Lao Food: I Lao You!

Asia, Laos

Pad Sapao Gop, Tamarind

Last week I returned from a wonderful trip to Laos with James. We flew from Jakarta and Hong Kong respectively and met in Kuala Lumpur to catch the flight to Vientiane on the following day. That gave us enough time to wander around the Malaysian capital to see the highlights of the city. On the other hand, Laos itself turned out to be a very beautiful and interesting country and we had a really good time traveling around. Laid-back Vientiane, spectacular scenery of Lao mountainous regions, quiet Luang Prabang and the friendly local people are some of the most incredible experiences we had in the PDR. However since I will be going to Southern China and Sri Lanka next week, you need to be a little more patient for my stories and photographs from my trip to Laos and Malaysia. I am still working on them though, but for now, I’m going to share some photographs of one of the best things in Laos: the food!

The Food

During our stay in Laos for five nights, we always tried the local food and skipped all the more familiar ones (except one chicken baguette that I had for breakfast in Vientiane). After traveling to almost every country in Southeast Asia I have to say that Lao foods are my favorite, really. I couldn’t remember the last time I fell in love with local foods as I did with the Lao delicacies. What I like from them is the fact that you can always find vegetables, whether cooked together with all other ingredients or simply served separately. Other than being healthy, obviously, all of the vegetables brought a very refreshing and pungent flavor to all the dishes.

I remember during our excruciating yet unforgettable 11-hour minivan ride from Vientiane to Luang Prabang, we stopped to have lunch at an unconvincing small restaurant on the roadside. We both had noodle soup and I need to tell you that was probably one of the best noodle soups I’ve ever had in my life. The stock was light actually, but the addition of coriander and other leaves in the bowl makes it worth finishing until the very last drop.

There were four other restaurants where we had wonderful meals of Lao foods: Tamarind, Tamnak Lao and Tum Tum Cheng – all in Luang Prabang – and Kualao in Vientiane. But if you ask me which one that I would recommend, I would definitely choose Tamarind for their beautiful presentation of every dish and drink. Below are a few of the local dishes that we had in Laos.

Duck Laab/Larp, Kualao

Oua Si Khai (Stuffed Lemongrass), Tamarind

Chicken Or Lahm, Kualao

Mok Pa (Fish in Banana Leaves), Tamarind

Kai Pehn (Dried Sheets of Edible Mekong River Algae), Tum Tum Cheng

Gaeng Nor Mai (Bamboo Shoot Soup), Tamarind

Sai Oua Kway (Water Buffalo Sausage), Tamnak Lao

Red Sticky Rice, Tamnak Lao

DIY Parcels, Tamarind

The Drinks

Apart from the absolutely delicious food, local Lao drinks are also worth trying. We had our favorite though, the addictive watermelon chilli granita. Yes, with real chilli in it. Those who are not fond of chilli might have to think it over again before trying this drink because as benign the chilli might taste at first, it got rather strong and left a slightly burning sensation aftertaste in your throat. However, we came back to Tamarind the next day to have another watermelon chilli granitas and still loved it.

For alcoholic drinks, you might want to try Lao Lao, a local rice whiskey, which turns out less fierce than I previously thought. Also make sure not to miss Beerlao, the most famous local beer brand which is ubiquitous throughout the country. Even though it says it contains only 5% of alcohol, but from what I felt after having a large bottle of Beerlao was similar to what happened after one liter of Rochefort Beer in Brussels – it made me just a little bit tipsy.

Watermelon Chilli Granita, Tamarind

Nam Mak Toum (Iced Cinnamon Bael Fruit Tea), Tamarind

Beerlao, Everywhere!

Related Posts: Vientiane: The Rush-Free Capital, The Long Road to Luang Prabang, The Soothing Charm of Luang Prabang

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Based in Jakarta, always curious about the world, always fascinated by ancient temples, easily pleased by food.

51 thoughts on “Lao Food: I Lao You!”

