Lao food and favourite restaurants
Lao cuisine has similarities to Thai cooking and is just as delicious.
Laos is well prepared to care for hungry tourists. All restaurants have English menus and the restaurant staff usually speak enough English to be able to customize orders if need be.
The prices for food are very accessible. You can eat at food stalls for which is incredibly cheap or at restaurants (still very cheap). We paid on average 10-15 Euros for two meals, starters and fruit shakes while eating at the best restaurants in town.
Lao people are friendly and trying to fulfil customers wishes as much as possible. The menus have a good variety of dishes, ranging from Lao eats (like laab and jeow) to typical western tourist dishes (pizza and pasta) and European breakfasts (muesli, toast, eggs). The fresh fruit shakes and platters are the best and pretty filling on their own.
What are characteristic Lao dishes?
Of course KHAO NIAOW – sticky rice!
But Lao cuisine is characterised by more prominent ingredients, like PADEK. This is fermented fish sauce and to be my culinary detriment in Laos. It is bitter, pungent and sour. If you have ever smelt/tasted fish sauce you will know. It is so dominant, one excess drop can spoil a meal – and for me, one drop of this brown broth is already way too much to turn culinary bliss into blurgh.
Locals like strong flavours but colonial French influences are also apparent. Mayonnaise sauces on baguettes and salads have been integrated into local kitchens.
My favourite Lao snack is KHAIPHAEN, a dried river moss which is flash fried into chips and served with sesame tossed on top. A great crunch, sorta like crispy Thai seaweed.
Or JEOW – spicy dipping sauces to dip traditional sticky rice. A popular dip is made of chillies and buffalo skin. But you can get very good eggplant versions.
LAM – a stew made with eggplant, mushrooms and buffalo meat (suitable for vegetarians if left out!), chillies, herbs and a spicy wood called sakhan.
LAAB – meat salad (try the delicious veggie version!) with roughly chopped fresh herbs served all across Laos.
TAM MAK HUNG – papaya salad, cut in very thin noodle like threads with a sour sauce – fish sauce is usually used and truthfully sorta spoils the whole salad.
MOK PA – fish steamed in banana leaf – this is super tasty and tender!
For drinks. LAO LAO – a local whisky and LAO BEER are served at Lao parties.
The Lao people have a bowl of pho (rice noodle soup) – a dish ‘imported’ from Vietnam, rice porridge or a sandwich in the morning, which can be found in small roadside stalls.
Here it is, the sticky rice. It really is very sticky and for my taste a bit dry and hard. But immensely popular in Laos and served in tiny, cute woven baskets. It is formed and dried in the sun. Locals eat it with their fingers accompanied by traditional Laos dishes which do not have a liquid consistency for the purpose of keeping fingers clean and rice from dropping into shared food. Chopsticks are used for noodle dishes.
Tamarind is a restaurant in Luang Prabang that is a bit further away from the main restaurant strip but worth the one time visit, if you like to try more authentic Laotian food. They do use a lot of coriander and a lot of fresh thick cut herbs with their meals and traditional buffalo ingredients are omnipresent in the menu as well. They hardly had any vegetarian and no seafood choices which is why it wasn’t my favourite place to eat.
My plate of various jeow (the veggie version) with (a wee bit hard) sticky rice with eggplant, tomato and bitter Lao greens.
All restaurants offer fantastic fresh fruit shakes. If you are still on coke in Laos, no one can help you. Their shakes at Tamarind were a bit unconventional. Our watermelon with lemon shake.
Laotians like their herbs. This is what I mean by thick cut herbs on a dish.
The following pics are from meals we ordered at restaurants all over Launag Prabang (and some from Vientiane).
Laotian laab with buffalo (our friends ordered that!).
Fish steamed in banana leaf.
Lao style fish with many chopped herbs and shallot.
Lao style sweet crackers.
Spaghetti coconut curry fusion with shrimp.
Sir fry vegetables with cashew nuts.
Our favourite good night snack. The famous lemon/pumpkin/pear tartes from the French restaurant in Luang Prabang.
Fish coconut soup.
Tofu stir and eggplant fry.
Stir fry tofu with vegetables – Pad Thai style.
I was happy Laos had so many ‘tofoo’ choices!
