I’ll be honest with you: I knew nothing about Laotian food before I traveled to Laos. And I have no clue why I didn’t because there is a large Hmong population in my hometown, but only one restaurant I have heard of since. Lao cuisine is delicious and different from neighboring Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam (sorry never got to Burma to eat). The French influence is very noticeable in Laos with baguettes easily found and several French restaurants in Vientiane and Luang Prabang. Because I heard so many great things from Chloe, I decided that Victor and I would take a cooking class at Tamarind, a restaurant and cooking school, in Luang Prabang.
We arrived in Luang Prabang around lunchtime and decided to eat at Tamarind. The lunch was fantastic, so that boded well for our class. One of the first things that I noticed about Lao cuisine was sticky rice. Sticky rice comes with almost every meal and when people eat with their hands, they use the rice as a base to scoop up other food. We ordered a combination plate (pictured above) which came with Lao sausage, a jerky and few small pickled salads. Lao cuisine uses plenty of fresh herbs, but I was most surprised to encounter dill, an herb I associate with Eastern European cooking. It was so hot when we arrived in Luang Prabang I had to order a cucumber salad too:
Cooking sticky rice in special bamboo baskets:
A PiA fellow who has lived in Laos for many years recommended Lao Kitchen in Vientiane. As the hotel manager circled the location for me on a map he said, “Good choice.” And it certainly was.
Lao sausage with a delicious dipping sauce and plenty of dill:
A laap salad, consists of minced meat, pleanty of herbs and a kick of heat from some chili:
Breakfast in Luang Prabang — if I had to liken it to anything, I would call it a rice noodle savory breakfast crepe:
Before we started any cooking, our class headed to the market. I picked up a nice tool that easily allows you to “peel” a papaya or green mango into long thin slices ready for a delicious salad. I love the way herbs and crabs are presented on little rings at the markets in Laos. Market scenes in Luang Prabnag:
Ducks, cute little ducks, at markets make me nervous:
The Tamarind cooking school is located outside of central Luang Prabang on a nice pond.
We cooked several dishes during the class. As we got cooking I started feeling really terrible. Victor had come down with a fever a day earlier and now it was my turn. Halfway through the class I excused myself. The instructor came and found me and got me a lounge chair so I could lie down and nap. If you know me, and my love of cooking, this was the absolute worse time for me to feel awful, but c’est la vie. At least I made it partly through what turned out to be my favorite dish:
After my mid-class siesta, I awoke to find a whole plate of food waiting for me including mok pa: fish steamed in banana leaves and plenty of dipping sauces, jeow, jeow mak keua (eggplant dip) and jeow mak len (tomato).
Luang Prabang is a great city to wander and eat in. Victor and I had some cheap noodles at a small restaurant one day for lunch:
The night market in Luang Prabang is a feast for the eyes and stomach. Sandwiches and cups filled with fruit, the quicker to dump and blend, line the back end of the market and down a small alley, families set up food stands. For about a dollar you get a plate and can eat your fill.
Mom caught him stealing and he got a telling:
Ah yes, only the finest Laotian fillings and spreads:
After weeks of traveling sometimes you just crave a really great Western dessert and glass of wine:
A French meal in Vientiane:
A watermelon-chili granita with alcohol at Tamarind, pictured below. Granitas were popular in Laos. I don’t know why granitas aren’t more popular in other countries, so delicious.
As far as beer, you’d be hard pressed not to stumble on a case of Beer Lao. So it’s a good thing that this is actually a decent beer and also comes in a dark variety!
In the end, eating in Laos was a pleasure and I’ve managed to recreate many dishes at home.
Where to Eat & Drink:
Lao Kitchen (Rue Hengboun, opposite from the KP Hote) is a fantastic little spot with tasty traditional food.
Spirit House (a quiet spot, 93/09 Fa Ngum Road) order a P&P Granite, you won’t regret it.
Tamarind (Th Kingkitsarat) great place to sample Lao cuisine.
Blue Lagoon (next to the royal palace) traditional food with some fusion elements.
L’Elephant Restaurant (Ban Wat Nong) fancy place for a pricey French dinner.
Saffron (Th Khem Khong) a great spot for a cup of coffee and ice cream with cookies.
Utopia (turn down Th Phommatha) on the river, this is a nice bar to lounge (you’ll end up practically lying down) and downing some Beer Lao.
Le Banneton (Th Sakkarin) one of many charming cafes the city has to offer.
And be sure to eat at the night market.