Lowland Lao cuisine really falls into two categories: Royal cuisine and peasant cuisine. The two are noticeably different. Royal cuisine has greater diversity and has retained some of the traditional country style cuisine as well. The peasant cuisine  noticeably brings together the five taste sensations: salt, sour, sweet, umami and bitter. Of these tastes, "sweet" would be the least important and in some areas not apparent at all. Talking to Lao cooks in Laos and asking specifically about this generally brings agreement but I have not heard commonly held statements that sweet is an unwanted taste in Lao food. Chillie spiciness is highly apparent in Lao cuisine. Sour and spicy would be two of these that can dominate in various dishes. Most dishes have a warmth of spice but generally it's a balanced warmth with the bitter being used as a true balance giving almost a characteristic signature to Lao dishes, something that may well be described as earthy. The "bitter factor" comes from green and other herbs and rarely dominates but generally is apparent. (The bitterness can be quite noticeable to the naive palate). Personal preferences can be accommodated by the use of sauces and additions such as fish sauce for salt, sliced or whole chillie for spice, specific  herbs for bitter and certain Jeow or even sugar for sweet. Sour is usually increased by squeezing fresh lime juice on the food. The  taste sense Umami is brought in with a little extra fish sauce and/or fermented fish. This taste extends throughout Asia and is particularly noticeable in SE Asia. Often its an acquired taste but seems to be an element that many people really enjoy in Lao cuisine. Umami is often enhanced by the addition of MSG.

Vietnamese and Chinese influences are quite marked and most people would eat quite a significant proportion of these origin meals. Thai foods have penetrated the tourist path but the central Thai food signature is definitely not a part of the Laos cuisine. Lao food on the other hand has well and truly been adopted in Thailand as both a featured cuisine and a staple with many dishes. Seafood is not significant because Laos has no coastline, but fresh water fish would be her major source of protein, her food has never really taken the sweet liquid style of the Thai coconut curries and although steamed rice is commonly eaten the base staple is sticky rice which is eaten by hand and doesn't lend itself to be managed with liquid like foods. Interestingly the Malay have a very liquid style of cuisine and use a long-grain rice as their staple so I'm not sure that this explanation is quite true. It could very well be that because Laos is in a rain shadow and has less precipitation than Vietnam and Thailand and "sticky rice" or glutinous rice naturally is a dry rice and doesn't need the permanent immersion that the fragrant rices need. Reticulation for irrigation is too difficult in most of Laos as 90% of the country is mountainous so  these could be contributing factors in the "choice" of glutinous rice as their staple. Laos does have as many soft foods including liquid stews and generally these are eaten with steamed rice with the use of eating implements. There are a few pate like dishes and these still lend themselves to be eaten with sticky rice. The wet condiments or Jeow are quite viscous or sticky themselves and extremely saturated with flavour. Once again ideal for use with sticky rice. The rice ball only has to have a smear of Jeow and there's no loss of patency of the ball of rice in this process.

An interesting aspect of the imported dishes into Laos is the identity segregation of the foods. For example if we look at Pho a rice noodle dish from Vietnam, the Lao eat it as frequently and with as much enjoyment but they all note that it is a Vietnamese dish 100%. In fact this isn't the case in many recipes. there have been modifications and the additions of local produce and vegetables not really seen so much in Vietnam. The Lao on the whole believe that all these are Vietnamese variations. If we head over to the Thai bank of the Mekong particularly at Nakhon Panom and Mukdahan we see many Vietnamese origin dishes in their markets and on their food stalls. The Thai in this part of the country acknowledge the Vietnamese or Chinese origin of the dish but are very well able to tell you what modifications have been effected in Thailand, even to the point of ownership of the derivation and I might say "minimal derivitisation". An interesting difference which certainly correlates well with the diversification of "Thai cuisine". 

I mentioned the general warmth of spice of Lao food and I can add that this level of warmth on average is greater than Thai foods. Not every dish is spicy with chillie but when it's used to accent, it is noticeably so. 

