LAO CUISINE

LAO CUISINE

Lao cuisine has many regional variations, due in part to the fresh foods local to each region. You can either enjoy and authentic Lao meal (khao niew or sticky rice is a staple) in many of the restaurants. A French legacy is also apparent in the capital city, Vientiane, such that baguettes are sold on the street, and French restaurants (often with a naturally Lao, Asian-fusion touch) are common and popular.

Lao cuisine is the cuisine of Laos, which is distinct from other Southeast Asian cuisines. The Lao originally came from the north in a region that became China, but moved southward and brought with them their Lao traditions. Due to historical Lao migrations from Laos into neighboring countries that share borders with Laos, Lao cuisine has strongly influenced the neighboring region of Northeastern Thailand (Isan) and some Lao culinary influences have also reached Cambodia and Northern Thailand (Lanna) where the Lao have migrated. The staple food of the Lao is steamed sticky rice which is eaten by hand. In fact, the Lao eat more sticky rice than any group or people in the world; sticky rice is considered the essence of what it means to be "Lao"—many Lao even referred to themselves as, "Luk Khao Niaow", which can be translated as, "children/descendants of sticky rice". Galangal, lemongrass and padaek (Lao fish sauce) are important ingredients. [Source: Wikipedia +]

Lao food differs from neighboring cuisines in multiple respects. One is that the Lao meal almost always includes a large quantity of fresh raw greens, vegetables and herbs served undressed on the side. Another is that savory dishes are never sweet. "Sweet and sour" is generally considered bizarre and foreign in Laos. Yet another is that some dishes are bitter. There is a saying in Lao cuisine, "van pen lom; khom pen ya," which can be translated as, "sweet makes you dizzy; bitter makes you healthy." A couple of the green herbs favored in Lao cuisine but generally ignored by their neighbors are mint and dill, both of paramount importance. Galangal is a cooking herb that is heavily favored in Laos, unlike in neighboring countries. It appears in probably the majority of Lao dishes, along with the conventional herbs: garlic, shallots, lemongrass, etc. Another distinctive characteristic of Lao food or more properly, Lao eating habits, is that food is frequently eaten at room temperature. This may be attributable to the fact that Lao food served with sticky rice is traditionally handled by hand. +

Amanda Hesser wrote in the New York Times, “Laotian food hasn't yet made it onto the world stage, and that may be because most people treat lush and tiny Laos like Luxembourg and Andorra -- countries too small, too obscure, to bother with. Until I visited, the most elaborate description I had been given of the cuisine was that it was ''like Vietnamese but with better sausage.'' [Source: Amanda Hesser, New York Times, July 13, 2005 /~/]

“Traditionally, Laos does have better sausage than Vietnam -- everything from blood sausage to slender pork links to water buffalo patties flavored with kaffir lime leaf. Laotians also eat pho, only it often contains more greens than its Vietnamese counterpart. Some of the most traditional foods found in Luang Prabang are bamboo salad; edible leaves filled with eggplant, rice noodles, lemon grass, ginger and coriander; deep-fried eggs stuffed with pork; fish and meat salads called laap; sun-dried buffalo; and pork belly cured with vinegar and garlic and grilled on sticks. Laos, like its neighbors, depends on rice as a staple. But Laotians eat sticky rice, which they crush into a ball with their fingers and use like a sponge to soak up sauces, instead of using chopsticks. They also eat a great deal of vegetables and herbs, with a preference for bitter, herbal and astringent flavors, the telltale characteristics of Laotian cooking. /~/

“Traditional Laotian cooking involves a lot of game, wild boar and river fish, as well as the occasional bug and water monitor. Because Laos, which is wedged between Thailand and Vietnam, is landlocked, there are no ocean fish. ''If you give a Lao a fish from the ocean, they won't like it,'' one Vientiane chef said. ''They'll say it doesn't smell of the earth.''” /~/

French Influence on Lao Cuisine

According to Frommers.com: “As with elsewhere in Southeast Asia, the French influence remains. Fresh baguette (khao ji), strong filtered coffee, and pâté sandwiches (khao ji pâté) are all available on the street. Laos is also a major coffee producer, so if caffeine is your thing you are in for a treat. Ask for "kah-fe Lao" to make sure you don't get served a cup of instant granules rather than the real thing. Both Vientiane and Luang Prabang boast superb French restaurants with authentic Gallic fare and great wine. Both places are a gourmet treat and have gotten better over the years as competition has forced up quality. The food in both towns is world-beating in terms of both quality and price.

