The best Laotian dishes are renowned for their harmonious fusion of flavours and spices, featuring regional ingredients and traditional cooking techniques. Travellers will never be disappointed by spending time discovering traditional dishes during their stay in Laos.
Traditional cuisine plays a crucial role in a country’s culture, as it is profoundly influenced by lifestyle, geography, history and other natural factors. When visiting Laos, it’s essential not to miss out on the richness of dishes. Don’t hesitate to venture into this unique culinary experience!
Laos cuisine – a harmonious fusion of flavours and spices
The influence of foreign cuisine on Laotian cuisine
Laotian dishes are a harmonious fusion of flavours and spices. Since Laos is bordered by Thailand to the west and Vietnam to the east, Laotian culture, including its traditional cuisine, is directly and profoundly influenced by the culinary traditions of these two neighbouring countries.
For example, Laos and its neighbours often use rice or rice noodles in a wide variety of dishes because of their strong rice culture. Rice farming in these countries therefore has a significant impact on traditional cuisine. In fact, there are many similar dishes, such as green papaya salad and noodle soup, among others.
In addition, after the French colonial period, elements of French cuisine were discreetly introduced and blend harmoniously in many contemporary dishes. You can find many French-style dishes and restaurants in Laos.
Main ingredients used in Laotian dishes
However, each country has its own distinct cuisine and it is important to distinguish Lao cuisine from that of its neighbours, as Lao dishes are characterised by the use of specific regional ingredients. In Laos, local ingredients such as aromatic herbs, glutinous rice and meat are very important.
Rice, particularly glutinous rice, plays a central role in Laotian meals due to the importance of rice farming in the country. Herbs such as coriander, galanga and mint are blended to create a flavour that is characteristic of Laotian cuisine. They add a sensory dimension to the taste, smell and sight.
Laos favours local meats such as pork, beef and Savannakhet chicken. Aquatic products from the Mekong River, such as prawns and freshwater fish, are also highly prized. Laotian dishes are known for their spicy, tangy character, thanks to the use of spices such as pepper, lemongrass, chilli and ginger, combined with aromatic herbs.
Laos cuisine offers an exceptional harmony of flavours and carefully combined regional ingredients, providing an authentic and memorable culinary experience when visiting Laos. Here are a few must-try suggestions of dishes to try once you’re in the country. These are the specialities that represent the unique and appealing gastronomy of Laos.
The best Laotian dishes
1. Lap or Laap (Laotian tartare)
When discussing Laotian dishes, it’s impossible not to mention Lap (Laap or Laarb). “Lap” in Lao means “good luck”. This dish is the most emblematic of Laotian cuisine, with a beautiful meaning. It is considered to be a gift of choice during major celebrations in Laos, such as New Year’s Eve and weddings.
Lap is prepared by mincing meat or fish and seasoning it with aromatic herbs such as coriander, mustard greens and lettuce, as well as spices such as garlic, chilli and hot peppers. Lime juice and aubergine are also added.
The meat used can vary according to preference, from pork, chicken, beef, duck or fish. This dish is usually accompanied by sticky rice and a fish or meat soup, offering tangy, spicy flavours that will delight your taste buds.
2. Tam mak hoong (green papaya salad)
If you love green salads, you’ll love Tam mak hoong, an iconic green papaya salad. It’s made with green papaya, tomato, carrot and spices such as lemon, chilli, garlic, sugar and fish sauce. The ingredients are mixed in a mortar and pestle. Some add prawns or pieces of crispy fried pork skin.
We recommend serving this salad with crunchy snacks or cabbage cut into triangles, which adds a touch of crunch and freshness. Prepared without oil and with fresh ingredients, this salad is perfect for enjoying during hot weather in Laos, offering a refreshing combination of bright flavours and varied textures.
3. Mok pa (Laotian-style fish rolls)
As you know, the Mekong River is a natural source of fresh aquatic produce, particularly fish, the main ingredient in Mok Pa. Mok Pa is prepared by seasoning the fish with lime leaves, lemongrass, fish sauce and other aromatic herbs.
The fish is then wrapped in a green banana leaf and steamed. This cooking technique preserves the flavour of the marinated fish and gives Mok Pa a truly appetising appearance. The texture of the dish is tender, juicy and melt-in-the-mouth.
What’s more, thanks to the absence of oil, this dish is suitable for everyone, including those on special diets. You can enjoy it in many local restaurants at a reasonable price, making it an affordable choice for travellers. Don’t miss the chance to try this culinary delight during your stay in Laos, as Mok Pa will delight your taste buds with its fresh and exquisite flavours.
4. Khao poon (spicy rice vermicelli soup)
Khao Poon is a spicy rice vermicelli soup popular in Laos. This delicious soup is prepared with a coconut milk curry base and meats such as chicken, fish or ground pork. Ingredients commonly used include fish sauce, galanga, garlic, lime leaves, Lao chillies, mint and shallots.
The use of coconut milk in the recipe gives Khao Poon a creamy texture and aromatic flavour. However, there is also a version without coconut for those who don’t like it or can’t eat it.
For the full experience, don’t forget to add fresh aromatic herbs and bamboo shoots to your Khao Poon. These ingredients add an extra dimension of freshness and crunch to the soup. Khao Poun is particularly popular at breakfast, offering an explosion of spicy flavours to get the day off to a good start.
