Lao food is very diverse depending on the region you visit in Laos. Common themes of Lao food is pungency from padaek fermented fish sauce, fresh Southeast Asian herbs and vegetables, an endless supply of khao niew sticky rice, and a food culture of resourcefulness and not wasting any part of animals.
Whether you are in Laos or in another country with a Lao community, I highly recommend trying these dishes. I compiled a list of introductory Lao foods that I suggest trying.
No Lao meal is complete without thummakhoong on the table. This papaya salad is very different from other versions you may have tried. It is more pungent, very spicy, and dark in color. Make sure to ask for Lao papaya salad.
Laab is the unofficial national dish of Laos. It is characterized as a minced meat dish with lots of fresh herbs and toasted sticky rice powder. There are many variations of laab, but I would recommend laab gai chicken and if you are adventurous, try laab diip raw beef salad.
3. GAENG NOR MAI
It’s a delicious green stew that is thickened with sticky rice. The highlight of this dish is yanang extract with fresh bamboo shoots. It’s not common in Lao restaurants, but when it is, make sure to give it a try.
4. JEOW BONG
There is an infinite amount of jeows in Laos. Almost anything can be made into a jeow, but I think one of the most popular and loved is jeow bong, a very spicy yet sweet dip. It’s tedious to make since it involves frying dried chili peppers. It is sure to fume up your kitchen. You can find a version of this dip in the fresh market in Luang Prabang, Laos.
5. SAI OUA
Once you go sai oua Lao sausage, you will never go back to a regular sausage. One piece of sai oua gives you all the flavors of a Lao kitchen. It is a fragrant sausage made with ingredients like galangal, dill, and lemongrass.
6. OR LAM
A very rare dish outside of Laos since it requires very specific ingredients like sakhan peppery vine and buffalo skin. Other variations are made with chicken. This is a dish I always get when I visit Laos.
7. NAM KHAO TOD
I haven’t met anyone that doesn’t like nam khao tod. It is a good first food to introduce people that have never had Lao food. One bite gives all the flavors of Laos.
8. MIENG MUANG LUANG
As in the name of this dish, it originates in Luang Prabang. Sticky rice is a foundational ingredient and is used in many ways. This dish is made from sticky rice that has been steamed, sun dried, fried, and finally rehydrated.
9. KHAO PIEK SEN
This noodle soup dish is a comfort food for most Lao people. The noodles are freshly made from tapioca flour and rice flour. Every morning in Laos, you will find food stalls serving the pork or chicken version of this dish.
10. MOK GAI
Steaming is very important to Lao food since baking did not exist for many households. Mok is a type of Lao food usually steamed and flavored with fresh herbs and fish sauce. The flavors melt together and my personal favorite is mok gai. Below is a photo of mok naw mai bamboo.
I hope this list gives you a glimpse of Lao food. If you visit Laos, make sure to search for these dishes. Not only can you find these dishes in Laos, but many Lao restaurants have opened up across the United States.