Do you like experiencing flavors from different corners of the world? If yes, I am pretty sure you must’ve thought about exploring Southeast Asian cuisine once. Well, who doesn’t? When it comes to Laos, nothing can be a more intriguing and flavorful experience than tasting the infamous rice noodle soup with minced meat salad. So, if you plan to travel to Laos this season and have a quick tour of Lao food, you have come to the right place.
In today’s blog, we will go through all the famous Latioan dishes you must try once you land in the country. Especially if you belong to a Western country, the unique blend of different herbs and species, along with traditional long soupy rice noodles, will surely keep you in awe. Moreover, if you have already tried Thai food earlier and liked it, Laotian food will surely be your next favorite cuisine. If you are interested, continue reading below!
Flavors Of Laos Cuisine
Before we list the top dishes of Lao cuisine, let us try and understand a little about their methods and taste preferences.
The first and most important is that Laotion people love eating rice. They have a special kind of sticky rice which is served with many other side dishes. From lunch to dinner, you will find locals eating sticky rice with different meaty items. So, if you are more of a bread lover, now is the time to change your preference.
Secondly, Laoation food and Thai food have a lot of similarities. From the choice of rice to rice noodles, you will find them almost alike. However, the Laotians are more fond of vegetables and herbs. You will find fresh herbs served with almost all main dishes. They have an acquired taste for more bitter flavors than sweet.
In fact, most Laotians believe that sweet makes you dizzy and bitter makes you healthy. So, as long as they have fresh herbs with their sticky rice and noodle soup, they are happy. Another major point about Latioan food is that they prefer savoury and salty food over sweet. Although they have many sweet dishes and desserts worth trying, they prefer keeping sweet separate from salty.
They don’t have the concept of sweet and sour. It is either savory or sweet. Lao food also has a strong inclination towards umami flavor, which is brought by fermented fish sauce. They are a fan of fermented fish items.
Lastly, as you might have already guessed, Lao people are more apt towards boiled food than fried. Although you will find fried snacks or meat dishes, most traditional items are prepared by boiling them. From boiled vegetables to boiled rice noodle soup, Lao cooking has a preference of its own.
Top Lao Food You Must Try Out
Now that you have a basic gist of Laotian dishes, let us start with the best and the most famous traditional dishes you must try when you visit Laos. Here you will find out that despite the preferences for boiled and green food, Laos cuisine indeed is filled with many surprises!
Larb – Minced Meat Salad
Let us start the list with one of the most popular and loved dishes of Laos. Larb is the National dish of Laos, and locals are crazy about this concoction. Simply translated, Larb means minced meat. It is also known as Laap and is essentially a minced meat salad mixed with lime juice, mint leaves, fish sauce, spring onion and ground toasted rice. The meat in it can be beef, pork, buffalo, chicken or even fish. It is mainly the preparation that gives it the definition. It can also be eaten raw with some local dips.
The word Larb mainly refers to freshly prepared meat, cooked immediately after butchering. The chef will mince the meat immediately once it is butchered and then quickly fry and add the ingredients. However, it is mostly eaten raw and is a mainstay in the Lao diet. The Loas Larb is different from the Thai one as the Larb in Laos has a higher amount of herbs mixed into it. They keep mixing the herbs and the meat until everything is perfectly even.
Khao Poon – Spicy Noodle Soup
Another popular and staple food of Laos is Khao Poon. It is a traditional Lao rice noodle soup consisting of rice vermicelli noodles, fermented thin rice noodles, submerged in spicy soup. The spicy and aromatic soup is made of pounded meat mixed with fragrant herbs and spices, along with fish sauce, shallots, lime juice, perilla leaves, chili peppers, and garlic.
Sometimes normal rice noodle is also used, and the hot soup is served with an assortment of toppings such as spring onions, coriander, mint leaves, and shredded cabbage. The meat used in the soup can be chicken, pork, or even fish. It is a staple food that you will find in every restaurant.
Paeng Pet – Duck Blood Salad
If you are new to the whole raw eating thing, it is time to brace yourself because eating raw meat and drinking raw blood is a comfortable practice for the Laotian locals. Paeng Pet is a traditional breakfast dish in Laos where the raw blood of duck is mixed with some cooked minced duck and other heavy ingredients. As always, some of the must-have ingredients are lime juice, green onions, cilantro, and fragrant herbs like mint leaves.
Although it is filled with a lot of herbs, it is not a vegetable dish. If you are a fan of having meat in unique styles, this dish will fill you with immense joy. Spooning up the raw blood, squeezing the lime juice on it and drinking it with a bite of green chili peppers covered in shrimp paste is the first thing you need to do once you land in the country.
Khao Niew – Sticky Rice
As mentioned earlier, no country loves rice as much as Laos. Khao Niew is the traditional Lao sticky rice cooked by steaming rice in a cone-shaped bamboo basket. No Lao food is complete without the presence of sticky rice on its side. From steamed fish to grilled meat, you will always have sticky ice accompanying your platter.
