In Laos, food is the most important activity throughout the day.
In the local language, it is quite common for people to greet each other by immediately asking, “Have you eaten food?” (“Kin khao laeo bor?”).
Food is often the topic of many conversations, especially when eating and sharing dishes between friends and family.
Additionally, Lao people take great passion in sharing traditional dishes with curious travelers.
While Laotian food is generally overlooked compared to its neighboring culinary giants, Thailand and Vietnam, a lot of common Thai dishes actually originate from Laos.
Dishes like sticky rice, laab, and papaya salad, are all identified as Thai dishes but have actually originated in Laos.
As parts of Northern Thailand was once a part of Laos, the food here is very similar but of course made with different variations.
The main purposes of this articles is to give you the idea of Lao foods and top 10 dishes you must try.
For every dish, we have collected a suitable tutorial video if you want to try making your own dish at home.
TOP 10 LAOS DISHES YOU MUST TRY
Let’s start, we have compiled a list below of the top ten most famous Lao dishes to try when traveling through the country.
If you are adventurous, we recommend exploring local markets for a truly unique culinary experience!
Khao Niaw - Sticky Rice
Rice is a staple in almost every meal in Laos and traditionally, it can be eaten at all times of the day.
Served in a cone shaped woven basket, this is used as an accompaniment to almost every Laotian meal.
One of the best yet simplest meals that we’ve had in Laos is sticky rice served with jeow which is a mixture of tomatoes, eggplant, chillis, and peanuts.
Check below video to learn how to make the best sticky rice
Laab - Minced Meat Salad
Laap (sometimes transliterated as larb) is Laos’ national dish.
This minced meat salad can be made with raw or cooked beef, pork or fish in citrus juice flavored with padek, chilis, garlic, mint and onion.
Cooked laap dishes are listed alongside the raw ones on menus so double check what you’re ordering!
No meat seems to be off limits for laap as duck, buffalo, chicken or even mushrooms and tofu are available in restaurants and roadside stands.
Grab a ball of sticky rice to scoop up the laap and eat with your hands.
Here is the video teaching how to make a good Laab dish:
Tam Mak Hoong - Green Papaya Salad
Made with young, green papaya this is not your average fruit salad. The fruit is chopped into long thin strips and mixed with padek, lime, chilis, salt and sugar to give it a spicy and savory taste.
Shrimp, tomatoes, eggplant and carrots are common additions as well.
All of the ingredients are pounded with a mortar and pestle giving rise to the Lao name tam mak hoong, or “pounded papaya.”
Here is how to make Tam Mak Hoong
Mok Pa - Steamed Fish
Mok Pa is steamed fish that is typically wrapped up in banana leaves and tied with bamboo string.
It is prepared with lemongrass, kaffir leaves, green onions, fish sauce, green chilis, shrimp paste, and fresh dill.
All these ingredients are mixed together with steamed fish. Mok Pa should never be served dry, and is also another dish that must be paired with sticky rice.
And learn how to make a good Mok Pa here
Khao Soi (Rice Noodle Soup With Fermented Soybean-Tomato Sauce)
Though there is some debate on where the name originates from, in the Lao language khao does mean “rice” and soi means “cut” and so it is a sensible theory since fresh hand-cut rice noodles are essential for khao soi, Luang Prabang’s signature noodle soup.
Given their girth, the noodles are also referred to as sen nyai or “big noodle”.
Not to be confused with the completely different Chiang Mai khao soi, Luang Prabang khao soi uses a clear pork stock and it is topped with a bolognese of mince fatty pork, tomatoes, chili and fermented soy bean paste which gives it a bright red hue.
Before eating, it’s customary to sink in some watercress, Thai basil, mint and a squirt of lime.
Watch the video from the chef to learn how to make a good Khao Soi
Khao Poon (Soup With Fermented Noodles)
If you had to name a signature noodle for Laos, khao poon would be it. Khao poon (bun in Vietnamese) is fermented rice vermicelli.
The noodles are thin and round, the thickness of skinny spaghetti, and they are sticky to the touch with a slightly soured aroma.
