in Food

Food blog: Laos

IMG_4665-0.jpg

A country flanked by Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam, Laos’ cuisine is really fusion food that borrows much from its neighbours. If I had to characterise the food I’d say it’s quite spicy and sweet, with pork and rice cropping up a lot, along with strange exotic bugs. You also see the regular curries and soups present, but with even more of an emphasis on fresh herbs and food foraged from the great outdoors. Here are some of the classics:


1. Laap

  

The quintessential Laos food, laap (or laab) is a delicious dish of ground pork made spicy with a mix of chilis, fish sauce, shallots, mint and lime. It’s tangy and delicious, usually served with sticky rice and sold everywhere.

2. Bamboo curry and parcels

  

Lao people are very resourceful and tend to get a lot of food from their vast jungles and rainforests (including sources of protein such as bat, which we witnessed first hand on a hike!). Bamboo is available in huge quantities, and is really delicious cooked soft into curries or fried into parcels with laap inside. We tried both from a local market and they were fantastic!


3. Sweet sausages

  

‘Laos sausage’ is a sweet red sausage that’s included in a lot of sandwiches and some noodle dishes. I found it a little too sweet for a savoury meat but Sam was a fan, and with gherkins it kinda worked.


4. Sticky rice!! 

  

This is literally everywhere, and people generally roll it into a little ball then use it for mopping up whatever delicious saucy thing they’re eating. We also found it in tubes of hollowed out bamboo, generally sweet mixed with coconut; and also in a delightful dessert, dyed purple using flower dyes and served with sliced banana.


5. Noodle soup 

  

The classic Laos breakfast, their noodle soups of ‘foe’ (rice noodles) are generally served with a dizzying array of herbs and leaves (just a huge pile that you get for free to mix in to your taste). It’s a DIY affair as you stir in just the right amount of fish sauce, lime juice, chillies and mint which also sit on the table.


6. PIG! 

  

They’re mad about pork in Laos, and we ate it as a huge hunk of meat in broths, fried with sesame seeds, and basically any way possible. When we went out for a fancy ‘traditional food of Laos’ meal for Sam’s birthday, we had pork three ways! And that’s without counting the laap and soup. They also serve spicy pork sandwiches (think Vietnamese bahn mi) for breakfast, sometimes with eery pork floss which has the texture of wool. Best to abstain.


7. Insects!… and other jungle food

  
During our jungle trek in the North, we dined on crickets fried in sugar and ginger (surprisingly delicious!) along with other jungle plants like banana flowers, rattan and mushrooms. Our guide informed us that for a lot of people living in hill tribe villages or in the highlands, this is pretty standard fare!


8. Curries and stews

  

Not much new here, but you see the same kind of curries here that pop up in Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia like Penang, Massaman, green and red curries etc.


9. French bread

   

 A hangover from colonisation, Laos is now left with a fervent appetite for baguettes and you often see people hauling huge carrier bags full of them on long-distance buses (presumably as a gift for who they’re visiting, or out of sheer panic that they may not find bread where they’re headed). In more touristy places like Luang Prabang you can get them with delicious fillings like chicken and avocado, but generally they seem to be served with (you guessed it!) pork, or just plain as a substitute for rice.

Tad Lo, Laos

IMG_4706.JPG

Tad Lo officially wins the prize of the cutest town we’ve visited, and we loved spending our last few Laos days there. It felt special from when we arrived, as we got dropped off down the road from town, and we trekked the 20 minutes in the dark down a country lane, with crickets buzzing around us and thousands of stars overhead. 

 

We tried a hostel but the friendly French lady running the place told us she was full, but referred us to a nearby set of bungalows. The town is mainly visited by people doing a famous motorbike loop, so we were quite odd for staying a few days there, and arriving by bus!

The bungalows turned out to be really gorgeous: after so long staying in bare rooms, we instantly noticed the European flare in decoration (they were French owned too, a hangover from colonisation meaning loads of French people now visit/live in Laos!) There was a bedside lamp, an extension cable for charging, buddha wall hangings, decorative fan, bright bed sheets, four-poster-bed…. these things might sound minor, but we were giddy with how much we loved the room! Pretty sad I know. 

 

We spent our first night finishing some rum and coke we had left over, then drinking beers (and some gross shots of rice whisky with scorpions in the bottle!) – with some French guys at the hostel, exchanging travel tales

The next day we woke up hungover and starving as we’d skipped dinner and found a really great local restaurant run by a very sweet lady, where we ate every day. She served up delicious dishes like Penang curry and spicy beef noodles with fresh shakes like banana and lime, and condensed-milk-sweetened coffee. Gah! Tad Lo’s in a coffee growing district, so we also tried the coffee black to get a true taste of the beans, and it was really good! Who’d have thought great coffee grew in Laos?!

  

We also took a look around town which was just the most adorable place: a tiny temple sat looking out to a nearby river where women washed clothes; around the temple baby pigs and ducklings criss-crossing roads; goats bleated their way around town and people shuffled from wooden hut to hut, chatting and sitting around doing nothing much at all. It was just idyllic!  

    

After fawning over the town, we visited what the area is famous for – waterfalls! After a brief walk across a bridge and past another fall, we reached stunning Tad Lo waterfall. It was my kind of waterfall – wide, easy to get in and out of, and deserted! There was a big swimming hole surrounded by rocks, and we spent a delightful few hours sunbathing on the rocks, reading, and occasionally jumping in for a cool off. Dreamy!

    

We headed back to town, drawn by the delicious foods of the restaurants (this time black pepper and garlic beef, STOP IT) and chilled in the afternoon, taking pictures of the hostel’s piglets, playing petanque (so French!) and sunning in the hammock.

   
 
All of this relaxation was good as the next day (another travel day, uch!) brought with it yet more stresses as we – whilst trying to connect to our overnight bus to Bangkok – managed to walk half an hour in the blistering heat in the WRONG DIRECTION trying to locate the bus terminal. Perhaps it’s time we stop with the extreme penny pinching and start catching tuk-tuks!

But eventually we found the bus terminal, and spent a fun half hour playing with some local kids; jumping out from behind benches and pulling faces kept them giggling the whole time! Then, one night bus, one night in Bangkok and one flight later, we would arrive in the Philippines!