Laos is one of those countries not known for its cuisine, and a place people often forget to think about as a food destination. Foods do have some similarities to other countries in Southeast Asia, but the cuisine tends to straddle the line between Thailand and Vietnam, with steamed rice crepes and pates, as well as the eggplant dips and soups found in Thailand’s north. Here are some mouth-watering foods from my weeks in Laos:
1. Noodle soup of champions: A rich chicken broth, thick rice noodles and steamed chicken topped with heaps of shredded, fried garlic. On the side, a plate filled with fresh mint and other herbs to add to the soup. Delicious.
2. Spring rolls! Laos is known for them and wherever you go, you can get an overflowing bag of them, 10 for fifty cents. Filled with either pork or vegetables or chicken, they’re tightly rolled and deep fried, an idea afternoon snack.
3. For those who don’t want to stick to the fried version, a delicate steamed rice crepe served warm and smothered in fried garlic, folded like an envelope around a pocket of cooked pork and mushrooms. This one also has an egg broken on the rice flower as it’s cooking, making for a filling, protein-filled snack. There is also a room temperature version, stuffed full of fresh lettuce and mint and shredded banana heart – light and airy and eaten at any time of the day.
This is how the steamed rice crepes are made, by pouring a thin layer of rice flour on the steamer and then using tongs to turn it over and fold it around the filling of choice:
4. One of my favorite dishes from Laos is a fiery roasted eggplant dip, eaten with a ball of sticky rice (and some tea or soymilk to help cut the spice). Called jaew mak khua, it was something I kept going back to, despite the sweat and tears from the spice (and the laughter of the locals who found my intolerance to chili hilarious.)
A typical garnish plate for a meal in Laos: lime, chili, garlic and fresh herbs:
5. Another great main meal option was grilled fish, grilled to perfection and stuffed with cilantro, chili and other spices. Eaten off the bone, it was tender and flaky and – you know it – delicious:
6. For the meat-inclined, Laos has no shortage of skewers no matter where you are, from chicken to pork to water buffalo. Each different and tasty, with lineups of locals at a stand speaking to the fact that it wouldn’t get me sick, I sampled them all:
7. Finally, for those who don’t want to experiment: there’s always bread. Formerly under French rule, Laos has “falang baguettes” (literally “foreigner bread”), filled with a great variety of stuffings. While touristed places have chicken salad or tuna, I recommend sticking to the basics: pate, shredded dried pork, chunks of cilantro, mayo and chili sauce. You can pick it up at almost every bus station in the country:
Missing any foods from Laos that you enjoyed or have questions? Leave’em in the comments!