Also, Khao Niew can also be eaten with a local dipping sauce. Some of the most popular ones are spiced tomato, thick chili paste, and smoky aubergine. Although most people consume steamed sticky rice, you will also find deep-fried rice balls made of the same sticky rice, along with different colors like purple, dark brown, and more. Nevertheless, only the white and freshly steamed sticky rice is the pure variety accepted in the monasteries.
Or Lam – Lao Stew
If you are in Luang Prabang, you cannot miss out on Or Lam. It is a thick and spicy Lao stew that contains a few key ingredients, dry buffalo meat, eggplant, lemongrass, wood ear mushrooms, cilantro, basil, and green onion. However, the most important one is the Mai Sakaan, a locally grown vine that’s not purely edible. It is usually prepared in animal fat, mostly pork, which makes the broth more sticky and delicious.
The special ingredient, Mai Sakaan, or the spicy chili wood, is actually not edible. One can chew on it and then spit it out. It makes the soup tastier, and the flavors tingle on your tongue. Once again, you can have this amazing dish with sticky rice without any doubt to make it ten times better.
Tam Mak Hoong – Green Papaya Salad
If you ever visit a Laos restaurant, you will always find this item in their menu of Lao dishes. It is one of their delicacies where unripened green papaya is thinly sliced or shredded and mixed with cherry tomatoes, garlic, fermented fish sauce, shrimp paste, chili peppers, palm sugar, soy sauce, and lime juice. You can have it with extra spice if you like spicy food or less spice, depending on your own preference.
Papaya salad is also known as Tum Sum, Tum Ma Hoong, Som Tum, and Tham Mak Huong. It can be consumed individually as a salad dish, or you can also have it with sticky rice. Most locals have it with sticky rice. The sour taste and umami flavors with some chili heat make spicy green papaya salad the perfect side to have with sticky rice. It will make your taste buds dance for sure.
Sai Oua – Pork Sausage
We all have had sausages before. However, if you want to truly satisfy your cravings, Sai Oua, a Lao version of sausage, is the best meaty sausage you will ever have. It is a spicy pork sausage that is made with a mixture of aromatic herbs and spices. Extremely popular in Luang Prabang, this Lao sausage is mainly served as an appetizer that you can have with green vegetables or even sticky rice.
It is made with chopped pork meat, pork belly and minced meat mixed with lemongrass, shallots, chilies, fish sauce, kaffir leaves, galangal, and cilantro. It is a perfect item that is firm and juicy at the same time. Also, the massive herb quantity makes it special and one of the main items of all Lao restaurants.
Mok Pa – Lao Steamed Fish
Are you a fan of fish items? Laos has the perfect dish for you. Mok Pa is a fragrant steamed fish item where the fish is submerged in different flavors of herbs and spices like lemongrass, onion, fish sauce, kaffir lime leaves, and chili. It is prepared by packaging the above items in a banana leaf wrap and steaming it over coals.
The Mok Pa is steamed and sometimes even roasted until the fish is perfectly done. Many use Catfish or any white fish for this item, which melts perfectly with each bite. You can have this with sticky rice along with some fresh vegetables to treat yourself for lunch.
Kaipen – Dried Riverweed
A northern Laos food that will amaze you is Kaipen. It is a tasty, crispy snack made from riverweed found in the Lao Mekong River. It is algae that grow on the rocks from January to March when rivers are running fast. The algae are collected by hand, rinsed, and pressed into paper-thin sheets. It is then seasoned with sesame seeds, garlic, and dried tomatoes before it is left to dry in the open air.
Once done, the sheets are cut into small pieces and fried with Jeaw Bong. Jeaw refers to traditional Lao dipping sauce, which contains grilled vegetables and fermented fish sauce. It makes the sheets tasty and crispy, making it the perfect Laotian snack.
More Popular Lao Dishes
Here is a list of more delicious Lao dishes to try out!
- Khao Jee (Baguette)
- Laos Pho
- Sien Savanh (Lao Beef Jerky)
- Som Moo (Preserved Pork Sausage)
- Khao Piak Sen (Wet Noodles)
- Ping Gai (Laotian Grilled Chicken)
- Khao Lam (Sticky Rice With Coconut Milk) (Lao Desserts)
Now that you know some of the best dishes to fill your cravings, I hope you have a wonderful time in Laos. In case you want to learn more about the food ingredients, flavors, and food culture of Laos, download the Ling app now!
Ling is one of the best apps that provide language learning lessons on topics like sports, clothes, culture, and many more. It covers 60+ languages and features an AI chatbot that engages you in interactive lessons. It will enable you to communicate easily in Lao restaurants without worrying about language barriers. So, download the app now from App Store or Play Store and start learning Lao with Ling!