The most important tip I can give you on Laos local food, and the only one that will make you elevate from being a tourist to becoming a real traveler immersed in the local culture, is “Stay away from McDonalds“. When visiting Laos, there is awesome local food to try. Head to the local eateries too, and go where the locals go. For me, the food, wine and and even the water is part of the travel experience.
What to Eat in Laos
Lao cuisine is very similar to the food eaten in the north-eastern Isaan region of Thailand: very spicy, more often bitter than sweet, and using lots of fresh herbs and vegetables served raw. Some of the raw vegetables can be used to cool your mouth when the chilis are overwhelming. Rice is the staple carbohydrate. The standard kind is sticky rice khao niaow), eaten by hand from small baskets called tip khao. Using your right hand, pinch off a bit, roll into a ball, dip and munch away.
The national dish is laap , also larb), a “salad” of minced meat mixed with herbs, spices, lime juice and, more often than not, blistering amounts of chili. Unlike Thai larb, the Lao version can use raw meat (dip) instead of cooked meat (suk), and if prepared with seafood makes a tasty if spicy carpaccio. Another Lao invention is tam maak hung , the spicy green papaya salad known as som tam in Thailand, but which the Lao like to dress with fermented crab pudem) and a chunky, intense fish sauce called pa daek , resulting in a stronger flavor than the milder, sweeter Thai style. Other popular dishes include ping kai, spicy grilled chicken, and mok pa, fish steamed in a banana leaf.
In addition to purely Lao food, culinary imports from other countries are common. Khao jii pat-te, French baguettes stuffed with pâté, and foe (pho) noodles from China are both ubiquitous snacks particularly popular at breakfast. Note that foe can refer both to thin rice noodles (Vietnamese pho) as well as the wide flat noodles that would be called kuay tiow in Thailand.
What to Drink in Laos
The legal drinking/purchasing age of alcoholic beverages is 18. However, there is no legal drinking age when off alcohol-selling premises(restaurants, bars, etc.). REMEMBER, Laos does NOT tolerate drunk driving, and you will end up in jail for lengthy years. The national drink of Laos is the ubiquitous and tasty Beer Lao, made with Laotian jasmine rice and one of the few Lao exports.It maintains an almost mythical status amongst travellers and world beer aficionados.
The yellow logo with its tiger-head silhouette can be seen everywhere, and a large 640 ml bottle shouldn’t cost more than 10,000 to 15,000 kip in restaurants. It’s available in three versions: original (5%), Dark (6.5%) and Light (2.9%).
The brewery claims they have 99% market share. Rice spirit, known as lao-lao, is everywhere and at less than US$0.30 per 750 ml bottle is the cheapest way to get absolutely battoed beyond belief. Beware, as quality and distilling standards vary wildly, as will your behaviour. Lao coffee (kaafeh) is recognised to be of very high quality. It’s grown on the Bolaven Plateau in the south; a few prominent brands are Sinouk Coffee and Lao Mountain Coffee. Unlike Thai coffees, Lao coffee is not flavoured with ground tamarind seed.
To make sure you aren’t fed overpriced Nescafé instead, be sure to ask for kaafeh thung. By default in lower end establishments, kaafeh lao comes with sugar and condensed milk; black coffee is kaafeh dam, coffee with milk ( although you’ll often be given non-dairy creamer) is kaafeh nom. Tap water is not drinkable, but bottled water is cheap and widely available. There is not much nightlife outside of Vientiane and Vang Vieng. To have a beer in some places, simply visit a restaurant. Something to note however is that some areas may be so laid back that they will expect you to keep track of of what you have drunk, with the odd guest house asking how much you have drunk during your stay upon check out.
Other local foods, or drinks that you recommend Please add and comment.