  1. Wow Bama, that was fast! You were right about the noodle soup on Route 13 – that for me was one of the best meals we had in Laos. I’m not usually a fan of coriander but you saw how quickly I gobbled it up!

    I too was surprised with the quality and flavours of Lao food. It’s so often overlooked for the more famous dishes of nearby Thailand. One day I will have to make my very own Chicken Or Lahm!


    • Yeah, I noticed how fast you were at that restaurant! Haha..
      Probably I’m a bit overdosed with Thai food. So, when I tried all Lao dishes, they just felt so new and fresh!
      Oh that Chicken Or Lahm that we tried in Kualao was definitely the best Or Lahm ever! It’ll be really great if you cook your own Or Lahm as you’ve tasted the best!


  2. Wow! looks and sound fabulous! We are planning to go later this year and I shall note down these names for reference. Any particular place that stood out and you think is a must do?
    And how wonderful that James and you could do this together. Must have been loads of fun! Look forward to your stories too James 🙂


    • Taking notes of the food is something I would really recommend, Madhu! I also did it prior to departing for Laos. However there might be some slight differences in latin pronunciation of the name, such as laab and larp, or lahm and auw lahm.
      If you go to Luang Prabang (which I believe you should) you must try Tamarind Restaurant. They serve some gorgeous-looking dishes!
      We did have loads of fun in Laos, indeed! And we’re joining forces again for our next trip to Southern China next week! 🙂


    • It was amazing Madhu – both of us wished we could have stayed a little longer in Laos! We were mainly in Vientiane and Luang Prabang; the former is a great introduction to the slow, relaxing Lao pace. Make sure you stop by JoMa bakery cafe in Vientiane, they did the best mango (and papaya) smoothies I ever had! We went around most of the temples but unfortunately we didn’t get to visit the Royal Palace in Luang Prabang. That will have to be for the next time!


      • Jotting down all of this 🙂 Thank you guys! We want to combine Laos with Angkor Wat, so thinking of allocating about 3 days or so. Would that be too short?


      • I think that’s a bit too tight. I spent two days around Angkor Wat last year and that still leaves so many temples for me to visit. But basically two days around Angkor is quite reasonable as you can visit all the most famous temples: Angkor Wat, Bayon and Ta Prohm. But Laos needs more than just one day I’m afraid. You can go around Vientiane for one day and fly to Luang Prabang the next day. But that will be too exhausting I think. I guess one week is much more comfortable to see the highlights of both countries.


      • Add one more day then it’s going to be perfect, just like what James said 🙂


      • We had 6 days in all and it was just enough – although we did it using the slow approach (When in Rome… right?). It’s possible to see all of Vientiane in half a day but we spaced out our visits with meals, fruit shakes, and plenty of downtime at the hotel. Then again May is the hottest month of the year and the heat was almost scorching at times.

        Luang Prabang, on the other hand, needs a bit more time. We had two full days there and that included a jaunt to the nearby waterfalls at Tat Kuang Si. I would probably allocate 4 days for Laos – that’s if you take the hour-long flight between the two cities!


  3. Love the food post – it looks like you guys ate well while you were there! I can’t wait to read about the rest of you trip!


    • We really made sure we had local food because we can always have pizzas and spaghetti elsewhere. I really want to be able to cook one of those dishes though!


  4. Photo Media says:

    Great shots ! and looks sooo delicious, makes me want to go back to LP again ….


      • I was there for a few hours during a tour in Thailand. It was enough time to make me want to go back, but not enough time for a meal. I plan to visit in the future, and these pictures convinced me even more! 🙂


      • Apparently I went there during off season, so I didn’t see many crowds of tourists around, which was nice 🙂
        However, May is the hottest month in Laos! I suggest you to spend at least four days in Laos when you’re visiting next time.


  5. Those photos look pro, dude! I guess this is your first post where all the pictures are food, am I right? You must have real fun and awesome time there 😀 But, I LAO YOU? Err, I guess I gotta keep my opinion to myself about that, hahaha.
    I envy you, man. Going to consecutive trips like that! Anyway, great post!


