Exploring Lao Cuisine

Food in Laos is more distinctive than you might expect. You might notice some dishes that are similar to those found in northern Thailand but generally they are not as spicy. Like Vietnam, Laos was once a French colony with some influences on the food.


Freshness is very important in Lao cooking with everything prepared from scratch. Dishes are based on balance between sweet, sour, cooked, fresh, mild, bitter, salty and spicy. Herbs including galangal (similar to ginger) and lemongrass are commonly used.

A typical Lao table will include Khao Niaow (Sticky rice), a staple of any Lao meal rather than soft steamed rice. You’ll also normally have a vegetable dish, a meat dish such as laap and a soup. There will be chilli dips and Padaek (Lao fish sauce).

You’ll also notice a lot of fresh baked goods. Laos was once a French colony and this left it’s mark. Most famously in Khao jee, a baguette stuffed with lettuce, sliced tomatoes, carrot, onion, moo yor (pork), chopped ham, and completed with pâté or chilli sauce. Similar to the Vietnamese banh mi.


Meals are traditionally eaten communally with all dishes served at the same time. Spoons are used for soups and soft white rice and chopsticks for noodles, whilst the rest of the food is eaten by hand using Khao Niaow (sticky rice). As the name suggests this rice sticks together making it easy to mould into a ball with your hands. You can then squash the ball so its a spoon-like shape and using your thumb, scoop up other dishes into the rice.


Known as the official national dish, Laap (also spelt Larb or Lahp) is a meat based salad flavoured with lime, garlic, fish sauce, mint leaves, spring onion and ground toasted rice. The meat could be buffalo, chicken, pork or beef. You might also find fish, vegetarian and raw meat options. Laap is always eaten with a side of khao niaow.

Mok Pa
Fish steamed in banana leaves

Khao nom kok
Found in the night market of Luang Prabang, these delicious coconut pancakes are the perfect sweet treat. A batter of coconut milk, rice flour and sugar is poured into a cast iron pan of little half spheres then cooked over hot charcoal until golden. Two halves are put together to make one bite-sized pancake which are pilled up and served in a banana leaf cup. They are incredibly moreish. You’ll also find these in Thailand where they are called kanom krok.


Lao Lao
Rice whiskey. You might find some local versions distilled over charcoal fires in old oil drums.

Beer Lao
The national brand

Fruit Juices & Smoothies
Topical fruits are perfect for blending into a delicious drink with ice and normally a little salt and sugar.


A cooking class is a great way to learn more about local dishes and how to make your favourites. Most classes will provide you with a cook book with adaptations for western cooking so you can recreate the dishes at home.

Tamarind Cooking Class Luang Prabang

Visited September – October 2016
Little Amy Tours
Instagram @littleamytourss

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