The local cuisine experienced on the Laos family tour is sure to have a clear influence of Chinese, Vietnamese, and Thai cooking. Many of the dishes make use of Asian herbs (galangal, ginger, lemongrass, etc.), soy, fish sauce and chilli. Plus, certain dishes still have a French influence that dates back to the past colonial era, with obvious signs including the baguettes sold on the street stalls.
What to eat
A major feature of the local Laos dish is sticky rice (khao niaw) while plenty of dishes include a serving of green papaya salad (tam mak hoong). A popular dish to try on the Laos holidays is larb which is a fiery salad with ingredients like mint, ground rice, lime juice, chilli and minced meat. Noodles are also common and a favoured choice as a snack or for breakfast.
Many of the restaurants give a great scenic view with terraces set overlooking the Mekong River. Any of the restaurants visited on the Laos private tour close to the river are certain to serve local delicacies of grilled river fish.
Beyond the common ingredients like lime juice, lemongrass, coriander and chillies, the basics include tamarind, shallots, galangal, coconut milk and ginger. Also, a further popular item is khao khua and features in a lot of Lao dishes. This is a type of raw rice that is placed in a wok and thoroughly roasted and later turned into a powder. This is added to a number of dishes to give a quite gritty texture and nutty flavour to food.
A further ingredient that is common to most dishes is the use of fermented fish mixtures. This is added to help salt the local dishes. Most of the fish sauce used in Laos is imported from neighbouring Thailand. But, there is a local style of sauce that has a more homemade feel, and called pa daek. This fish sauce is a lot thicker and still retains rice husks and chunks of fermented fish. Also, it is mostly included in cooked dishes, so isn’t likely to be noticed when eating the food.
A further seasoning that is common in the country is monosodium glutamate (MSG) which looks much like table salt. This seasoning is seen in noodle shops and shinier and coarser than salt.
Larb is referred to as the country’s national dish. Larb is a type of salad that is created with fish or meat and mixed with fish sauce, ground sticky rice, galangal, shallots, chillies and garlic. This salad recipe is prepared either cooked or eaten raw. Eating the meal cooked is the favoured choice and comes with a side dish of lettuce to use for cooling the mouth after eating a piece of chilli.
Another popular salad to try on the Laos travel is a spicy papaya salad (tam mak hung) which includes ingredients like crab juice, dried shrimp, fish sauce, lime juice, chillies and garlic.
A visit to the street food stalls in Vientiane can give a great appreciation of the local and authentic dishes. Many of the Vendors prepare the local and national dishes using their own recipes which help to create the most unique experience. For instance, there are several variations of tam mak hung which swaps out the papaya with eggplant and green banana.
Also, the majority of the vendor’s selling tam mak hung will also serve up a delightful dish like basted grilled chicken which is locally known as ping kai. Other grilled dishes include a whole fish skewered (ping pa) and stuffed with lemongrass and herbs.
A common component of a local meal is soup, which is likely to accompany a main course. A popular soup is fish based such as kaeng pa or tom yam paw (includes extras like mushrooms and lemongrass). A bowl of kaeng jeut is certain to be appreciated by those that favour the mild soups and includes pork and vegetables.
A local specialty of Luang Prabang and southern Laos that is well worth trying on the Laos travel packages is fish steamed in banana leaves or mok pa. Plus, there are several other variations of this dish, such as mok pa fa lai (includes fresh stingray) and mok kheuang nai kai (chicken giblets replaces the fish).
An ever-present noodle soup in Laos is called foe which is mainly eaten for breakfast in the mornings – although it is still great to eat at any time. Plus, for travellers on the Laos tours exploring the more remote regions, this dish is often one of the only options. A bowl of foe includes thin rice noodles, meat (sliced grilled chicken, water buffalo, beef) and a light broth. It is usually served with herbs (coriander, mint, lettuce, etc.) and fresh raw leaves. Plus, most of the noodle shops have a few extra condiments on the table to help with flavouring the broth. Lime wedges, fish sauce, vinegar, sugar, and chilli are popular containers to create the right salty, sour, sweet or spicy taste.
Most of the street stalls prepare a varied range of noodle dishes with a favoured soup for the start of the day consisting of khao biak sen, which is a chicken broth with fresh ginger, slices of chicken and soft rice noodles. This noodle dish is mostly served in the large towns and difficult to find in the remote areas.
When travelling in Laos it is advisable to avoid drinking the local tap water and instead stick to the widely available bottled water. Most soft drinks like Fanta, Coca-Cola, 7-Up, etc. are convenient to buy in the local shops, stalls and markets.
A great local soft drink is mak mai pan which is a type of fruit shake and prepared with a favoured fruit, condensed milk, liquid sugar, and blended with ice. This is mostly sold in the restaurants based in the tourist areas. Also, the freshly squeezed fruit juice is popular with nam mak phao (coconut water) and nam mak nao (lemon) sourced directly from the fruit. Nam oi or sweet sugar-cane juice is a further popular choice.
Laos is also famous for its coffee with a full-bodied and rich flavoured coffee served in any of the coffee shops or restaurants. The locally produced coffee is kafeh thong or kafeh Lao, although there are several instant coffee brands such as Nescafe.