Laotian food is gaining popularity across the world and is rightfully so. It’s vibrant, flavorful, brimmed with chilies, herbs, spices, and an array of ingredients like rice and noodles, making it complex yet refreshing to the palate. Though it shares influence from Thailand and Vietnamese cuisine, it boasts its own distinct, delicious taste that is guaranteed to tickle your taste buds. With that, here are the most popular foods in Laos you don’t want to miss trying.
Khao Niao (Sticky Rice)
Khao Niao or sticky rice is a staple food in Laos, with Lao people even claiming that they eat more of it than anyone else in the world. Making the dish entails soaking the sticky rice overnight. It will be pulled out of the water the following morning and steamed over a charcoal fire for about 30-40 minutes. Such a process provides the sticky rice its luscious and chewy characteristics. Once it cools down, it will be placed in little baskets and would then be consumed by itself, alongside many food combinations, or as a part of heavier meals. It’s so embedded in Laos’ culture that there would always be sticky rice available at any time in the day.
Khao Jee Paté
Coming from its French influence, you can find Khao Jee Paté or massive baguette sandwiches in many restaurants or on the streets in Laos. Also resembling Vietnam’s banh mi, the bread is stuffed with meat, vegetables like watercress, carrot, tomatoes, pickled papaya, fried eggs, herbs, and sauces. It’s a quick meal that you can take for breakfast, lunch, or even as a late-night snack.
Laap is the national dish of Laos. Often transliterated as larb or minced meat salad in menus, it can be made with any raw or cooked meat, from fish, pork, beef, chicken, duck, or even buffalo. It is then flavored with lime juice, chili peppers, fish sauce, and fresh herbs like mint, green onions, and cilantro. Toasted sticky ground rice powder is also added, giving it its signature taste. Pair it with a ball of sticky rice, eat with your hands, and savor another delectable mainstay in the Laotian diet.
Another popular food in Laos is sausages. Yet, tasting one would take you to a new realm as it’s most likely far from any sausages you had before. The Lao version has a unique flavor as the chopped meat is mixed with tropical herbs and spices like kaffir leaves, shallots, lemongrass, chilies, fish sauce, and ginger. You can have it grilled, fried, or soured, best accompanied by sticky rice, jaew dipping sauce, and tam mak hoong or papaya salad.
Tam Mak Hoong (Papaya Salad)
Tam Mak Hoong is one of the popular dishes that best epitomizes Lao cuisine. This salad is made of green or unripe papaya, satisfyingly piquant and crunchy, far different from the soft, sweet ripe fruit. Green papaya is shredded. However, many say the best ones are made by hacking the fruit thinly using a large knife, done mainly by the Lao people in incredible precision. Tomatoes, lime, juice, fish sauce, shrimp paste, and raw eggplant are then pounded and mixed with the papaya and seven chilies or more in Lao style! It can be spicy, but you can eat tam mak hoong with sticky rice to tone down the spiciness and enjoy its goodness.
Or Lam is a thick, mildly spicy, tongue-numbing stew that traces its roots from Luang Prabang, the country’s old royal capital. It’s a complex dish made of multi-layers of textures and flavors from its ingredients; beans, lemongrass, basil, dill, cilantro, green onion, wood ear mushrooms, and wild vines. Grilled meat, usually beef, chicken, pork, buffalo, but rarely fish, is added, along with rice balls and vegetables. Despite that long list, all blends in harmony, resulting in an aromatic, nutritious, and palatable dish just waiting to explode on your taste buds.
Mok Pa is another dish associated with Luang Prabang. This dish contains steamed fish wrapped in banana leaves and secured by bamboo strings. It’s flavored with fish sauce, sticky rice powder, as well as different herbs and spices, lemongrass, chili peppers, kaffir lime leaves, green onions, fresh dill, and shrimp paste. All ingredients are grounded using mortar first before it is incorporated with the fish and wrapped inside the small parcels. Though other types of fish can be used, Lao people commonly use catfish for the dish. Mok Pa is served with a dipping sauce and sticky rice on the side.
Mok Kai is similar to Mok Pa but uses chicken as the main meat. Chicken thighs are seasoned with grounded ginger, lemongrass, chilies, fish sauce, shallots, kaffir leaves, and drizzled with fish sauce. Afterward, it’s wrapped with banana leaves and steamed. Other versions may include eggs, coconut milk, garlic, and bamboo shoots. Mok kai is often paired with sticky rice, though it may be stored inside the freezer for later consumption.
Khao Piak Sen
Khao Piak Sen is a bowl of chewy rice noodles that you can find nearly on every street corner in the country. It’s considered comfort food in Laos, a perfect dish to start the day. Ingredients of the dish consist of pork or chicken, ginger, garlic, shallots, bean sprouts, coriander leaves, lemongrass, plus served with fresh herbs, hot red peppers, and sliced limes. The dish’s secret is its deep, thick broth, which takes hours to make to bring out the best flavor. Khao piak sen tastes insanely good – try it, and you’ll know why it’s iconic in the country.
Though it’s not technically a food, eating any Laotian dish will be more satisfying if accompanied by a bottle of ice-cold Lao Beer. It’s deemed the best-tasting beer in the country, of high quality but offered at a reasonable price. You can find it sold everywhere in Laos, which you can also drink as a refreshment on a hot day. Once you taste one, you’d sure be in to drink more and more bottles.
That’s the rundown of the most popular foods in Laos! However, it’s not an exhaustive list as Laotian food has a plethora of delicious dishes waiting for you to taste. So, keep exploring and enjoying the amazing food of Laos cuisine!