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.


  1. Probably why they are so slim & healthy…not a huge emphasis on “FOOD”…plus it looks like they get plenty of exercise as part of the daily routine of living…Poverty has its advantages…

    • Sasha Martin says

      The key to good health is eating the right foods, in the right amounts, as close to their natural form as possible.

  2. I lived in Laos for many years. Don’t forget laap – one of my favorite dishes, and great to eat with just piping hot sticky rice and your fingers. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Larb

    Lao food also does a great job of mixing hot and cool – spicy dishes like laap, served with fresh, cooling raw vegetables & herbs like cabbage, green beans, mint, and banana flowers.

    • Sasha Martin says

      How fortunate you were to have lived in Laos. And laap sounds fantastic! I love all the fresh herbs so prevalent in Lao food… yum!

  3. Brian S. says

    http://www.myspace.com/0/music-player?songid=44520287 Here is some traditional music of Laos. This is the sort of music played for the local bigwig or ruler by a formal orchestra. Like the food of Laos, this music is very similar to the formal classical music of Cambodia, Vietnam and Thailand. Just as you will find pho in Vietnam and larb in northeast Thailand, so you will find distinct musical similarities. Of course, this type of music has been pretty much replaced by rock and pop.

    • ???Hey there, you with the stars in your eyes…the link connects to advertising…SEARS…KMART…etc.???.

      • Brian S. says

        The link plays music. Really it does. But if your Adobe Flash player isn’t working, you don’t get the music, just ads.

  4. aunty eileen says

    I often wonder why Americans do not speak often about “cabbage”:

    “The cabbage is known the world over. Aside from being inexpensive, it is very easy to prepare and contains a lot of healthy benefits. It is vital for everyone to know the countless benefits of this vegetable.

    Nutrition experts all over the world have established the health benefits of cabbage. Cabbage maybe cheap in price but is very high in protective vitamins…..” much more to read on this linc:


  5. I travelled all over Laos (one of my favorite countries) and always bought the most amazing noodle vegetable soup on the street for about 60 US cents. The night food market in Luang Prabang was amazing with again, a soup stall with ons of little dishes set out filled with all types of spices, sauces and herbs so you could build your own soup to your taste.

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