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:
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.
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.