The Lao use their hands to eat sticky rice and dishes served with sticky rice. They use spoons for soups, very much the same as the Thai use a spoon with a fork and for noodle dishes they use chopsticks as do the Thai. Sin Dat Lao or Lao Suki calls the use of spoon and chopsticks. The meat is manipulated on the BBQ, recovered, dipped and eaten with the chopsticks, the vegetables and noodles may be extracted from the broth with a spoon or other device and the soup is eaten with the spoon.

Sauces and dips are placed on the table or katoke specific for certain dishes. These may be sweet or sour, spicy or salty. Many are termed jeow (jiaow) which are the same type as the Thai Nam Phrik but precede the Thai creations and possibly evolved from the Khmer kroeung. Selecting an inappropriate sauce is just not an issue with the Lao. The most important aspect of etiquette at a Lao meal is seniority and serving guests before taking food by the host family. In certain groups of Lao society the meal is served in sittings with the adult/adolescent male members and guests being served by women and children. Very young children are served at the same time but generally at another place within the area. The women then eat; with senior women being served by able younger girls.

 

  1. Aw Lam (Lao stew)
  2. Brine Pickled Finger-root (Pickled Krachai)
  3. Chan Nam Tok (Beef Waterfall Salad)
  4. Chillies in Oil. A condiment
  5. Eggplant Laos-Style
  6. Fermented Fish (Pa Daek / Pla Ra)
  7. Ground, Roasted (parched) Sticky Rice
  8. Hot and Sour Mushroom Soup
  9. Jiaow bong (Chillie jam)
  10. Jichao Yun (Fried Meatballs)
  11. Kai Aw (Lao Chicken Stew)
  12. Kalee Ped (Duck Curry)
  13. Kao Soi (Northern Laos Noodle dish)
  14. Keng Kalampi Jak (Cabbage Soup with Minced Pork)
  15. Khai Paen
  16. Khanom Chin Nam Ya Kai (Rice Noodles with Fish Flavoured Chicken Curry)
  17. Khanom Krog
  18. Khao Piak Sien (Lao Fresh Rice Noodle Soup)
  19. Kochujang Sauce (Lao BBQ Sauce)
  20. Laap Kai (Chicken Laap)
  21. Laap Kai Pa (Minced Wild Chicken Salad)
  22. Laap Leut Ped (A memorable dish of raw duck's blood and grilled duck meat)
  23. Laap Luang Phrabang
  24. Laap Muu (Pork larp)
  25. Laap Pa Keng (Raw Fish Laap)
  26. Lao Barbecued Eggs (Kai Peank Lao)
  27. Lao Barbecued Fish
  28. Lao Kao Tom (Sweet Sticky Rice)
  29. Lao Peanut Dipping Sauce
  30. Lao Salad
  31. Lao Salad Dressing
  32. Lao Salad Dressing (Nam Chim Lao Pak)
  33. Luang Prabang Salad
  34. Mawk Mak Phet (Stuffed Chillie Peppers)
  35. Mok Pla
  36. Mushroom Soup with Yanang Leaf Juice
  37. Nhem Khao (Lao Crispy Rice Salad)
  38. Or Lam Nok Kho (Quail Stew)
  39. Pork dumplings with noodles (Kèng Sénh Lone)
  40. Sa Ton Sin Ngua (Beef Saton)
  41. Sai Ua Moo (Pork Sausages)
  42. Sin Dat (Lao BBQ or Lao Suki)
  43. Sin Savanh ( Lao Beef Jerky)
  44. Som Muu
  45. Spicy Eggplant Salad (Yam Makeua Yao)
  46. Sup No Mai ฃุบหน่อไม้ (Bamboo Shoot Yum)
  47. Ua No Mai (Stuffed Bamboo Shoots)
  48. Ua Sai Khai (Stuffed Lemongrass)
  49. Yall Dib (Lao Fresh Spring Rolls)
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