Introducing Lao Food – If you love food, you’ll love Laos!
With abundant use of vegetables, and the fresh tastes of lime an
d chilli, coriander, mint and basil, Lao food is uniquely special. Aside from being delicious, cooking is also a big part of Lao life. A time when traditionally the women gather together and share stories and advice while chopping and pounding the food to make dishes that are crammed with flavour.
Think of eating in Laos, and the first thing that comes to mind is sticky rice. So fundamental to life here that a common greeting is ‘Have you eaten rice already?’ Every night around the country, the rice is cleaned and left to soak. In the early morning hours, it is steamed to be ready for giving to the monks on their alms-rounds and for the family and any visitors who might pop in for breakfast.
Laos is a country of fishermen who can be seen with their nets in the cooler parts of the day, especially at sunrise and sunset. For some, the catch is for dinner, others might sell, ferment, or dry it. It’s easy to spot the fishing villages as you travel around the country, with stalls alongside the road selling the dried fish that is so popular here in Laos. And fish plays a fundamental part in most dishes here in the form of padaek, a fermented and cured fish sauce that adds a pungent umami flavour to many dishes.
Lao Dipping Sauces (jeows)
With most cooking taking place over an open flame, the taste of smoke is a large part of the flavour profile, especially in jeows, a spicy, smokey, fishy, garlicky dip that pulls a punch. These dipping sauces are traditionally made in a mortar, from a base of barbecued garlic, shallots and chilli which are pounded into a paste, before adding padaek. There are many different types of jeow, from the simple chilli, tomato or garlic flavours, to pork crackling, aubergines, or even one based on a small fish which is pounded into the base.
Whilst head-to-tail eating is now catching on in the west, it is something that has been important in Laos throughout time. Every part of the animal is typically used, from the meat, to the cartilage, the blood to the organs. The unlaid eggs of chickens are cooked in stews, and the contents of the buffalo’s intestines are used to make a strong dipping sauce, particularly popular at weddings.
BBQ Bee Larvae and Fried Crickets
Barbecued bee larvae is a sweet treat, and you’ll see kids around the country snacking on chicken’s feet. The ants’ eggs found in the nests created from the leaves of mango trees are used to make a popular soup, and deep fried crickets are eaten as beer snacks as the sun sets over the Mekong River.
The national dish of Laos is laap. Traditionally made from finely chopped meat, banana flower, handfuls of mint leaves, padaek, chilli, and dry fried rice powder which gives it its distinctive taste. Laap is eaten with crunchy raw vegetables and sticky rice. Laap can be made with a variety of meats, including chicken, fish, beef (cooked or raw), and as you head into more rural areas, rat is a common choice. As with all Lao food, it is a dish made for sharing, so wash your hands, roll a ball of sticky rice, and use it to grab a mouthful of laap. All washed down with a Beerlao, of course.
If you are keen to learn more, make sure to check out our Foodie Experiences and look into booking a cooking class – there are some great options such as Tamarind and The Bamboo Experience in Luang Prabang or Madam Phasouk’s Vientiane Cooking Class, or if you’d rather just sit back and enjoy a wonderful Lao meal, then you can’t beat Doi Ka Noi Restaurant in Vientiane.