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  • Writer's pictureOdara

Laos Food: 7 Traditional Dishes You Need to Try

Updated: Mar 14

Lao cuisine or Laotian cuisine is packed with herbs and vegetable-heavy. The cuisine of Laos is distinct from other Southeast Asian cuisines and is sometimes amalgamated with Thai cuisine.

A boat tour on the river Ou near my father's village

Lao language describes seven tastes: salty, sweet, sour, bitter, umami, spicy and astringent, and an ideal meal will include a combination of all the tastes to which a multitude of flavors should be added. In Lao cuisine, the flavors come from fresh herbs rather than spices. Besides the classic salt, sugar and pepper, Asian cuisine uses a whole range of special sauces. The most characteristic condiment of Lao recipes is the unfiltered fish sauce, nam pa dek.

Lap pet | Traditional Lao duck salad

1. Lap (laap, laab, lab, larb)

Lap is the national dish of Laos. This herb-flavored meat or fish salad is available in cooked or raw versions and is always served with a plate of raw vegetables. The version most known by the Westerners is the one with pork or chicken. People who are curious can find other laps here.

Guess what Aunt Mae and Peter Parker were eating in Spider-Man Homecoming 😉

Tam mak houng | Green papaya salad

2. Tam mak houng (tam maak hoong, thum mak hoong) - Green papaya salad

Green papaya salad, tam mak houng, is a traditional Lao dish but commonly known to foreigners by its Thai name, som tam. This dish was popularized in Thailand by the people of Lao ethnic origin, the Isans, living in the northeast of the country.

The traditional method to grate green papaya consists of making notches in the papaya with a large knife and then cutting thin slices. If you go to Luang-Prabang you will sometimes find it in large stripes.

Nem Tha Dua | Lao crispy rice with fermented pork

3. Nem Tha Dua (Nem Tha Deua, Nem khao) - Crispy rice with fermented pork

Nem Tha Dua, also called nem khao, is a salad of fried rice and fermented pork sausage (som mou). The rice is flavored with grated coconut and curry paste.

Tha Dua is a place located in the north of Laos. My mother told me it was the only place where you could eat this dish when she was young.

Khao xoi | Lao rice noodle soup with tomatoes and fermented soy bean

4. Khao xoi (khao soy, khao soi) - Noodle soup with tomato and bean paste sauce

Lao khao xoi is a specialty of northern Laos. It is a noodle soup topped with a tomato meat sauce made of minced pork, tomatoes, garlic and fermented bean paste. It is often served with blanched vegetables.

Khao poun | Lao rice vermicelli soup with beef

5. Khao poun (khao poon, khao pun) - Lao rice vermicelli soup

Khao poun is actually the name of a type of rice vermicelli. The noodle soups based on these vermicelli are garnished with lots of vegetables and sprinkled with a broth.

There are various versions of khao poun. The most known is the version with coconut and curry but the curious should try the version with pork intestines. In Luang-Prabang you will find a khao poun with caramelized beef.

Mou nem | Lao salad of rice semolina with pork

6. Mou nem - Lao salad of rice semolina

Mou nem is a salad of rice semolina flavored with galanga and lemon zest. It is a speciality of Luang-Prabang. It is sweet and sour and always accompanied with lettuce.

Oua no mai | Stuffed bamboo shoots with ground pork

7. Oua no mai - Stuffed bamboo shoots

I hesitated between oua no mai and Lao sausage but it seems my stuffed bamboo recipe has the most mouth-watering effect on my friends 😅. The bamboo shoots are stuffed with pork, steamed then finally deep fried, which gives a juicy meat with a crispy vegetable crust. It is a speciality of Luang-Prabang.

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