It is a sweet custard dessert with a different twist. Sugar, coconut milk, and duck eggs are cooked inside a hollowed-out pumpkin for up to an hour. Once cooled, thick slices of pumpkin are cut and served on a platter.
These are crunchy and crispy biscuit-like treats made of rice flour and coconut milk. The name literally translates into ‘cat poo’ as these are often shaped like that. These are often brought back as souvenirs from Luang Prabang.
Want To Learn Lao? Try Ling!
Wasn’t that a delectable list of mouthwatering Lao sweet treats? So, what are you waiting for? Go and order some nam van sal lee or nam wan for yourself today. And while you are waiting for your food to arrive, how about trying to learn other helpful expressions and phrases in Lao on Ling?
The Ling app offers you a plethora of interactive exercises and fun quizzes. It also has a gamified interface to help you retain new vocabulary without breaking your head over it. The most awesome thing about the Ling app is that you can learn many other Southeast Asian and European languages! If you are ready to start this journey, you can try out the first two lessons of the app for free!