All you can eat counters are a backpackers food heaven! We saw prices for as little as 10.000 kip per person at the food stalls.
Obligatory fruit platter. Usually with dragon fruit, watermelon, honey melon, papaya or mango, pineapple and banana.
Fresh papaya was a good option to the bitter Laotian papaya salad.
The bananas are a lot smaller and more aromatic than imported bananas in Europe. The outside looks overripe but inside they are just perfect.
Bananas are dried and processed into tasty fried chips.
Fried shrimp with sweet chilli sauce. My favourite!
And the same one of the other days.
Lao tea with fresh lemon. Trying bael fruit tea is a must do!
Traditional Lao bael tea tastes mild and is not as dark as black tea. The fruit (inbetween the tea and tarte) looks like that.
Eggplant and green beans with rice.
Pho style soup with shrimp.
Green curry with eggplant, green beans and shrimp.
Lemon tarte with fresh cream.
Fish and cauliflower curry.
Tuna salad with ‘cheese’ (more like knock off cheese slices).
Pizza from The Pizza Restaurant in Luang Prabang. But many restaurants serve good pizza.
Pizza. Is fab in Laos.
Shrimp green curry.
Luang Prabang has a very good Indian restaurant. Serving vegetable pakora.
The Indian classic. Garlic naan.
Mango lassi overdose.
Ice cream. The best ice cream parlour in Vientiane is American – Swensen’s.
The bakeries are pretty neat. Fig walnut bun with butter. Tea with milk. Yum! And a plate with daisies. Cute!
Of course you can get fresh fruit shakes here, too!
Fried vanilla ice cream is a treat at Vientiane’s most attractive food place – around the big fountain in the centre are many good restaurants facing a stage with everyday live music.
Bircher musli and papaya shake for breakfast.
Papaya and mango yoghurt shake.
Perfect combo to start the day.
Sweet and nutritious coconuts in Vientiane.
The alcoholic alternative. Beer lao goes down with everything.
OUR PICK – RESTAURANTS IN LUANG PRABANG
Tamnak Lao. They do serve traditional Lao food but their pasta is fantastic – it comes with baguette, butter and parmesan cheese – elegantly arranged on a separate plate. Try the papaya yoghurt shake to treat your taste buds!
Side plate with soft and fresh baguette from the bakery next door.
The French Bakery with a variety of really good buns and baguettes.
I liked the interior a lot, too.
Café Ban Vat Sene – best for good French food and amazing tartes! Our (daily?) good night treat.
Villa Santi. A hotel and restaurant. If you come between 19.30 and 21.00 you will enjoy a tasteful show of traditional Lao dance. The show is free, the food delicious, service like at a 5 star place. The best seats are at the veranda (the centre table rocks) which you can see in the picture (first floor).
The Pizza Luang Prabang. The pizza is as good as everything else on the menu but a dish not to forget is their fried shrimp with chilli sauce – I am starting to drool right now! Casual, super friendly, this is where we spent our days on the laptops (they have sockets near the tables), and a fortune on drinks, ordering one fruit shake after another.
There is a friendly and tasty Indian restaurant just opposite of The Coconut restaurant run by an Indian family.
Ancient Luang Prabang. Our hotel for a few nights (to be able watch the alms giving ceremony of the monks from the balcony – spot Tomek waving) and the best place to get all kinds of cakes and muffins after sunset.
Chocolate banana cake at night! Yeah!
Joma café. In Vientiane and Luang Prabang. Pretty new coffee ‘chains’ are emerging in Laos. With better service, coffee, tea, cake and light meals than Starbucks.
PLACES TO EAT IN VIENTIANE
Khop Chai Deu opened in 1998 and is always filled with tourists. The terrace is nice and it is great for a drink but in my opinion the food is mediocre. For some reason the restaurants in Luang Prabang are a lot better and cheaper, too.
Fun for food and drinks. I recommend the restaurant variety around Vientiane’s colourful fountain – Nam Phou!
A cool thing in Laos is that the bill often comes in various currencies – Kip, Baht, USD, Euro.
I guess, it doesn’t matter where you are, food tastes better when going out with friends!
All meals tested and critically evaluated by the foodie below.
Have a great weekend and meal today!
PS. Tomorrow I am going to take you on a tour to a local market in Luang Prabang. Brace yourself, it’s not for weaklings!