Laotian Food - 15 Famous Dishes You Must Try When Travel in Laos
Laotian dishes are one of the best-kept secrets of South East Asia. Although getting less attention than its neighbors due to landlocked location, this small country still has a lot to offer when it comes to culture and especially cuisine. Laos food is rich in flavors, herbs and fresh ingredients. There are numerous regional variations but Lao cuisine can be seen as the cooking tradition and style of the entire Lao ethnic group. The staple food of Laos is sticky rice which is considered as the glue to connect Lao communities to their culture and to Laos, according to the common belief.
At present, it can be said that taste of Laos is gaining more popularity worldwide with many Lao restaurants popping up in the United States, Europe, Australia and Asia. As more foodies discover what makes Laotian food stands out, that’s also way to get more attention and interest from others who will be ready for their food journey in Laos itself.
Here is the list of typical dishes that show the best of Lao cooking. Check it out!
- Laos Sticky Rice
- Laos Larb
- Lao Sausage – Sai Oua
- Papaya Salad – Tam Mak Hoong
- Khao Poon Noodles
- Lao Steamed Fish – Mok Pa
- Khao Piak Sen – Lao Chicken Noodle Soup
- Jaew – A Dipping Sauce
- Or Lam – Traditional Stew From Luang Prabang
- Ping Gai – Laotian Grilled Chicken
- Laos Spring Rolls
- Laos Khao Jee Sandwich
- Laos Beef Jerky – Sien Savanh
- Insect Protein
- Laos Desserts
Laos Sticky Rice
Known as khao niao (khao means ‘rice’ while niao means ‘sticky’), sticky rice is one of Laos’ national cuisine. It is eaten at every meal, every time of the days in Laos. In fact, the Laotians eat more sticky rice than any other nation in the world as they believe that sticky rice is meant to holds the communities of Laos together. The Lao also referred themselves as “descendants of sticky rice”.
You can easily find sticky rice in a cone shaped woven basket or on skewers barbecuing over a grill on the streets. It can be served together with grilled meat, fish dishes, salads or even omelets.
This is the signature dish of Laos which is differently spelled as larp, laab or laap sometimes and a must try. Larb is a spicy mixture of thinly sliced meat or fish with a variable combination of herbs, greens, and spices. There is also vegetarian larb that contains tofu or mushrooms and vegetables. This dish can be served in cooked or raw version. Choose your preferred style but it seems safer in cooked style anyway. Like most Laotian dishes, the locals enjoy this salad with sticky rice and various side dishes.
Lao Sausage – Sai Oua
Lao Sausage or Sai Oua is another typical flavorful dish in Laos which is a tasty grilled pork sausage packed with herbs and spices, typically served with sticky rice and fresh vegetables. There is also another local sausage called Sai Oua Krouaille, a black spicy grilled buffalo sausage, that you can find in Luang Prabang. This dish can be easily found at local markets, restaurants or roadside stalls in Laos.
Papaya Salad – Tam Mak Hoong
Similar to Som Tam Salad in Thailand, this salad dish is a quintessential Lao recipe. Tam Mak Hoong is made with unripe shredded papaya, fish sauce, chili peppers, salt, sugar, other herbs and vegetable. If you like spicy food, papaya salad is absolutely suitable for you and it can be served with sticky rice or rice noodles to get more balance to its spiciness. This is a fairly simple dish to create and a great appetizer to share with friends.
Khao Poon Noodles
Khao Poon noodles are made with rice that has been fermented for a few days, then they are boiled to create a dough-like consistency and pressed through a mold to create the noodle shape. Having a slightly acidic taste, they are great in noodle salad with tomatoes, mung bean paste, chili, salt and sugar. Another popular type of Khao Poon Noodles is a soup broth with chicken, pork or fish and fish sauce, lime leaves, garlic, shallots and Lao chillies – all added for flavor. You can find this dish at local market for a hearty breakfast, street food carts, night markets, restaurants – very easy.
Lao Steamed Fish – Mok Pa
Similar type of Fish Amok as the signature dish in Cambodia, you will find Mok Pa in Laos considerably same way. Mok Fa is a fragant steamed fish, in which the fish is soaked in vibrant local flavors including kaffir lime leaves, lemongrass, chilli, onion, fish sauce, then neatly packaged in a banana leaf tied up with a bamboo string and steamed until the fish is perfectly done. Catfish or any white fish can suit. This scrumptious steamed fish looks amazing and can be served with sticky rice which will melt your mouth with each bite.