The French influences mostly focus on various kinds of breads, like the French baguettes, which can be found in the larger towns and the French bread or French tossed salads. Describing a baguette with condensed milk, globetrottergirls.com reported: “Yes, you read that right. The French influence comes from 50 years during which Laos was a protectorate of France (1893 – 1954), so in addition to crumbling French colonial architecture in cities like Luang Prabang, the baguette still remains a daily staple in Laos. There are baguette stands everywhere, even in rural villages, but rather than a healthy helping of ‘fromage’, these baguettes come two ways. One is the $1 lunch/dinner option – piled high with chicken, ham, lettuce, cabbage, avocado, egg, even plastic cheese singles – and the other is the breakfast baguette, a truly Lao/French fusion food. Here you cut the baguette open, pour half a can of sweetened, thick condensed milk over it, and voila: A simple but delicious sweet breakfast baguette, best enjoyed with a cup of delicious Lao coffee, which also usually comes with three or four spoonfuls of the same condensed milk.

Luang Prabang Cuisine

Amanda Hesser wrote in the New York Times, “The city of Luang Prabang was once known throughout Laos for its exceptional food because the royal family, who had the best cooks, resided there. After the Pathet Lao sent several members of the royal family to re-education camps (where it is presumed they died), people went back to cooking more simply, and the composed cuisine of the monarchy went into hibernation. [Source: Amanda Hesser, New York Times, July 13, 2005 /~/]

“3 Nagas, is devoted to traditional Laotian cooking. In “the off-season and the restaurant was nearly empty. Soon we were eating kaipen -- a rustic cousin of nori made from riverweeds that are cut into spongy squares and fried -- spread with a roasted chili, garlic and buffalo-skin paste called jaew bong. For about three seconds, the paste was sweet and pungent, and then fire blazed through my mouth. We drank khao kam -- a fizzy and delicate pink rice wine served in a stemmed glass with a slice of lime. This was followed by water buffalo stew, thickened with crushed eggplant and flavored with galangal, a spicy forest vine called sakhan and tiny astringent eggplants the size of marbles; minced fish and banana leaf salad; pork sausage flush with lemon grass; and a dish of fried eggplant and minced pork. /~/

“Nothing we tasted reminded us of Thailand or of Vietnam. Every flavor vindicated the distance we had traveled; every sip of that rice wine told us we were in Laos. At 3 Nagas, you get Western comforts -- white tablecloths, professional service -- but almost no Western concessions on the menu. Luang Prabang, which is in the north, is surrounded on three sides by river -- the Mekong and Nam Khan rim the town, merging at the southern tip of the city before gliding on toward Vientiane in the south. River fish are on every menu. /~/

“There are still a number of other good cooks in town. Thongdy Pongsack, a chef of the former king who is now 79, spends her days chewing betel and helping her son and daughter run a sausage company. Down the street from 3 Nagas is a traditional soup stall, where you can dine on pork tripe and belly in beef broth with papaya, banana flower and morning glory stems. It is said to be frequented by a former princess. /~/

“My husband and I later” went “to the market and took the advice of Tim Kelley, who documented his own gastronomic tour of Laos on his Web log, runawaychef.com. As Mr. Kelley suggested at his site, we bought a plastic plate for 30 cents from one of the food vendors at the bottom of the hill and made our way to the top, where the best Laotian food is. We piled the plate with grilled sour pork, papaya salad and whatever else we could fit, and ate the food while sitting on the sidewalk. The pork was succulent, its fat so rich you had to peel it from the wooden skewers. A local guide had told me earlier, ''We say the way to keep your husband at home is by the taste of your tongue.'' I can't imagine there are too many husbands wandering off in Luang Prabang. Mine was busy devouring our dinner, and wasn't going anywhere.” /~/

