With many similarities with the cuisine of Thailand and some influences of China and Vietnam, the traditional Lao food is a modest sample of the neighbouring countries cuisine. Stand out the noodles and soups, but the grilled are also very popular, but despite the meat is a constant presence, the consumption of fish is not unusual, given the proximity to the Mekong and other rivers that cross the country.
For vegetarians, the options are very slim, not much more than noodles soup. But even if you order without meat, usually the broths are made with chicken or pork all probably you’ll notice the flavour of meat, that can be disguised with the spicy sauces and seasonings alway available.
The noodle soup was a constant presence in my diet during my stay in Laos, where I ate noodles soup at least once a day, often as breakfast.
Both in cities as small villages there are always restaurants that serve only serve noodle soup, changing the quality of the broth and the kind of meat served, but especially the type of noodles that can range from very thin and almost transparent to thicker and consistent strips, but always made from rice flour.
The soup is served with a plate full of raw vegetables such as cabbage, lettuce, green beans, leeks, spring onions, mint, spinach and other vegetables popular in Asian markets but absent from western cuisine. The soups aren’t spicy at all, but sauces like fish, soy, oyster, etc… but chilly can be added in powder, as fresh chilies or as an oily paste, which is often generously laid on the soup and can transform a clear broth in a red soup. Limes in slices are always available on the tables of restaurants, which give a twist of freshness to these soups.
To eat this soup in Laos style, you must use bamboo chopsticks to eat the noodles and other solid ingredients, while the spoon in the left hand is used to eat the broth.
As an alternative to the noodle soup, is also possible to find rice soup, a broth made with overcooked rice which are added a bit of spring onions, soy sprouts and small pieces of meat. This option can only be found in the morning as it just eaten as breakfast with a glass of green tea.
Very popular is the lap, a dish that can be with meat or fish, usually very spicy, prepared with lots of mint leaves and chilies, which is generally eaten with hands with the help of stick-rice, a very glutinous type of rice, dominant in Laos.
Besides the noodle soup, you can find easily fried rice and fried noodles. Curries are also part of Laos gastronomy but simple and less sophisticated versions of the ones served in Thailand.
Is visible a greater diversity in the food served in the North of the country, a more wet and fertile area, compared to southern regions, where the climate is dryer and supply are more limited, except the rice that dominates the landscape in the south flat areas.
About sweets, there is little to say because the desserts are not part of the menu of typical restaurants in Laos, being very rare to find some pastry out of the tourist areas. However, as also in Thailand, the rotis are very popular, and can be found in street stalls, that show up after the sun set along the city street. The rotis are a kind of pancake, made from a very thin dough, stuffed with banana, chocolate or egg, fried bit a bit of oil, and drizzled with condensed milk in the end, for extra sweetness.
This roti business is very popular and dominated almost exclusively by Indians, many from Chennai, as this area the roti, in a plain style, are usually eaten with the meal. This Indian community provides also restaurants where is possible to find the traditional Indian dishes for those already tired of some monotony of Lao cuisine.
The so-called Lao Coffee is a constant presence throughout the country, usually served in the morning on the street stalls. But it can also be found in the more sophisticated cafes in touristic and cosmopolitan areas of Luang Prabang and Vientiane, side by side with French bakery.
The Lao coffee is prepared in a very characteristic way: there’s a metal pot, which always keeps in the heat with boiling water, from where the water is removed with a ladle and poured into a jug, passing through a conical filter cloth, containing the coffee powder. From the jug it’s poured into small glasses, passing again through the coffee filter, to make ti stronger. In the end is usually added condensed milk, or sugar with milk powdered. The coffee that remains in the filter is used more than once, serving to prepare several coffees. It can also be drunk plain without dairy or sweeteners, and this is the best way to appreciate the dense and thick texture of this coffee that have an unexpectedly soft taste and somewhat light bitter flavor.
The price of a Lao Coffee is from 4,000 to 5,000 kips, and is often served accompanied by a kind of bread made in the of fried dough, and sometimes is also serve with a glass of tea… yes, the tea is served even with the coffee and is offered for free.
The French presence is visible in the bread, especially the baguettes, which are sold on the streets and bus terminals, consume as a meal or as a snack between meals, stuffed with not-identify paste, spicy sauces, meat (usually pork or processed meat) and vegetables. They are a popular option for a meal in the long and endless bus trips, due to be easy to take away and to the low price around 7,000 10,000 kips, less than 1 euro.
In tourist areas, it is possible to find restaurants with a wide range of Western food, but with much higher prices than traditional food found in the simple and modest restaurants frequented by locals, where you can have a meal for 10,000 kip, about 1 €.
In terms of snacks the Lao coisine doesn’t offer many choice, being basically rice cakes, that can be sweet or salted. The sweat ones are made from puff rice, and the salted version is made with cooked rice, mix with egg that is grill with the shape of a small pancake.