Khao Piak Sen – Lao Chicken Noodle Soup
Khao Piak Sen is kind of Lao noodle soup with layers of flavor which can be easily found in almost every street corner of Laos. This is a rich chicken broth with noodles and an array of toppings on it, such as fried garlic, shallots, lemongrass, lime leaves, chili, cilantro which allow dinners to customize their bowls as desired. This soup can also be served with beef or pork and a handful of the greens and various vegetables instead. In local style, this bowl can even go with a few innards such as heart, liver and tongue. For a quick meal but still tasty, this is a right choice.
Jaew – A Dipping Sauce
Jaew is one of the main staples of Laos food which refers the dipping sauces for every Laos dishes. This dish always contain chili peppers and perfectly suits with many Laotian dishes such as steamed fish, grilled meat, vegetables, sticky rice…You can find several different kinds, in which, Jaew Bong or Luang Prabang chili sauce is a traditional food in Luang Prabang; or Jaew Mak Khua which is also one of the most common taste in food of Laos.
Or Lam – Traditional Stew From Luang Prabang
Or Lam or also spelled as Oor Lam, Orlam or Ô-Lam is a mildly spicy Laotian stew originating from Luang Prabang which was originally made with deer meat in the royal receipt. At present, this dish is usually cooked with a variety of meats such as dried buffalo skin, beef, chicken or quail together with eggplants, wood ear mushrooms, and yard-long bean. One of the most distinctive ingredients in this dish is Lao chili wood (sakkhan) which imparts a slight chili pepper taste that adds to the flavor of the dish. This stew becomes popular in Laos today.
Ping Gai – Laotian Grilled Chicken
Laotian grilled chicken or called ping gai is a delicious dish to represent the flavors of Lao. Its inspired recipe is to whip up the marinade including soy, fish and oyster sauce with freshly ground black pepper, sesame oil and a pinch of cayenne on the chicken. The longer time you make, the better flavors of chicken can be developed. Serve it with some sticky rice and a dish of green papaya salad, what a delicious meal. Let’s enjoy.
Laos Spring Rolls
Inspired by Vietnamese food, spring rolls in Laos is made with variety of ingredients, including rice noodles, carrot, cilantro, cucumber, bean sprouts, lettuce and protein can be shrimp, chicken, pork, turkey or eggs. Then all of them are wrapped tight in a thin rice paper in fresh version or make it fried. Both styles are delicious and totally healthy food. This dish suits well with sweet and spicy sauces which add more taste for each bite.
Laos Khao Jee Sandwich
Similar type as Banh My in Vietnam or Num Pang in Cambodia, Khao Jee is a delicious Laos sandwich made with pork, vegetables and a variety of fillings. Luang Prabang chilli sauce will add some additional spice for this dish. You can find it as a popular street food in Laos, mostly eaten at breakfast or lunchtime. This crunchy baguette with a cup of strong filtered coffee or a juicy drinks make a great meal for you.
Laos Beef Jerky – Sien Savanh
Tourists should not miss this special and delicious food when coming to Laos. Sien Savanh, known as the beef jerky in Laos is made with beef flank steak, sometimes water buffalo meat is used, marinated with garlic, fish sauce, ginger, sugar, salt and pepper. It is then left to dry in sunlight and deep fried until lightly crispy. This dish is usually topped off with sesame seeds, served with sticky rice and a Beerlao – a good combination. You can also buy them home as a delicious food gift from Laos.
For adventurous eaters, some of the creepy-crawly delicacies in Lao cuisine can push their limits. Diners can find food types with insects like crickets, silk worm pupae, caterpillars, grasshoppers and the famous ant egg soup which have been a part of the Lao diet for centuries. This sustainable protein can be a full meal or a fried snack served at street food stalls or night market. Together with a cold Beer Lao, it is a good treat. In fact, insect protein is also making its way into the western diet now, primarily in the form of cricket flour and granola bars.
In reality, there is no real Laos food culture around desserts when all the dishes are served and eaten at once at the meal of Laotian families. However, there are two key elements of Laotian cuisine that make their way into Lao desserts are coconuts and bananas. You will find many snacks and sweets made with coconut and bananas sold at fruit stalls or by street vendors. For dessert, you can try Khao Lam – a sticky rice which is prepared in a bamboo tube with coconut milk and beans and plugged with coconut husk or banana leaves. It can be found in markets or at every festival.
In conclusion, the above list is just among the most popular specialties of Laos cuisine. As nuanced and unique as its people, you’ll find different menus with regional flavors and dishes in Laos food. Although Laotian dishes are somehow found similar to Thailand and Vietnam in terms of flavors and ingredients consisting of fresh herb, spices, noodles and rice, the food of Laos still has its own stand and becomes an adventure for the palate of travelers worldwide.
Plan your Laos trips and let Laos Travel team be a part of your unforgettable experience.