French and Laotian Chefs in Luang Prabang

Amanda Hesser wrote in the New York Times, “Laos has made remarkable culinary strides, and in Luang Prabang, at least, much of the turnaround can be credited to Yannick Upravan and Gilles Vautrin, two business partners. Mr. Upravan, whose family fled to France in 1980, and his French partner, Mr. Vautrin, have opened three exceptional restaurants and a cafe within several hundred yards of each other. Mr. Upravan was born in Vientiane, the capital of Laos, and lived there until he was 11 and his family escaped to France. He later graduated from École Hôtelière de Thonon, the famous hotel school in southeast France, then worked for a large catering company in Geneva. On a visit he made to Luang Prabang in 1994, his grandmother asked him to come back and open a business in a building she owned. [Source: Amanda Hesser, New York Times, July 13, 2005 /~/]

“In 1999, they opened L'ant, an open-air affair with twirling fans and rattan chairs straight out of ''Casablanca.'' A great success, the restaurant serves pared-down and elegant food, blending French and Laotian cooking in such specialties as Mekong fish stew, river fish in a delicate mustard and butter sauce. Next, they opened the Café an Vat Sene, French Colonial down to the wicker chairs and croissants served with banana and pineapple jam. Then the French and Canadian owners of the 3 Nagas hotel, down the street from the cafe, asked Mr. Upravan and Mr. Vautrin to open two restaurants for them. Mr. Upravan gets his cooking tips from his aunt, who lives next to L'ant. ''All day I can hear her,'' he said. ''At 5 in the morning she is making steamed rice; at 9, I smell the chilies. She cooks all day.'' He brings her cake and she shares her secrets. /~/

“The success of 3 Nagas, Mango Tree and L'ant have stirred a culinary renaissance; there are now a number of boutique hotels that contain sophisticated restaurants. These new restaurants have effectively resurrected the local cooking, which had been threatened by influences from Thailand and China, and oddly enough, by the country's increasing prosperity. /~/

“By catering to tourists, Mr. Upravan and Mr. Vautrin have carved out a fine living for themselves. But they struggle with what they've wrought. One evening, Mr. Upravan took me to the night market in town to show me some of the local foods. We were more than halfway through when Mr. Upravan stopped and pointed to a grilled banana leaf packet. ''Look, this is knap,'' he said. Stuffed with fish and herbs, the packet is much like cooking en papillote, in which you preserve all the perfumes of the food inside the packet, and is a typical Laotian preparation. ''All these stalls,'' Mr. Upravan added, ''and this is the first knap we see. This is why I'm afraid for Lao food. If it's like this in 10 years, maybe you will find sushi and miso soup in town.''

“Savanh” Foods in Savannakhet Province

Salty processed meats such as sin Savanh (grilled dry beef), mom Savanh (beef liver sausage) and som moo (raw pork sausage) can be found at Savanxay Market and shops around Savannakhet Town, especially near the Vietnamese temple on Phangnyapui Road. Just outside the city in Ban Nateuy, natural salt is obtained by boiling saline groundwater pumped up from deep wells.

The French introduced coffee to Laos and it is grown in Savannakhet’s mountains near the border with Viet Nam. The province produces Café Savanh for commercial sale, as locals mostly drink it at restaurants and coffee shops. Great with a fresh baguette. Locals process fruits by drying or frying them, and among the most popular are dried banana chips sold at shops and stalls around Savannakhet Town. Another tasty snack is khao laam, which is sweetened rice packed into bamboo cases.

Lao Dishes

Much of the rice eaten in Laos is glutenous (sticky rice), the variety favored by the Lao. It is often cooked by warping the rice with leaves which are interested in a bamboo tube and placed by a fire. Padeck is the distinctive and unique Lao traditional food. It’s a mixture of fish and salt that is marinated and preserved in a jar for minimum of a year up. In the countryside people eat turkey and mak kok (a small green fruit that tastes astringent at first but tastes sweet after a swig of water). Another of Lao invention is a spicy green Papaya salad dish known as tam mak hoong or more famously known to the West as som tam. Tam Mak houng is made from sliced raw papaya, garlic, chile, peanuts, sugar, fermented fish sauce and lime juice.

