Describing themselves as ‘descendants of sticky rice’, Laotians use sticky rice in abundance in their distinctive cuisine. But there’s a lot more to Laos cuisine than rice.
Given the love of rice in Laos, it makes sense that a number of the country’s culinary specialities are rice based. Khao niao is the sticky rice of Laos, usually stored in a bamboo basket on the table to be shared among diners. Coconut milk or other ingredients are sometimes added to it to steep it in a different flavour. Nam khao is a salad made with deep-fried rice balls, fermented pork sausage and a vibrant smattering of toppings, including chopped peanuts, grated coconut, mint and coriander.
Rice noodles also form the basis for a number of dishes in Laos. Khao poon is a rice vermicelli soup – also known as ‘Laos Laksa’ – which has become a popular dish in many countries of the world. The soup base is a broth made from chicken, pork or fish, with fish sauce, lime leaves, garlic, shallots and Lao chillies all added for flavour. Pad ki mao – also known as ‘Drunken noodles’ – originate from Laos, made from rice noodles, meat, fish, spicy holy basil, mixed with soy, fish and oyster sauce.
A huge range of other truly original dishes also hail from Laos, many of which come steamed, grilled, fried or pickled. Yaw is a Laotian pork roll, while yaw dip is like a spring roll made with rice paper, filled with shrimp and eaten dipped in a peanut sauce or Laotian sweet sauce. Tom som refers to a range of Laotian salads made with chillies, tomatoes, fish paste and a variety of toppings, from plantain to aubergine.
Ping gai is a grilled, marinated chicken popularly served at street food stands, often dipped in spicy sauces. Mok pa, mok gai and titi gai are fish, chicken or steak dishes steamed in banana leaves.
For dessert, khao lam is a firm favourite and is made in a really original way. Red beans, coconut, coconut milk and sugar are added to sticky rice and prepared in bamboo.