Laos. A country not many people pay much attention to. Landlocked by Vietnam, China, Myanmar, Thailand, and Cambodia, this small country has a lot to offer when it comes to culture and especially cuisine. Thai food is a more popular cuisine compared to Laotian food, but many people don’t know that many Thai dishes derived originally from Laotian dishes. It’s now time to give Laotian food the spotlight it deserves. Laotian dishes are known for their bold flavors and spiciness. The flavors will transport you through an amazing food journey.
Before this food journey takes place, it must be known that sticky rice also known as glutinous rice is a statement in Laotian cuisine. It is rice that lacks the starch amylose, therefore when cooked, it becomes very sticky hence the name. This rice is usually eaten with your hands, and can be used to scoop up or pick up other foods. Sticky rice is eaten at almost every meal and can be eaten with savory dishes or even sweet dishes. Now that this is known, let’s begin the journey.
Tom Mak Hoong
Tom Mak Hoong, also known as green papaya salad, is a spicy, sour, and very savory dish that is the essence of Laotian cuisine. This beats a wedge salad any day. It is made with shredded green papaya, fish sauce, chili peppers, limes, cherry tomatoes, garlic, salt, sugar, shrimp paste, and shredded carrots. Usually this dish is made to be very spicy and can be eaten with sticky rice or rice noodles. The salad can take some time to perfect, but once that science is down, this is a fairly simple dish to create. If you are looking for something crunchy, spicy, sour, salty, and even sweet all at once, this is the dish to try.
This dish usually is made with minced meat. The meat can be cooked or raw and varies between pork, beef, chicken, turkey, or even duck. Usually this dish is made with fish sauce, lime juice, chili and fresh herbs such as mint, tasting very savory and salty. Shallots, red onions, and whole cilantro leaves can also be found in this dish, leaving it bursting with flavor. Seasoned with salt, red pepper flakes, or even corriander, almost any spice can be added to this dish. Some people go beyond whats needed, and add other parts of the animal to this dish, like the gizzard, intestines or even bile (ew!). This dish is usually eaten with your hands along with sticky rice and fresh vegetables. This is a very versatile dish that can take your taste buds on a ride and no two dishes are the alike.
Many people might call this the “asian chicken noodle soup”, or a dish similar to the Vietnamese dish banh canh or even the Japanese dish udon. A great comfort food that will make you feel very at home. Consisting of thick tapioca noodles, a chicken base, chicken, lemongrass, galangal, lime leaves, fish sauce, salt & pepper, and either MSG or chicken stock powder. This dish is usually beautifully topped with fried shallots & garlic, bean sprouts, slice spring onion, chopped coriander leaves, and lime wedges. When eating this dish you can add your own flare with hot oil (consisting of oil, pepper paste, chili peppers, etc), hoisin sauce, or anything that you please. If you’re looking to get over a cold, miss home or even to cure hangover, this dish is the one for you.
A coconut based noodle soup, Khao Poon is known to be made with vermicelli noodles and a variety of different meats. The broth can the made with any meat stock of your choosing, and it is seasoned with all the typical ingredients in laotian food like fish sauce, chili peppers, shallots, garlic, etc. The consistency equates to a creamy tomato soup plus some noodles. Ox blood, fish cake balls, chicken, shredded cabbage, bean sprouts, and cilantro usually top off this rich hearty flavored dish.
Known as the laotian beef jerky. Known to be sweeter, sometimes thinner, and not as salty as beef jerky usually eaten here in the U.S. Made with beef flank steak, marinated with garlic, fish sauce, ginger, sugar, salt and pepper then sun dried and deep-fried, and usually topped off with sesame seeds, this chewy, savory snack typically eaten with sticky rice is a go- to snack for me. This also goes great with a beer.
A laotian desert you will find yourself engulfing in batches. This dessert is coconut milk based and contains different types of tapioca, more than just your average bubble tea tapioca balls. The different tapiocas can be hand made using tapioca flour, or can be bought and then boiled. There are many different types of tapioca; they can range in multiple colors, flavors, and even textures. Exotic fruits like jackfruit, lychees, and longans (super sweet like a ripe grape) can also be added to this desert for more crunch and flavor. The base is made using just coconut milk, water and sugar brought to a boil. All of the ingredients are then just added to the base and this is usually eaten cold. Corn or mungbeans can be added if you’re feeling adventurous. Even though beans aren’t commonly used for dessert in America, in Asia it is common practice, I would never touch beans unless they are disguised in a dessert.
Known as laotian crispy rice salad, this dish is made with deep fried crispy rice balls, that are later broken up to create the salad. Laos style pork sausages have been fermented, peanuts are chopped up, coconut shredded, scallions/shallots minced, limes juiced, fish sauce added, and red onions diced are all added to the dish to give it its bold flavors. The rice balls are seasoned and then coated with an egg mixture to be deep fried. This dish is then topped off with red chili peppers and fresh herbs. Usually this is eaten as a wrap using the nam khao for the filling and using lettuce as the wrap, creating lettuce wraps on steroids.
Kanom Dok Bua
Also known as the lotus flower cookie, this well known snack is relatively easy to make and fun to eat by breaking apart the parts of the flower. The shape is usually made by using a brass mold and the cookies itself contains all purpose flour, rice flour, coconut milk, egg, sugar, salt, red lime, black and white sesame, and oil. This crunchy, slightly sweet cookie can quickly become very addicting. The delicate nature of the cookies leads me to eating mass amounts of these cookies in a sitting!
Sakhoo Yat Sai
Stuffed tapioca balls, chewy and savory, what more do you need in an appetizer. Typically stuffed with a pork mixture that is seasoned with everything that has been mentioned in previous dishes like fish sauce, lime, peanuts, onions, cilantro, sugar and then stuffed into a semi sweet, sticky tapioca ball, these balls are then steamed to perfection and is usually served with red chili peppers and fresh vegetables. Garnished with fried garlic, peanuts, and cilantro. You will have a ball eating these find yourself grabbing more and more.
So many good things can be said about Laotian cuisine, here were just a few dishes that I personally have tried and felt needed to be shared with the world. Bold, savory, crunchy, chewy, sweet, sour, salty and everything in between, Laotian food has it. More light definitely needs to be shined on this amazing cuisine, so go out and give these dishes a try when you can; you won’t regret it.