We were so happy to see French baguette, the first thing I ordered when we arrived into Luang Prabang was a tuna sandwich. I would most certainly not do that if we were not already travelling for weeks and I really missed good bread for breakfast. Red wine was still too luxurious for our pockets, but 600mL Beer Lao made up for that. We loved sticky rice, papaya salads, fish and fresh fruits. We even got used to the fish sauce taste. Surprisingly there were lots of Indian restaurants, so when we got sick of rice, we went there for some naan. So, here are a few Lao culinary specials!
Sticky rice, also known as khao niao, a big part of Lao cuisine, is usually served in a bamboo basket or wrapped into a small banana leaf package and eaten with your hands – you can make a small ball out of it with your fingers, dip it in some delicious sauce or mixed it with mango. If you wish to do it at home, buy the “glutinous rice” (it does not mean that it contains gluten) and follow these steps:
rinse the rice and soak it for several hours or over night
pour the rice in a steamer basket
boil some water and place the steamer basket over it
cover and steam for about 20 minutes
stir the rice a bit and let it steam for another 5 minutes
The rice should stick to itself, but not to your fingers. It is eaten with fish, meat, mango, papaya salad, pretty much with everything!
Besides sticky rice, noodles were our most common choice for lunch and dinner. Glass noodles, rice noodles, noodles in a soup, noodles everywhere! Sometimes with a taste of fish sauce, mostly spicy and almost always topped with crushed peanuts. We ate it often just with fresh vegetables. Cheap, freshly made and yummy.
As I said, I loved the baguettes, so sandwiches were high up on my list. Other than that, you can have the usual (banana) pancakes, fruit salads or the more traditional noodle soups with vegetables or meat. Since I like Indian food, we sometimes enjoyed a masala dosa with a cup of chai tea also.
CHILLI, CHILLI, CHILLI
GREEN PAPAYA SALAD
Also known as tum som, is a green papaya salad, in Laos prepared with fish sauce and chilli. It tastes sweet, sour, spicy, salty and fishy. We liked it a lot and ate if often with sticky rice. Try it at home, following these steps:
peel, wash and shred the green papaya
pound chilli, garlic, salt, a bit of sugar and shrimp paste
add the shredded papaya and pound until everything is mixed
add fish sauce and squeeze a lime over it
Beer Lao comes in a huge bottle, tastes good and is cheap. A dangerous combination – we tried to get some vitamins in our bodies with freshly made fruit juices and shakes. Lao coffee was tasty and we always enjoyed it at breakfasts.
There is so much going on on the local markets, it´s amazing. We bought fish and vegetables a few times, which we then cooked together with local families we stayed at. We also bought bags of chillies, tobacco and nuts. I could go on and on about all the stuff you can find on markets, but maybe these photos can speak for themselves:
We were lucky enough to spend quite a few nights with local families, who cooked infornt of us – they did not let us help in the kitchen, as we were guests. It seemed like everyone had their tasks and there was a lot of chopping and pounding. Children were running around hot and steamy pots, women were talking and laughing loud, men were nowhere to be seen and we didn´t understand a word they were saying – all we did was inhale the delicious smell of cooking food and observe the whole action. Amazing, in such little kitchens they cooked so many dishes and everything tasted sooooo good! Here are some photos 😉
On the bus, on the songthaew or on foot, sooner or later someone will offer you to buy a snack. Weather fruits, nuts, meat or strange looking eggs on sticks. Whatever you buy or others buy – it will be shared with everyone on the bus. Looked like a normal thing to do, so we switched what we bought with other passengers quite often.
If you feel like eating something else than rice, noodles or papaya salad, you can do so, but expect it to be a bit different than at home – there were French fries on my pizza for instance. You can imagine this was the first and the last time I ordered a pizza in Laos ;).