No travel is complete without a good experience with food. So let’s cut to the chase as we bring you the 8 best Lao Food experiences you have to try! Thank us later.
There’s no easy way to sum up the exotic foods available in Laos. Even the extremely well-travelled doesn’t hear much of it because it’s just so conveniently hidden from view. Even some locals don’t hear about it. This involves the likes of grilled dog, goat’s colon stewed in its own dung, raw geese blood, goat testicles, fried frog, chicken feet, foetal eggs and even cow’s udders. You might find a new favorite here or puke your guts out just looking at it. Both extremes have been witnessed. The place where you have these things look just like nondescript restaurants anywhere, until the food is served. For this experience, its the food that takes all of the glory and excitement.
There’s no easy way to access these by yourself, it’s not that we’re trying to sell more tours, we couldn’t point them out even if we wanted to, often there isn’t even a signboard, almost always without a menu and just not on the map. The easiest way would be to take the Fear Factor food tour in Luang Prabang and enjoy it with a local who will gladly mop up what you can’t stomach and explain to you the various levels of enjoyment tasting the colon and the dung. We assure you it’d be one of the best Lao food experiences you’ll ever try, heck, actually we think it’ll be one of the most memorable you’ll ever try. Best depends on your personal definition.
Lao Hot Pot
Something more familiar and easily seen throughout the region and Asia. The Lao hotpot takes after the Thai style one significantly, with soup by the side and the top grilling plate glazed with pieces of pork oil for amazing flavours. Luang Prabang’s BBQ buffet by the river is amazing, all for just 60,000kips, a steal by any definition! The special part of having it in Laos is having Beer Lao as an accompaniment. Lovers will tell you its just not the same. Fanatics will tell you there’s just nothing like it. Decide for yourself.
Night Market Barbeque
The night market barbeque in Laos feature interesting variations from Thailand and Cambodia. Most notably the fat tilapia available on every cart. Stuffed with Lemongrass and other spices, it takes all the fishyness out of the fish, leaving you the full freshness of the fat tilapia. And they scale it cleanly unlike the Cambodian ones where the entire fish, scales and all, are all thrown into the hot oil, destroying the entire layer of skin. Other notable offerings are the basil pork ribs, kebabs chicken hearts, all you can find at Luang Prabang’s food alley, or Vientiane’s street food market at night near the Scandinavian Bakery.
Lao Dips in a local’s home
If you have the honour and luck to be invited into a local’s home for dinner, grab it. With both your hands and mouth. It will be nothing you try outside. Lao people famously make dips, hundreds of them, to eat with sticky rice. It used to be a great food for farmers and soldiers because the dips could last as long as the sticky rice and gave great flavour to the rice. Now it lives on just as family recipes. In restaurants you’ll see maybe 1 or 2, at most 5 of these dips. But you can easily get 6-7 in one seating in a local’s home. And it tastes like 10 times better than anything you can buy. The common ones include tomato & eggplant. The rarer ones would involve the likes of Olive & minced pork, mushroom, fermented fish and a whole lot of others. Try making them yourselves with a local in the Luang Prabang cooking classics class (which also involves other favorite dishes) with Mrs Southaly or if you’r really into dips, have the full-on Lao dips experience in Vientiane. (The classic is also available with 2 dips) You won’t regret it, we promise.
The little known dessert is not very conspicuous where the tourists are, but always a hit among the locals. Little glass displays would showcase dozens of bowls filled with colourful little jellies, fruits and lots of interesting confectionary like the Thai red ruby and Chendol jelly. What’s cool is that you are usually charged by the bowl. Just order one bowl and you get to choose unlimited flavours! Obvously the more you choose the less you get of each, but that’s epic good value to me. And I’ve never been asked to pay more even after choosing over 8 flavours, so you should be fine. At the end of it it gets topped with freshly shaved ice and drenched in sweet condensed milk. Just crazy good for those crazy hot days.
Khao Piak on the streets
The staple in the mornings, the little bowl of Khao Piak, which can mean both the mini and slightly sticky noodles made with sticky rice and the porridge, is the favorite among locals. Easily found everywhere, in restaurants, in hotels, in pushcarts and even mobile pot vendors who balance pots on a stick, this is one experience you should not miss in the cold mornings. Grab a bowl, it will come topped with fried garlic, sometimes crispy skin pork or pork belly, and a slice of lemon, the way the Lao people love it. And you’ll be craving that for many mornings after. The more adventurous ones come with pork intestines like liver, stomach and sometimes with pig’s blood as well. Be sure to leave them out if it disgusts you.
Khmu Rice Wine
The best food experience offered by the Khmu is their rice wine. Not only flavorful, slightly sweet and very aromatic, there’s lots of space for innovation and group fun. Many people drink one big jar together, each with their own special straw that prevents husks from being sucked up. The jar contains fermented sticky rice and its husks, dried. When you’re about to drink it, you add ice and cold water to it, let it sit for a while before sucking through your khmu straw. You’ll have an experience like no other drinking experience. Trust me, you’ll just love the moment and want to bring all the jars back home. It is truly one of the best Lao food experiences ever, imho. The innovation part comes when you decide what to add to your jar. You can add the usual cold water and ice, or Beer Lao which packs a soda-ish punch, or the lethal Lao-lao. Endless combinations, peerless fun. What’s better than that? Learn to make it yourself in Lao-wine making class with Phengkeo, a local farmer and replicate it back home wherever you’re from!
The most local experience that’s enjoyed by all cultures and ethnicities is the beer garden. In developed countries, youths hangout in shopping strips, cafes, clubs and bars. Here it’s the beer gardens. It’s really fun to watch the happening youth, all dressed up nicely, congregate in these little wooden houses located in random locations blasting the latest pop from Thailand and America. Beer Lao is especially cheap here, and you get really good food, if you know how to order. Get a local here with you and you should have a really amazing time.