    • Thanks man! You got it right – this is indeed my first post solely about food. Laos is incredible and I wish I had one more day there!
      What about the title? haha..too cheesy?


      • Hahaha, no, it’s not cheesy. You refer that quite well actually. It sounds exactly like someone who cannot speak English really well, saying “I LOVE YOU”.


  6. Love the title of your post 🙂
    They seem to use a lot of tamarind in their food & drinks! Would love to taste of these dishes!


    • Thanks! I was inspired by how Lao people pronounce some English words. 🙂
      I’m not sure if at Tamarind Restaurant they actually use a lot of tamarind in every dish. But they always put a generous amount of vegetables for sure!


  7. Fabulous! You’re quite the food photographer 🙂 If Tamarind is in Luang Prabang, then I’ve been there too. I did enjoy the food in Laos quite a bit but didn’t get to explore the cuisine as much as you did (only visited LB). Now I really want to go back! Slowly catching up and will work my way back through your blog. Can’t wait to hear about Sri Lanki in particular…another place on my list.


    • Thanks Lauren! Yes, Tamarind is in Luang Prabang but they have moved to a new location a few blocks away from their old place. I still have some more posts about Laos but most of them will have to wait until I come back from Sri Lanka. I’m currently preparing things for my next week’s trip. I’m so excited!


  8. Sounds like you have a lot of fun traveling at the moment! Can’t wait to read more and you are making m hungry!!!


    • Nicole, you have to make your way to this part of the world one day! And try the food!!! James and I will be traveling together again next week. This time to Southern China!


      • You guys are so lucky! Did you meet through blogging or have you met somewhere else? I bet you will both come up with some excellent posts! I would love to see EVERYTHING over there. Maybe you feel the same about here? It all looks so amazing, beautiful and the food……oh. Can’t wait for more posts Bama! You and James are such excellent writers!!!


      • Thanks Nicole!!! We actually did. A few months before I went to Hong Kong last January I started following James’ blog. Then when we met in Hong Kong I told him that I was going to have a trip to Laos and Southern China. Fast forward to last week, there we were, in Laos having a really great time! Now I’m still working on my next post on Laos before going to China.


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  10. maryrichardson says:

    Okay, you’ve convinced me this food is awesome! I’d be all over the DIY parcels and the fish in banana leaf.


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  14. I’ve never tried Loa food, but from the description and photos, it seems very similar to THAI food, which I love. Although the “tamarind” flavor may not be as prominent in Thai cuisine. And I just loooove tamarind! I even buy the dried fruit at the Asian grocery store and chew on them! And of course, I always get the tamarind candies too! So I have a feeling I need to get myself to Loa, and QUICK! 😉


    • Somehow I prefer Lao food much better than Thai. But it’s just a matter of preference. 🙂
      By the way, just to clarify things, Tamarind is actually the name of the restaurant in Luang Prabang that I went the most. As far as I can remember I didn’t try any food or drink with tamarind there although I think they do serve them.
      Anyway, Laos is definitely a place worth visiting. Pack your bag and go! 🙂


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    • I’m not sure if I had tamarind in Laos, but all the food was so good. Lao food is definitely one of the most underrated in the region.


    • Hahaha, thanks for that! I love to eat, to take food photos, and to cook. That chili granita was surprisingly refreshing. The spicy note was not overpowering.


  16. You’ve really got my mouth watering now, Bama! We also loved the food of Luang Prabang and tried the Oua Si Khai (Stuffed Lemongrass) at Tamarind. Delish! And what unique presentation they created. Thanks for the wonderful culinary stroll down memory lane. All the best, Terri

    Liked by 1 person

    • Your comment reminds me that I need to return to this charming town sometime in the future. I really loved its ambiance, the food and the architecture. Take care, Terri!

      Liked by 1 person

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