About the food of Laos: Finding the Holy Grail

Child with water buffalo. Photo by Paulrudd.

Sometimes I feel like a knight in shining armor, valiantly seeking to uncover the holy grail of food from each country we visit on this Adventure. A Knight of the Global Table, if you will. Well. Not two minutes into my quest to learn all about Laos I randomly ran across this popular breakfast item: baguette drizzled with sweetened condensed milk. What? How? Why? Well, the fact is it’s true and I love it! Here’s why: while not necessarily the holy grail of Laos, this unusual treat tells us two very real truths about food in Laos. First, simplicity rules all. Second, influence from her days as a French colony remains strong.

Street in northern Laos. Photo by Luisah.

For those of you shaking your heads, let me expand our discussion. I’ll be the first to admit that breakfast in Laos is much, much more than this odd treat. Perhaps the holy grail is Foe  [Recipe], or Lao rice noodle soup made with beef, chicken, or pork. The real fun is personalizing your bowl with loads of fresh herbs – anything from mint to thai basil to lettuce. Red chili peppers, lime juice and several shakes of fish sauce wake the soup up.

Then again, perhaps the holy grail is even simpler than this. Perhaps it is nothing more than a large batch of steamed sticky rice  [Recipe]. This staple is eaten with everything -steamed in wicker containers and eaten by hand. Each diner scoops out a little bit of rice, shapes it into a ball with the fingers, and plunks it into all manner of dips, called Jeow [Recipe]. Even the simplest jeow is made with grilled/roasted ingredients, adding smokiness and deeply complex flavors, complementing the rice perfectly.  Mmm.

The Mekong River. Photo by 松岡明芳.

If you’d rather try to create your own holy grail of Laos, know this – the base of many dishes can include lemongrass, galangal, keffir lime leaves and ginger. And, at dessert time, fresh fruit is a given n tropical Laos – think mangoes, bananas, and papayas. In fact, sometimes leftover sticky rice plays double duty as dessert when mixed with coconut milk and sugar – a warm rice pudding that tastes refreshing with the fruit  [Recipe].

So there you have it – a few tidbits about the food of Laos. What are you favorite foods from the region?

Pha That Luang, the Great Stupa in Vientiane - a national symbol of Laos. Photo and maps courtesy of the CIA World Factbook.


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