Laotians Dishes include sticky rice and laap (see Eating Habits above), tam som (a spicy papaya salad made with chilies, lime juice, peanuts, garlic and paa daek), foe (Vietnamese style rice noodle soup), samla machou (tangy sour fish soup), bok-bok (a spicy papaya salad), ping kai (spicy grilled chicken), khao ptak sen (a noodle soup with crushed ginger and pork or chicken), khao pun (flour noodles topped with spicy coconut sauce), naem (spicy sausage with herbs rice and chilies), barbecued fresh fish, grilled meats (often served as small kebabs), steamed fish or chicken in banana leaves and sour bamboo soup made with fermented bamboo shoots. A $7.00 meal at a standard hotel often features vermicelli soup, watercress salad, deep-fried morning glories, stir-fried pork and cabbage, with sliced pineapple, watermelon and papaya.

Every region of Laos has its own specialties, for example in Luang Prabang one treat is kaipen a fried snack made of fresh water weed eaten with jaew bong, a sweet and spicy Lao paste made with roasted chilies, pork skin, galangal and other ingredients. Vientiane province is known for its heavily-salted, fermented “pa daek” fish paste, “koy paa” (sour and spicy minced fish salad), “kaeng paa” (fish soup) and “neung paa” (a delicious dish of steamed fish and fresh herbs).

Luang Prabang specialties include nang khu-wai haeng (dried water buffalo skin), jaew bawng (a jam-like condiment made with hot chillies and buffalo ski), aw lam (a thick soup made with mushrooms, meat, eggplant, and a bitter forest herb called “Sakhan”), ao-lam (a salad made with a unique river vegetable similar to seaweed, it is often pressed flat and served with sesame seeds), jaeo-bong (tamarind-flavored fish soup), khai paen (dried river moss lightly fried with sesame seeds and garlic), watercress salad, rice dishes flavor with chicken and Mekong River fish, stir-fried morning glory stems, grand beef or chicken marinated in lime juice and spices, purple sticky rice, mild, chicken curry, pork sausage, rice noodles and garlic dipping sauce.

Southern specialities include water buffalo skin and tamarind jam. Fish lovers will enjoy Champasak Province’s Mekong fish dishes, such as fish salad (laab paa and koi paa), fermented fish (paa dek), and the local specialty, pureed fish (paa ka tao). Indian, Vietnamese, Thai and Chinese dishes are also widely available. They include things like fried noodles, fried rice, fried rice with chicken, fried rice with pork, fried rice with prawns, Indian-style curry, crisp fried noodles, sweet and sour vegetables, beef in oyster sauce, chicken with ginger and coconut milk, fried rice with ginger, curried chicken, grilled fish in banana leaves, pork, chicken or prawn soup, and curries.

Laap

The most famous Lao dish is laap. a spicy mixture of marinated meat and/or fish that is sometimes raw (prepared like ceviche) with a variable combination of herbs, greens, and spices. Laap is a traditional Lao food made from chopped meat, chicken or fish. Duck is a favorite. The finely chopped meat, spices and broth are mixed with uncooked rice grains that have been dry fried and crushed. Laap is eaten with a plate of raw vegetables and sticky rice.

Laap (sometimes spelt laab or larp) is a dish that is particular to Laos and is often served on special occasions such as weddings, Baci ceremonies or other celebrations as in Lao language laap means luck or good fortune. However you will find it served in every good Lao restaurant around the country. Laap is made from chopped or thinly sliced meat or fish that is mixed with lime juice, fish sauce, mint, coriander, spring onion, chili and uncooked rice grains that have been dry fried and crushed. It is usually accompanied by vegetables including eggplant, fresh chilies, mustard leaves and lettuce. It can be eaten with ordinary rice or sticky rice and is usually eaten with fish/meat soup depending on the main ingredient being used. If you are a visitor it is useful to ask that your laap is cooked, as in some parts of the country locals like to eat it raw, particularly fish laap.

