Eating is a community event in Lao. People do not eat alone & if you try to order traditional Lao cuisine on your own you’ll end up with enough to feed a small army!
If you are coming to Lao and want to know how to eat local, this is the perfect guide for you! Or if you’re a foodie and want to live vicariously through me, below is a run down of how I get to eat everyday.
Step one: Gather 4+ friends
I would say four is the minimum number you need in order to experience all that this cuisine has to offer (unless you eat for 2!)
Step two: Pick the right location
To eat like a Laotian you must be seated on straw mats on the floor – none of this table and chairs business! If you can’t find a venue to accommodate get takeaway and BYO straw mat to a tranquil spot by the Mekong. Traditionally food is set a top a Ka Toke which is a raised platform, in the center of everyone…however they’re not always easy to come by.
If you’re a female attempt to sit with both legs pointing to the same side. I find it very difficult and end up just doing the boy thing and crossing my legs!
Step three: Ordering
Here in Lao everyone shares dishes, so you must order a number of things and then split them between everyone.
– A meat dish
– Steamed or stir fried vegetables
– Fresh herbs, lettuce and beans
– Clear soup
– The most important part – a big straw container of sticky rice!
Step four: Getting acquainted with your utensils & condiments
You won’t find a knife here, but generally you don’t need one as most of your food will be very soft or have been pre chopped. If you do want to cut something use the side of your spoon! Chopsticks are mainly used for Feu or noodle soup. Here in Lao most people use their hands and sticky rice.
Now you will also be provided with an array of condiments. Laos’ love chilli, so there will be fresh chilli, chilli paste and a chilli sauce! Soy & fish sauces will be incorporated throughout each dish but sometimes also on the side. Fish paste is to be eaten with the green beans and fresh chilli! And that bowl of sugar on the side? They use it to make soup sweeter, I use it to take the chilli burn off my mouth!
Step five: The drinks
Water will be served with every meal.
If you love to try the local brew, Beer Lao is for you! One of the best local beers in south east Asia, generally comes in a tall bottle which is then split into small glasses to share between everyone. Laos’ always drink beer with ice. They are also constantly cheers-ing for no apparent reason.
If you don’t drink alcohol, no stress! Fruit smoothies and bubble teas are the most popular choices among women. Pre-warning; they will mix condensed milk and extra sugar in to every drink unless you ask to leave it out!
Step six: EATING
Okay so now you have an array of dishes in front of you and one wide shallow bowl. As I mentioned before Lao food is like Asian tapas, so you take a little bit of each dish, one at a time. Take a small portion with you spoon, place it on your plate and then when you want to eat it grab a chuck of sticky rice and pick it up with your fingers and the rice! Not a fan of rice? Use a big lettuce leaf instead!
Herbs and rest veg are eaten in between dishes to cleanse the palette. It is also not rude at all to use your hands to eat or break apart food..so jump in and get messy!
WAIT…what actually is a Lao dish?
Typical Lao dishes are; whole fried fish, grilled chicken or pork, morning glory, bamboo shoot soup, crispy pork, larb, papaya salad, noodle salad, green stews, sweet and spicy soup, meat cooked in banana leaf.
BUT I’m eating alone! Can I still eat traditional Lao?
Of course! The best thing to order when you’re alone is noodle soup! This can be ordered on the side of the road, from a restaurant or easily made yourself! Here condiments come into big play, you get the base soup and then get to tweak it to your tastes with the huge array of condiments you are provided with.
STREET FOOD?! I don’t want a big meal, just a snack!
Like other Asian countries street food is everywhere in Lao. Here on the street you will find grilled meat on sticks, bags of rice, fried bananas, boiled eggs, and lots of cooked bugs! There are also a number of places which sell baguettes.filled with meat and salad for a dollar or two.