Khiri Travel Laos recommends the best local Laotian dishes
Laos' Unique Local Delicacies
Laos may not be as famous or well known as its neighbours for its cuisine, but it is home to some rather unique and delightful culinary treats. Like most south east Asian nations, rice is a staple and eaten with every meal, in fact it is a significant element to every meal, breakfast, lunch and dinner including snacks. In Laos however a special type of rice is consumed, known as sticky rice this is a clumpy glutinous and slightly naturally sweet type of rice. Steamed in bamboo woven baskets and served in smaller version of the cooking baskets. The traditional way to eat this rice is with your hand, you take a small lump of sticky rice and gently roll and squeeze this into a ball, you can then dip this in a curry type sauce but it is normally eaten on it’s own, the vegetables and proteins eaten separately.
A really unique local delicacy in Laos is riverweed, called Kai Phean. Made from an algae that grows in strands along the banks of the Mekong river. This is collected early in the morning, washed, squeezed, rinsed and drained which produces an almost wet dough like lump, this is then broken down with water to be a pulp like consistency. Wooden frames are used to make sheets, similar to way handmade paper is made. These sheets are then placed on bamboo racks to dry in the sun. They are then basted with flavours, sesame seeds being the most popular along with chilli of course. The finished product resembles a nori sheet in appearance and it is simply delicious, served as a snack with beer or as part of a starter. It is usually always served with a more savoury yet sweet chilli jam called Jeow Bong, a taste sensation. This culinary gem does come with a warning, it’s insanely moreish.
Another Lao treat that is also served as a snack or as part of a starter plate is Sin Savanh, or dried beef jerky, the beef is roughly sliced or chopped and marinated in a mix of local flavours including ginger, garlic, galangal and sesame, it is then sundried and like all the specialty local treats in Laos is a treat. Next we have Lao Sausage, which once again can feature on mixed starter plate or as dish in itself. The two most popular types of Lao Sausage are Sai Qua and Sai Kok. Sai Qua is a longer thinner sausage that comes in a coil, Sai Kok are thin hotdog size sausages, both feature pork as the main ingredient and both are cooked on a BBQ or hot grill until brown and crispy on the outside. Sai Qua is usually cut into bite size pieces.
When it comes to more main dishes there is Laab, said to have originated in Laos this is a minced meat salad loaded with an abundance of fresh local herbs and a tangy light dressing, The second is Or Lam, a northern Lao stew that is said to have originated in Luang Prabang that is very rustic with root vegetables and either beef or chicken, the heart of this stew are the flavours of lemongrass, grilled limes, garlic, onions, chillies and chilli wood which gives the dish it’s unique earthy aroma, sticky rice is added to create a glutinous stewy sauce.
One of our most favourite restaurants, Manda de Laos, in Luang Prabang is where you can try all of these exceptional Laotian dishes. Manda de Laos is an amazing dining experience, located in the heart of Luang Prabang, the restaurant has three heritage-listed ponds on the grounds. It offers the finest local food, great cocktails, an extensive wine list, and excellent service in an unforgettable setting.
In 2005, John Black found his passion for the world of travel and hospitality through his work as a tour leader. He moved to Cambodia in 2008, with more than 16 years of experience in the industry, John leads Khiri Cambodia and Laos with affection and understanding of the local cultures. As an inquisitive cook and a cuisine enthusiast, John loves to eat at the local street food vendors and visit local markets for the freshest ingredients available.