Eaten all over the country, it is especially popular for feasts and celebrations, used as an ingredient in phan dishes, where everyone makes their own rice paper or lettuce wraps with meat, herbs and sauces.
There are different types of khao poon noodle soups; a curry of pounded fish, coconut milk and kaffir lime leaves is the most common.
The noodle is made and sold fresh daily and how it’s made is a fascinating process. Watch below to see how to make Khao Poon
Mango Sticky Rice
Mango sticky rice is a cooling go-to Lao dessert after a spicy Lao meal. Made with glutinous sticky rice cooked in coconut milk and sugar, it’s served with fresh ripe mangoes and often topped with sesame seeds.
This dessert can also be made with black sticky rice or a mix of black and white rice which leads to a purple colored dessert.
Here is how to make mango sticky rice
Grilled Salted Fish (Ping Pa)
Landlocked Laos has no shortage of freshwater seafood caught in its many rivers.
Grilled river fish is covered in salt, stuffed with lemongrass and other spices, skewered and grilled over coals.
The flakey fish is most often eaten with the hands by pulling apart the meat and creating a lettuce wrap with sticky rice and sauces.
The fish are not de-boned so be aware of small bones as you dig in. Lao people have no problem eating eyeballs, tails and skin, but also aren’t offended by more choosy visitors.
Just pass of the scraps to the stray dogs or cats that run the Lao streets.
Learn how to make a good Grilled Salted Fish here
Khao Piak Sen - Laos Tapioca Noodle Soup
Khao Piak Sen is a chewy noodle soup that has a similar consistency to Udon, but it is made with rice instead of wheat.
It is considered to be a comfort food in Laos, typically made with pork or chicken, lemongrass, galangal, shallots, garlic, chopped coriander leaves, bean sprouts, and served with freshly sliced limes.
The most crucial factor is the broth, which should be slowly cooked with bones for the best flavor.
At many restaurants, you will be encouraged to add in your own amount of sugar, chili sauce, dried chili powder, fish sauce, or soy sauce.
Gaeng Nor Mai - Bamboo and Yanang Leaf Stew
This stew is made from bamboo shoots and flavored with yanang leaf extract, whose leaves are thought to have medicinal qualities, though they’re too fibrous and chewy to actually eat.
Instead, the leaves are placed in water and rubbed to extract their juices; the extract is then used, along with bamboo shoots, garlic, chilies, and padaek, a type of incredibly strong, unfiltered fish sauce, to make the stew’s base.
The stew’s other ingredients can vary wildly and are usually determined by whatever happens to be on hand, including greens, wild mushrooms, all kinds of herbs, meats like pork or fish, dried fish skin, and whole quail eggs.
Here is how to make a good bowl of Gaeng Now Mai
EXTRA: LOVE STREET FOOD? 7 POCKET TIPS FOR A HAPPY STOMACH
- Bring some medications with you in the unfortunate event of getting sick from the food.
- Only drink bottled water.
- Look for the street vendor with the longest line and get in the queue. Chance are high that the locals will know which stall is the tastiest.
- Observe the locals way of eating after they receive their dishes to learn what ingredients might be a good idea to add. Pouring a little soy sauce or a squeeze of lime can make some Lao dishes come to life in a scrumptious and flavorsome way.
- In the event of a language barrier, vegetarians or travelers with food allergies should save images of these food items onto their cellphones and show them to the food vendors or restaurants with a big shake of the head to best convey their message.
- Avoid raw meat in Laos even though it is a common ingredient in the popular Laab dish. Ask for the meat to be stir-fried and avoid it entirely if it is in-refrigerated or the smell starts getting a bit strange
- Practice your pronunciation of “Khao Niaw”, “Khao Piak Sen”,” Khao Jee” or anything else that you might want to sample. A bit of effort, a welcoming, toothy smile and a friendly attitude will go a long way in your social interactions in Laos. Here are some basic phrases for travelers in Laos
So you have already known the 10 best Laos dishes you must try. Of course, there are plenty of dishes that cannot be listed in the scope of this articles. If you have any idea or recommendation, do not hesitate to give comment below, or CONTACT US. You can also check our LAOS TOUR COLLECTION to have more idea of what you can do in Laos.
Thanks for reading and contribution.