Staying in Luang Prabang for 3-4 months, there’s little more to indulge in other than food. You’d have visited all the waterfalls and seen (and maybe rode) enough elephants, drank enough laolao and explored all the temples and museums, with only food left to delight you. Plus it’s a daily affair, so there’s plenty of opportunities to delight yourself with the food in Luang Prabang. Here’s my pick of the 7 must try foods in Luang Prabang!
1) The legendary BBQ
This BBQ place, although a favorite of all falangs, is surprisingly authentic and uncompromising on food quality. If you have seen and tried this in your home country, rest assured this is many times better (unless of course your home country is Thailand 😉
They offer an unlimited buffet spead of meats, seafood, and heck even the cooked food tastes great! Unbelievable. At only a price of 60,000 kips (US$7.50) per person, it’s an absolute steal. This is our top recommendation for all guests travelling through Luang Prabang, and we’ve even included it in some of our full day experiences! If you don’t have time for all 7 must try foods in Luang Prabang, at least try this one. This is the most fitting ending after a full-day Backstreet Experience such as Back to Basics: Traditional Lao Life
2) Khao Ka Moo (Pork Leg rice)
This pork leg rice is also pretty legendary. Looks nondescript and nothing amazing, it absolutely does not taste the way it looks. It punches way above its looks. The pork leg is simmered for hours in a trance-inducing gravy peeling away the fats and making it so tender that it literally melts in your mouth. A generous helping is piled on top of your rice, with that sinfully indulgent sauce poured over it, paired with a hot and sour spicy chilli, this is the bomb. A favorite of the locals, most foreigners don’t even get to try it because it’s really hard to get them to pull out their English menu (even though they do have one), and nobody really knows how good it is. I mean ‘Pork leg rice’ on the menu isn’t gonna tantalize anybody’s tastebuds like ‘Sous-Vide Pork loin casserole made with 100% 180-day grass-fed pigs’. Just kidding, pigs don’t eat grass. (At least not just grass)
Here’s the secret google maps link to the location of the best Khao Ka Moo we know! But beware, there’re no signs and the restaurant looks downright unappetising. But it should be the only one selling KKM there. https://www.google.com.sg/maps/dir//19.8852931,firstname.lastname@example.org,102.135907,18z/data=!4m2!4m1!3e0
3) Khao Piak Sen (Sticky Rice Noodles)
The almighty staple of the people in Laos! (Besides the even more almighty sticky rice of course). Although you can literally find noodle soups all over Asia (Think Pho in Vietnam, Kuy Teav in Cambodia, Khao Soi in Thailand, Fishball Noodle in Singapore & Malaysia, Mee Soto in Indonesia & the list goes on…) This interesting Lao version actually makes use of sticky rice noodles. By virtue of its base ingredient, the texture is absolutely different from any other noodle soup in the region. It’s slightly sticky, slippery and very refreshing. Most people are pleasantly surprised after eating it for the first time. Like other noodle soups, the broth always packs a punch seemingly boiled to perfection with tons of chickens simmering in a giant claypot vat.
There are many versions of this everywhere around town, the difference in each version being the topping. The fried pork belly one is a personal favorite, the beef one is a heartwarming option for a cold morning, and there are also chicken and vegetable variations.
4) Pad Ka Pao Paa/Moo
This is a party food of the Lao people. You can find this on every beer garden for locals (sadly, foreigners in those foreigner run restaurants will have to be content with your Lao-style fried rice) Literally translated, it’s fried basil with fish/pork. That smell of spices, the lingering smoky flavor of the wok (Hong Kongers and Singaporeans will best understand what this means, also known as the Wok-Hei) is what makes this dish epic.
Don’t miss it if you ever see it on the menu!
5) Sticky Rice with Khai Pen or Chow Bong
This is the mainstay of people in Luang Prabang, they eat sticky rice all day all night long. And for more basic meals, they literally eat it only with chow bong (Buffalo skin chilli). I know it doesn’t sound tasty but trust me, it is good (provided you get the right cook). Most Lao people do it extremely well though and as long as tis home-cooked, generally you can’t go wrong. Join the Lao cooking class with a local hosted by Mrs Sengkham and you’ll get to try some of it! You will even be able to make some of your own special dips. There’s even a specialty dips class offered by another host inn Vientiane focusing just on dips.
Khaipen is the fried Mekong seaweed. This one goes perfectly well with the Chow Bong as well as the sticky rice. Once you pop, it’s really difficult to stop. It tastes very much like the fried seaweed you get in Thailand (a.k.a. Tao Kae Noi) But a lot more fresh and less fried.
6) Lao crushed ice dessert
This is the summer elixir. You’ll see it in glass display cases all over the local side of town. The jellies they make are so good they beat Konnyaku hands down. Moreover, they were more Konnyaku before Konnyaku came along. Just go to one of these glass displays, point at whatever you want, and it will be topped with a mountain of crushed ice and condensed milk. Heavenly.
7) Lao Hai & Laolao
Not technically a food, but really, you ABSOLUTELY CANNOT leave Luang Prabang without trying these 2 alcohols. Both are made from stick rice, but in different ways. Laolao is the more famous one and everyone knows about it. Youll probably pass by the Laolao or whisky village on the way to the Pak Ou Caves. This is a clear distilled rice alcohol that is very flavorful. The cloudy version is sweeter and resembles the Makgeooli of Korea. Sometimes they also make Lao lao from Black glutinous rice, and i feel this is even better than the white one because of the lingering taste and slightly sweeter taste. For the adventurous, try the ones with a gecko, scorpion or snake packed into it! You can get these easily either at the village or in the night market. But you really have to try it before you go. The first time i came, i packed all my water bottles full before heading South. That was one heavenly trip down south.
Lao hai is the lesser known counterpart, but in my humble opinion, a way more superior experience! Made by the Kamu people, this one is made by fermenting sticky rice together with the husks in jars. The taste is much thicker, more flavourful and you can literallly feel the sticky rice fields swaying in your mouth. That’s why they call Lao Hai Sticky rice wine and Lao lao is called whisky. The way you drink Lao hai is even more interesting. Because of the husks and rice still being present in the jar, you have to utilize these long bamboo straws that will be cut on the spot by a local farmer that prevents them from going up the tube. And you have to add cold water into the jar to generate the liquid. The fun part of it is adding beer lao instead of water. A little fizz added to the flavor of the rice wine is an epic experience in itself. Coupled with sitting down together with a farmer in the backyard of his house drinking from the same jar, it’s an experience you will never forget. Try the wine making experience with a local farmer to get the entire deal!