Laotian cuisine shows the clear influence of Thai, Vietnamese and Chinese cooking, with its widespread use of chilli, fish sauce, soy and Asian herbs like lemongrass, ginger, galangal and Asian basil. There’s also a subtle French influence dating back to the colonial administration, most obvious in the baguette sandwiches sold on the streets of Vientiane.
The foundation stone of any Laos meal is khao niaw (sticky rice), and most meals come with a side order of tam mak hoong (pounded green papaya salad). Perhaps the most famous dish of all is laap, a fiery salad of minced meat, chilli, lime juice, ground rice and mint. Green tea is usually served weak and free in most restaurants, and Beer Lao has an enthusiastic following. Some of the most atmospheric restaurants are set on terraces overlooking the swirling waters of the Mekong River – needless to say, grilled river fish is a favourite local delicacy.
Khao niaw: Lao glutinous rice (aka sticky rice) is the national staple; simply roll it up into balls and pop in your mouth.
Tam mak hoong: Laos’ favourite salad is an incendiary mix of pounded green papaya, peanuts, dried shrimp, green beans, lime juice, fish sauce and palm sugar.
Laap: A lip-smacking salad made from minced meat, fish or vegetables tossed with mint, chilli, lime juice, garlic, onions and powdered rice.
Pho: White rice noodle soup, usually served with beef or pork; it’s subtly flavoured and locals spice it up with fish sauce, dried chillies and herbs.
Khao jee: Baguettes are a legacy of the French colonial period, often served with tomatoes, cheese and pork in chilli sauce.
Sai oua: Traditional Lao sausage, flavoured with lime leaves, onion, garlic and Lao herbs.
Kai paen: Weed from the Mekong River – a Luang Prabang speciality – usually served dried into sheets with sesame.
Khao poon: Spicy soup with vermicelli noodles, chilli, lime leaves and strongly-flavoured perilla leaves.
Ping Kai: Lao-style grilled chicken, seasoned with pepper, coriander root, garlic and fish sauce.
Or Lam: A rich jungle stew or dried buffalo meat or game, chilli, mushrooms, beans and mashed eggplants.
Lao lao: The local rice whisky, traditionally prepared in village stills.
Beer Lao: The nation’s favourite brew.
Cafe pakxong: Lao coffee, brewed using beans from plantations on the Boloven Plateau.
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