5. Or lam (beef stew)
Or Lam (Laos: ເອາະຫຼາມ) is a Laotian stew originating in Luang Prabang which offers a light touch of spice and numbness. The base of this dish is prepared from rice flour mixed with spices such as chilli, lemongrass, ginger and garlic.
Mushrooms and common meats such as pork, chicken and beef are usually added, and sometimes even venison for a special version. The Or Lam is then steamed until the meats are tender.
Despite its time-consuming preparation and cooking, Or Lam delights the taste buds with its sweet and bitter flavours. This authentic Laotian dish is a genuine speciality that cannot be found elsewhere.
6. Kaipen (fried seaweed)
Kaipen is a type of river algae found in the river regions of northern Laos. After harvesting, the seaweed is shaped into squares and then dried in the sun. Preparing Kai Pen is very simple: just fry the dried seaweed in a pan for about 4 seconds. Kai Pen has a fine, crispy texture, similar to Chips, making it a much-loved snack in Laos.
As seaweed, Kai Pen is rich in nutrients and beneficial to health. What’s more, this plant-based product makes an ideal snack for vegan travellers, offering a tasty and healthy alternative.
7. Khao piak sen (Chicken noodle soup)
Khao piak sen is a traditional Laotian noodle soup made with topica. The broth is made with chicken, lemongrass, lime leaves, galanga, ginger and soy sauce. The noodles, made from a mixture of tapioca flour and rice flour, are rubbery thanks to the use of topica, which makes this dish unique.
It’s an ideal hot soup for cold days, and can be eaten for breakfast. It is easily found in restaurants and food stalls in Laos.
8. Sien Savanh (Laos Beef Jerky)
Another popular Laotian snack is Sien Savanh. These are thin slices of beef seasoned with black pepper, garlic and ginger. The Laotians also sprinkle sesame seeds over the slices of beef, then leave them to dry in the sun. The process of making Sien Savanh generally takes a few days, depending on the weather conditions. The warmer the weather, the quicker the process.
After being dried for hours in the sun, slices of beef have a rubbery texture and smoky flavour that go perfectly with a beer. In some regions, the beef is replaced by buffalo. Sien Savanh is therefore an essential Laotian dish to try during your stay in Laos.
9. Sai oua (Laotian sausage)
Sai Oua, also known as Lao sausage, is prepared by mincing meat and seasoning it with typical spices such as galanga, lemongrass, lime leaves, fish sauce and green onions. Sai Oua sausages can be roasted or fried in oil to obtain a crispy skin and a slightly spicy flavour that instantly stimulates the taste buds.
This speciality is native to the northern regions of Laos, but visitors can also find them at street food stalls and local markets, where they are an integral part of Lao street food. Don’t miss the chance to try these delicious sausages during your visit, as they are a real treat for lovers of spicy flavours and savoury meats.
10. Khao Jee (toasted glutinous rice)
Khao Jee (Laos: (ເຂົ້າຈີ່ຈຸບໄຂ່)) literally ‘toasted sticky rice’ in Laotian, is carefully prepared by cooking sticky rice to a sticky texture. A stick is then inserted into the rice before it is toasted. To add a touch of creaminess, a layer of egg can also be added before cooking.
This dish is both fascinating and delicious, with a texture that is crispy on the outside and soft on the inside. It is a much-loved snack among children and adults in Laos, and is a staple of street food. During your visit, don’t miss the chance to try Khao Jee and savour this unique taste experience, which highlights the versatility of glutinous rice in Lao cuisine.
11. Ping gai (Laotian-style roast chicken)
Ping Gai also known as Laotian-style roast chicken, is a Laotian version of roast chicken inspired by the Thai recipe but adapted to Laotian preferences.
The seasoning sauce is made with familiar ingredients such as fish sauce, lemongrass, rice vinegar, sweet chilli, garlic, shallots, turmeric, ginger, coriander, black soy sauce, palm sugar and white pepper.
The chicken is marinated in this fragrant sauce before being roasted, giving it a delicious flavour, a golden appearance and a smoky aroma.
Ping Gai is a popular dish in Laos, often found in local restaurants and street food stalls. Its combination of spices and herbs makes for a rich and satisfying taste experience. Don’t miss the opportunity to try this delicious roast chicken during your visit to Laos, as it epitomises Lao gastronomy.
12. Khao niew (Laotian sticky rice)
Lao sticky rice is actually extremely popular, especially in Asian countries because of its sticky, chewy texture. Khao Niew, simply glutinous rice well steamed and seasoned with a pinch of salt (or without), is a staple dish commonly used in everyday meals and serves as a side dish for savoury dishes such as Laap, Mok pa, Or lam, etc.
The cooking technique is also simple: it can be cooked the Asian way with water in a pan or steamed using a special bamboo utensil. If you’re looking for an authentic travel experience, don’t hesitate to enjoy a meal accompanied by sticky rice. This will allow you to discover the basic Laotian diet and fully immerse yourself in the country’s culinary culture.
Using local ingredients and inspiration from neighbouring cuisines, Laotians create their own culinary art. Laotian dishes cannot do without aromatic herbs, spices and sticky rice. As a result, the country’s cuisine is seen as a harmonious concert of ingredients and is an unmissable experience for foreign visitors.