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Interesting foods to try in Laos

Interesting foods to try in Laos

The food in Laos is not very well known compared to its Thai, Chinese and Vietnamese neighbours.

Laotian cuisine has similarities with Thailand (such as the spicy papaya salad) and Vietnam (the noodle soups popular in Laos reminded us of Vietnamese Phos).

We set out to discover the more unique aspects of the Laotian cuisine and what we think are the best food to try in Laos.

Freshly made Laotian stuffed chicken in lemongrass

Showing off our freshly made Laotian stuffed chicken in lemongrass during our cooking course at Luang Prabang

#1 Best food 1: sticky rice (“khao niaow”)

Sticky rice is the staple accompaniment to all meals in Laos. It is made from glutinous rice, which has a higher sugar level than normal rice, hence its stickiness. Despite the name though, glutinous rice is gluten free so ideal for celiacs.

Sebastien discovering sticky rice in Vientiane, Laos

Sebastien discovering Laotian sticky rice which is served in small bamboo baskets called lao aep khao

The recipe for sticky rice involves steaming it and serving it in small bamboo baskets (called lao aep khao). Most traditional Laotian dishes were designed to accompany sticky rice so they can be eaten by hand, hence they are dry and served at room temperature.

Man eating sticky rice with fingers

Man eating sticky rice with his fingers during our boat ride from Luang Prabang to Pak Beng

To keep the fingers clean and prevent the rice dropping into communal food, Lao dishes do not have a liquid consistency. In contrast, Thai dishes are more soup like using coconut milk, so steamed rice is a more suitable accompaniment.

Black or purple sticky rice is a healthier rice grain and more commonly used for “khao gam” (purple sticky rice with coconut milk).

Purple sticky rice is popular food in Laos

Purple sticky rice (sometimes called black rice) is popular food in Laos as a desert with coconut milk

#2 Laap (minced meat salad)

Laap is the national dish of Laos. It is a salad with minced meat (or fish). Traditionally the meat is served raw, similar to the recipe for Peruvian ceviche whereby the meat/fish “cooks” in the lime juice.

Freshly made laap (minced meat salad)

Stefan and new friend showing off this tasty freshly made laap

Our favourite meat base for laap was buffalo because it is chewy with lots of flavour. Traditionally, the buffalo bile is used to tenderise the meat and add a slightly bitter flavour, but for our recipe for buffalo laap, we didn’t use bile.

Stefan with buffalo laap and sticky rice

Stefan showing off his freshly made buffalo laap and sticky rice

#3 Lam stew and spicy chilli wood

The “Or Lam” (also spelt/pronounced, aw lahm) is a stew from Luang Prabang and our favourite food in Laos. Or Lahm is a green vegetable based stew, composed with herbs and basic ingredients, like: chilli wood!

Stefan with tasty buffalo Or Lahm stew

Stefan with tasty buffalo Or Lahm stew in Luang Prabang

Yes, you read correctly! Scrapes of wood bark from the chilli tree are added to this delicious stew (and other dishes) to give it a smoky peppery flavour. Sichuan pepper can be used as an alternative.

Spiced wood used for cooking

Spiced wood sold at the local market in Luang Prabang

#4 Our favourite drinks in Laos

No food article about a country’s food is complete with mention of how we washed it all down. Despite being a country not well known internationally, Laos packs a punch when it comes to its drinks.


Beerlao is the national drink and surprisingly popular, considered by some (like Time Magazine and the Bangkok Post) as the best beer in Southeast Asia. We obviously *had* to give it a try.

Our Beerlao selfie

Our Beerlao selfie – trying out this highly regarded beer

Laotian coffee (kaa-feh)

Coffee was introduced to Laos by the French in the early 1900s and has become its largest agricultural export. A lot of the (good) coffee in Thailand is in fact imported from Laos.

Iced Laotian coffee from street stalls is a refreshing drink in the midday heat. It is served in a small plastic bag of ice with condensed milk at the bottom.

Iced coffee in a plastic bag

Stefan tucking into a refreshing iced Laotian coffee in Vientiane served in a plastic bag of ice cubes

Laotian Margharitas

Laos produces its own brands of alcohol equivalents to whisky, rum and vodka. The most popular one we encountered was the Lao rice whiskey called “Lao Lao”.

As a result, Laotian versions of popular cocktails like Margaritas are produced very cheaply, which makes Laos a cocktail lover’s paradise.

Sebastien with a Laotian Margarita

Sebastien with a Laotian Margarita (made using some form of Laotian alcohol)

Check out our Laotian recipes and watch our Laos travel video.


  1. Can’t beat the coffee in southeast asia!!! Dream of it to this day!!

    • I know right? 🙂

  2. Chilli wood is also known in the west as pepperwood. – it is a woody vine, Piper ribesioides, and is regarded as an appetite stimulant.

    “The Boat Landing Cookbook – Food from Northern Laos” suggests the closest substitute is 1 teaspoon of whole black peppercorns, 5 Sichuan pepper berries, plus 1 dried red chilli and 1 bitter leaf, such as celery, placed together in a tea infuser and submerged in the stew. Remove the infuser and its contents before serving.”

    Did you try the River Weed? It goes so well with a glass of BeerLao and ice. In one Lao home I was in, two pieces were sandwiched with white sesame seeds and deep fried until crispy. Absolutely delicious! Beats potato crisps hands down.

    • Thanks Barbara 🙂 Totally agreed!

  3. We really missed out on the soups because of all the meat and fish stock used… such a shame because that chilli wood sounds awesome! We also liked the spring rolls… because they are a fried food and we couldn’t resist them, plus our favourite khan kroks!. There was an awful lot of BeerLao being drunk by one half of us (I won’t mention who!)

    Looking forward to the next post Nomadic Boys 😉

    • Caryl! So that’s the real truth eh? You didn’t strike me as a pisshead – he he he 🙂

  4. That laap made me hungry! Beer Lao and Lao iced coffee are really great especially now that summer is upon us. I’ve never tried margarita in Laos… that will be in my list next time I visit. Keep posting, you guys! 🙂

    • Awwww thanks Bem. Laos is great for cocktails but very dangerous as the damn things are not the healthiest and when they’re so cheap, it’s hard to resist 🙁


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