Sanath Weerasuriya wrote in the Sunday Times: “A “distinctive dish of the Lao is laap. It is made with fish, chicken, duck, pork, beef, buffalo or with game. The meat and innards are finely chopped and spiced with onion chillie and other herbs such as mint. The Lao prefer laap seua, or "Tiger laap", that is raw chopped meat, but most often you will be served laap of cooked meat, especially in restaurants. A lovely regional dish is the Or lam from Luang Prabang. This is about as close as the Lao gets to something like European stew. Lemon grass, dried buffalo meat and skin, chillies and eggplant along with some pa daek are its basic ingredients, but its distinctive feature is the addition of crisp-fried pork skin and sweet basil. There are many fish preparations in Laos, but one, unhappily, has disappeared from the table. Pa boek , a large fish which was once found in the Mekong River is now a virtually extinct species due to over fishing and ecological changes in the Mekong River. [Source: Sanath Weerasuriya, Sunday Times, August 12, 2007]

Northeastern Thai Food

Northeastern dishes are usually eaten with sticky rice and are distinctively spicy-hot, with a tinge of saltiness and a low amount of water. Many of the dishes can be eaten with hands instead of flatware. The salty taste is obtained from fermented fish (pla ra), the spicy-hot taste from fresh and dry chilies, and the tangy taste from lime, olives, and sour tamarind (and in a particularly dry season, red ants are used).

The arid, infertile geographical condition affects the way people eat because it is difficult to find plenty of basic ingredients for food. The sources of ingredients for their dishes are found in forests and rivers, and in overgrown bushes near their homes, such as fish, some types of insects, and vegetables and plants. The region borders the Mekong and is fed by its numerous tributaries, the sources of fish. Condiments and the culture of consumption are influenced by the neighboring countries: Laos, Vietnam, and Cambodia. Northeasteners have also devised ways to preserve foods to keep for future's use.

Most northeastern dishes are spiced with herbs for appealing aromas and flavors, in particular Laotian parsley, lemon grass, and kaffir lime, so they are not only tasty but also filled with vitamins and minerals that are high in nutrition and improve digestion. The three balanced flavors - salty, tangy, and sweet - are appetizing and they help reduce stomach discomfort and improve digestion; dishes like spicy bamboo soup, papaya salad, and hot and spicy fermented fish dip include a variety of herbs.

The Northeasterners served their meals in two different types of vessels, either on a glossy round tray with bright printed designs or on a woven rattan stool tray similar to the northern tok. Northeasterners like to roll the sticky rice into balls and eat it with their hands.

Northeastern Thai Dishes

As is true in Laos, sticky rice is also the staple food in Northeast Thailand. It is often eaten with som tam – spicy papaya salad – grilled chicken, spicy Isan salad with meat, and with an indispensable ingredient, pla ra – preserved and fermented wild fish, a product of the Northeasterners’ ingenuity in food preservation. [Source: Tourist Authority of Thailand]

Northeasterners are familiar with spicy food, especially the hot taste provided by herbs grown in the households, mixed with fish and shrimps caught in the rivers. Such natural foods with herbs are considered health food, as well. Pla ra (fermented fish) is an important condiment in the northeastern kitchen that shows a difference in the people's consumption habit. A northeastern meal almost always contains pla ra.

Northeasterners have several types of dishes: spicy and sour half-cooked minced beef with herbs, ground rice spiced with fermented fish juice, spicy and sour raw minced beef without ground rice, spicy and sour medium-rare grilled beef slices, spicy and sour cooked shallot dip, and spicy and sour vegetable soup with ground rice.

Well-knowm northeastern Thai dishes include kai yaang ( grilled spices chicken) ad som-tam (spicy salad made with grated papaya, lime juice, fish sauce and chiles). Korat noodle (kua mee) is made from rice. The noodle is thin and soft. It is usually eaten with som tum korat. Other popular Isan dishes are spicy bamboo shoot salad (chaeo bong , based on the preserved fish in pla ra, and kaeng om (spicy soup made of various vegetables, spices, and dill, and mixed with pla ra, without coconut milk).

