Laos- Standard Dishes

If Laos were to nominate a national dish, a strong contender would be larp, a “salad” of minced meat or fish mixed with garlic, chillies, shallots, galangal, ground sticky rice and fish sauce. Traditionally, larp is eaten raw (díp), though you’re more likely to encounter it súk (cooked), and is often served with lettuce, which is good for cooling off your mouth after swallowing a chilli. The notion of a “meat salad” is a common concept in Lao food, although in Luang Prabang you’ll find Lao salads closer to the Western salad, with many falling into the broad category of yam, or “mixture”, such as yam sìn ngúa, a spicy beef salad.

Ping Kai (Grilled Chicken)
Ping Kai (Grilled Chicken)

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Another quintessentially Lao dish is tam màk hung, a spicy papaya salad made with shredded green papaya, garlic, chillies, lime juice, pa dàek and, sometimes, dried shrimp and crab juice. One of the most common street-vendor foods, tam màk hung, is known as tam sòm in Vientiane; stalls producing this treat are identifiable by the vendor pounding away with a mortar and pestle. Each vendor will have their own particular recipe, but it’s also completely acceptable to pick out which ingredients – and how many chillies – you’d like when you order. One of several variants on tam màk hung is tam kûay tani, which replaces shredded papaya with green banana and eggplant.

Usually not far away from any tam màk hung vendor, you’ll find someone selling pîng kai, basted grilled chicken. Fish, pîng pa is another grilled favourite, with whole fish skewered, stuffed with herbs and lemongrass, and thrown on the barbecue.

Larb (Laap, Larp or Lahb)
Larb (Laap, Larp or Lahb)

Soup is a common component of Lao meals and is served along with the other main courses during a meal. Fish soups, kaeng pa (or tôm yám paw when lemongrass and mushrooms are included), frequently appear on menus, as does kaeng jèut, a clear, mild soup with vegetables and pork, which can also be ordered with bean curd (kaeng jèut tâo hû).

A speciality of southern Laos and Luang Prabang, well worth ordering if you can find it, is mók pa or fish steamed in banana leaves. Other variations, including mók kheuang nai kai (chicken giblets grilled in banana leaves) and mók pa fa lai (with freshwater stingray), are also worth sampling, though they appear less frequently on restaurant menus.

Restaurants catering to travellers can whip up a variety of stir-fried dishes, which tend to be a mix of Thai, Lao and Chinese food, and are usually eaten with steamed rice. Fried rice is a reliable standby throughout the country, as are Chinese and Thai dishes such as pork with basil over rice (mũ phát bai holapha), chicken with ginger (khùa khing kai) and mixed vegetables (khùa phák).

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