Snack and desserts of the Isan people are similar to those originating in the North, with sticky rice and young rice as the main ingredients. They are simply made, such as khao chi and khao pong , ancient foodstuffs made of sticky rice. Khao chi is sticky rice laced with salt and grilled, while khao pong is steamed sticky rice, pounded and pressed into thin sheets before being grilled. Moreover, there are items made for religious functions, such as khao pradap din, kraya sat, and khao thip.

Tom Sab pork soup is a popular Northeast Thai dish. Kazuo Nagata wrote in the Yomiuri Shimbun, “Wow, that’s spicy!” The moment I had a mouthful of the Tom Sab soup at Kum Poon restaurant, which specializes in serving northeastern Thai dishes, I could feel perspiration building up on my brow. One of the most popular items at this Bangkok eatery, the soup is both spicy and salty, with a moderate hint of herbs. In addition to a variety of vegetables including onions and carrots, the soup also contains crispy pork ribs and such herbs as parsley, cicely and lemongrass. The soup tastes irresistibly spicy. Before I knew it, I had poured the soup from a small serving bowl into my cup over and over again. The soup is priced at 155 baht (about ¥490). Restaurant staffer Sau Temsau, 27, said proudly: “Tom Sab is spicy with a rich taste of chili peppers. Such a [spicy] taste is common in northeastern Thai dishes.” [Source: Kazuo Nagata, Yomiuri Shimbun, March 4, 2014]

Stews. Grilled Dishes, Steamed Dishes and Rice in Laos

Stews: 1) or lam: Luang Prabang style green vegetable stew; 2) or: green vegetable stew; 3) kaeng nor mai; green bamboo stew; 4) tom padaek: fish stewed in padaek; 5) kaeng kalee: Lao curry; 6) tom jeaw pa: spicy fish soup. [Source: Wikipedia +]

Grilling dishes: 1) ping gai: grilled marinated chicken; 2) ping pa: grilled fish mixed with spiced and herbs; 3) ping sin: grilled marinated beef; 4) ping moo: grilled marinated pork; 5) ping ped: grilled marinated duck; 6) ping theen gai: grilled marinated chicken feet; 7) ping huwah ped: grilled marinated duck head (more of an appetizer); 8) sin dat or "Lao BBQ" (traditional Lao BBQ): meat and vegetables seared on a dome-shaped griddle.

Steaming dishes: 1) mok pa: fish steamed in banana leaf; 2) mok gai: chicken steamed in banana leaf; 3) mok khai; 4) mok kai pa; 5) ua dok kae; 6) titi gai: steak in a banana leaf wrap.

Rice: 1) nam khao: fried rice ball salad and lettuce wraps; 2) khua khao: Lao-style fried rice; 3) khao ping or khao chee: baked sticky rice seasoned with eggs (the word khao chee is also used for bread; 4) khao piak khao: Lao rice porridge; 5) khao niao: steamed sticky rice; 6) khao chow: steam white rice.

Lao Dips, Appetizers and Salads

Dips: 1) Jaew Mak Khua: Dips made from roasted eggplant; 2) Jaew Mak Len: Dips made from roasted sweet tomatoes; 3) Jaew Bong: sweet and spicy Lao paste made with roasted chilies, pork skin, galangal and other ingredients; 4) Jaew Padeak: Dips made from fried padeak fish pieces, roast garlic, chilies, lemon grass and other ingredients. [Source: Wikipedia +]

Appetizers: 1) Kaipen: fried snack made of fresh water algae, usually served with jaew bong; 2) Miang; 3) Look seen: Laotion beef meatballs; 4) Khua Pak Bong; 5) Yor; 6) som moo: pickled pork with pork skin (summer sausages); 7) som pa: pickled fish; 8) som khai pa: pickled fish roe; 9) som phak kad: pickled greens; 10) som phak kai lum who moo: pickled cabbage with pickled pork ears; 11) Lao sausage (sai kok): chunky pork sausage; 12 ) sai oua; 13) seen hang: beef jerky that is flash-fried beef; 14) khai khuam: stuffed eggs "upside down"; 15) seen tork; 16) seen savahn: thin sliced beef jerky with sweeter taste and covered with seasame seeds; 17) khai nug: egg is cracked with a little hole at one end; contents poured out scrambled with spices and pour back in to egg shell and steamed. +

Salads: 1) laap: a spicy Lao minced meat salad; 2) laap pa: Lao-style fish salad; 3) laap ped: duck salad; 4) laap gai: chicken salad; 5) laap moo: pork salad; 6) laap ngua: beef salad; 7) tam som: is the following salads made with Lao chili peppers, lime juice, tomatoes, padeak, sugar, crab paste and shrimp paste (last 2 items can be left out in the dish); 8) tam mak hoong; spicy green papaya salad; 9) pon: spicy puree of cooked fish; 10) tam mak guh: spicy green plantans (bananas) salad; 11) tam mak thou: spicy green long/yard beans salad; 12) tam mak taeng: Lao-style spicy cucumber salad; 13) tam kow phun: spicy vermicelli noodles salad; 14) tum mak khauh: spicy Lao eggplant salad.

Noodles, Desserts and Fruits in Laos

Noodles: 1) khao piak sen: Lao noodle soup; 2) khao poon: rice vermicelli soup; 3) mee kati; 4) mee num; 5) pad sen lon: stir-fried glass noodles; 6) yum sen lon: tangy salad made with glass noodles; 7) khua mee: pan-fried rice noodles topped with thinly sliced egg omelet; 8) pad Lao: stir-fried noodles mixed with lightly scrambled egg; 9) lard na: stir-fried noodles covered in gravy; 10) drunken noodles: stir-fried broad rice noodles; 11) Lao suki.

Desserts: 1) num wahn: Directly translates to 'sweet water' which can contain tapioca and varies fruits; 2) voon: Lao Jell-O made with coconut milk; 3) khao pard; 4) khao tom: steamed rice wrapped in banana leaf; 5) khao khohp; 6) khanom maw kaeng: coconut custard cake; 7) sweet steamed pumpkin.

Fruits: watermelon, pineapple, sugar apple, (custard apple or sweetsop), longan, litchi, Asian pear, mango, rose apple (water apple), banana, jackfruit, rambutan, young coconut, orange, sweet tamarind, papaya, durian, sugarcane, pomelo, sapodilla, guava, star apple, mangosteen, melon, santol, langsat, grapes, corossolier (soursop), mak yom, mak num nom

Khanome Parn is a sweet well-known by every Lao person. It’s sticky and black on the outside, yellow on the inside, and delicious! The sticky black outer layer is crushed sticky-rice and cane-juice mixed with pulverized leaves of the Parn plant that give fragrance and color. On the inside, the yellow powder is soy beans mixed with coconut. Khanome Parn is commonly sold at bus stations.

Strange and Exotic Foods in Laos

Among the exotic dishes eaten in Laos are dried water buffalo lung, water buffalo blood congealed into tofu-size blocks, fish soup with ant larvae, stuffed frogs, pickled lettuce, whole dried mice and squirrels, dog, snake wine, braised goat testicle, grilled wild boar, fried fox meat and grilled porcupine. Paddy rats are considered a delicacy because they only consume rice. Markets often sell dried rats, frogs, parrots and squirrels.

Nicole Long wrote in Journeys Within: “There are so many exotic and weird foods in Laos. I could seriously go on and on for days on the foods or dishes you can find throughout this country. Lao people eat anything and everything- Everything. If it walks, crawls, slithers, swims, flies or grows (is catchable and isn’t poisonous) it is eaten. This is one of the main reasons why you won’t see much wildlife outside of protected national parks and even then it can be difficult. The Lao have not really been educated on the importance of protecting wildlife and certain species, especially in the countryside. Most of the Lao people are still very much hunters and gatherers. If it is edible then it will be hunted and every part of the carcass will be used or consumed. They are not wasteful when it comes to food! I have tried things like python soup, raw pig blood salad, BBQ sparrow (burnt to a crisp), Komodo dragon stew, buffalo skin, and much more, some of which I actually really LOVE. [Source: Nicole Long, Journeys Within, March 4, 2012]

On the issue of dogs and cats being eaten in Laos, Animal People News reported: Reports from visitors indicate that dog eating appears common in Laos, but quantification is possible only by projecting the crudely estimated rates of consumption in nearby nations to the Laotian population, with huge potential for error. [Source: animalpeoplenews.org]

Eating Wild Animals in Laos

Laotians are very fond of eating wild animals. People stand by the side of the road with dead civets and monkeys and sell them to relatively rich Laotians who travel by on the long-distance buses. By some estimates more Laotians get more protein from wild animals than they do from domesticated ones.

Animal cruelty is also a common sight in Laos. In markets to can see frogs with their legs sewn together to keep them from hopping away, river turtles strung up by ropes run through their shells, and all variety of animals hog toed around their feet and hung upside down. The main reason for this is that Laotians like their meat fresh and many lack refrigerators. In many cases animals are kept live and killed right before they are prepared. Many are squeamish about doing their own slaughtering.

A long history of market and subsistence hunting has depressed many wildlife populations across the country. Many wildlife species are threatened by illegal hunting and the illegal trade in wildlife and wildlife products. The Lao government takes these offenses very seriously and ask that visitors to refrain from purchasing wildlife and wildlife products. The increase in ecotourism and traveler’s interest in viewing wildlife now provides positive financial reinforcement for residents to conserve many of these species.

Insects as Food in Laos

Sanath Weerasuriya wrote in the Sunday Times: “I had a taste of the ‘eating culture’ of Laos at the ‘baci pakuan’ on the second day of the Ecotourism Forum at Vientiane. The very first dish that caught my eye was one of fried cockroaches with chillies. [Source: Sanath Weerasuriya, Sunday Times, August 12, 2007]

Some Laotians eat fried cockroach eggs and several species of large spiders. W.S. Bristowe, a scientist who studied the Laotians in the 1930s, sampled spiders, dung beetles, water bugs, crickets, grasshoppers, termites and cicadas and accompanied a Lao friend while he collected a half pound of spiders in one hour. He wrote he found “none distasteful, a few quite palatable, notably the giant water bug. For the most part they were insipid, with a faint vegetable flavor...A toasted dung beetle or soft-bodied spider has a nice crisp exterior and soft interior of souffle consistency which is by no means unpleasant. Salt is usually added, sometimes chili or the leaves of scented herbs, and sometimes they are eaten with rice or added too sauces or curry. Flavor is hard to define, but lettuce would, I think, best describe the taste of termites, cicadas and crickets and raw potato that of the giant Nephila spider, and concentrated Gorgonzola cheese that of the giant waterbug. I suffered no ill effects from eating of insects.”

Lao people residing in Thailand, mostly concentrated in the northern and eastern regions, eat a wide variety of insects (see the report by Bristowe 1932 under Thailand). Thus, although reports of insect consumption in Laos itself are almost non-existent, it must be widespread there. Dragonflies are captured and used as food in Laos (Pemberton 1995). Daguin (1900) (cited by Bodenheimer 1951, p. 259) refers to the cicada, D. intermerata, which, along the Mekong River in Laos, is caught with bird-lime and sold in the market or fried for home use.

On fried bamboo worms, Nicole Long wrote in Journeys Within, “I know that once you write the word worm, people automatically think slimy and gooey. Well, these worms happen to be crunchy and crispy (when fried). You can’t find them everywhere. In Laos you don’t see street vendors selling insects as snacks. They are found only in particular local spots and not all the time. That’s because someone has to go out and find them. Bamboo worms are found in young bamboo stalks. You have to trek out into the forest to find them. You know that the bamboo is infested with theses worms if the stalk is brown at the top and not the normal green. You then cut the bamboo in half and collect the worms into a bag or basket. Then take them home to cook! According to Lao they are a great source of protein and are the tastiest when coupled with an ice-cold Beerlao. It’s their equivalent to bar food, but much healthier! The worms are usually served fried with oil, lime leaves and chili. I recently went to the Laos province of Xayaboury where I was able to sample the fried bamboo worms. They were right- they are most delicious with an ice cold Beerlao. [Source: Nicole Long, Journeys Within, March 4, 2012]

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Laos-Guide-999.com, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Global Viewpoint (Christian Science Monitor), Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, NBC News, Fox News and various books and other publications.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated May 2014

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