On my recent trip to Lao, I was not expecting to be blown away by the food. Lao cuisine is far less popular than its neighbors, say Thailand or Vietnam. But it was a pleasant surprise about the variety of breakfast as well as the quality of them. Laotians are super friendly to visitors who have taken a long flight to their country and are eager to please you by serving the best dishes.
Most Lao food is similar to Thai food or Vietnamese food, but Laotians make it different by adding some Lao twists. Just try all of them as cuisine is a kind of cultural adventure when we see a new country. And don’t forget to say “Im Lai” after you finish your meals. In Lao, it means you are very full and you’ve had a good meal.
Khao Niew or Sticky rice is the staple food of the Lao. In other countries of Southeast Asia, sticky rice is only used on special occasions, but Lao people have Khao Niew at any time of the day. They have it for breakfast, lunch, dinner, main course, and even snacks. Khao Niew is also a favorite food when Laotians do the almsgiving in the Tak Bat ceremony. After a few bites, I got used to the combination of sticky rice with Lao chili sauce. You would love the way it wakes your morning because it’s hot and yummy.
If you don’t know, then Laotians had unwritten etiquette for having sticky rice. Below are how it is done:
Lao people have Khao Niew with “laap” or minced pork or chicken to make it different.
Don’t be confused with Khao Piak Khao, Khao Piak Sen is a thick handmade rice noodle soup topped with chicken, egg, spring onions, shallots, deep-fried garlic, lime, bean sprout, and chili. Similar to Vietnamese Pho Ga (chicken noodle), Cambodia’s Kuy Teav, and Indonesia’s Mee Soto but its taste is quite different, due to its ingredients and recipe. The noodles are chewy and refreshing, the chicken is tender and juicy, and the broth is delicious. Khao Piak Sen is a pleasant surprise for a light breakfast in Lao.
Khao Piak Khao (or porridge) is one of Lao's favorites. It’s simmered with bones and minced pork for hours. Because it’s a popular breakfast, you can find Khao Piak Khao everywhere in Luang Prabang. Children have it before school and government officers stop by on their way to work.
After you order your Khao Piak Khao, the seller will place deep-fried garlic, spring onion, and cilantro in your bowl then ladle out the hot boiled rice soup from a big pot onto it. The Khao Piak is served with a hard-boiled egg. There are chilies, pepper, fish sauce, sugar, and soy sauce on the table. Add the spices to the Khao Piak Khao as your preference then stir them together. Herbs are medium-cooked with hot soup.
Khao Piak Khao is cheap and not a big breakfast but it is delicious and worth trying.
Lao Pho may originate from the neighboring country Vietnam but at my first taste, I recognized that the homemade beef broth set Lao Pho apart from the main recipe of its neighbor. The broth of Lao Pho is less salty and lacks the aroma of cinnamon, star anise, and ginger as Vietnam’s broth.
When the steaming bowl is served to your table, you might want to add every single condiment to make a perfect blend of hot, salty, sour, and sweet flavors for your interest. And what makes Lao Pho different from Vietnamese Pho is the greenery. Mint, basil, coriander, chili, lime, bean sprouts, and green beans are topped on your noodle. It was quite strange to me at first but then it gave me a little joy when dipping the green bean into the broth and having them with noodles.
Khao Soi or Khao Soy is another famous rice noodle soup in Lao. If you are a fan of Thai Khao Soi you should try the Lao version.
In the Lao language, Khao means “rice” and Soi means “cut”. Now, you can easily understand that this dish is made from hand-cut rice noodles. Khao Soi is spicier than Khao Piak Sen. Noodles are placed into the bowl, and topped with garlic, onions, Thai basil, mint, cilantro, shallots, chilies, bean sprouts, and pieces of pork, duck or chicken. And boiled clear pork broth will be poured over the ingredients.
In the ethnic Tai Neua village at Ban Siliheuang, Muang Sing, northwestern Lao, women still make the handmade khao soi noodle,
Baguette is a daily breakfast in Lao and you can easily find a baguette shop in Luang Prabang or in any rural village. To have it, Laotians cut the baguette open and then pour the condensed milk into it. It’s sweet and tastes pretty good. Enjoy it with a cup of delicious Lao coffee to make your morning even better. A simple but sweet way to start your day.
There is another variation of baguette in Lao called Khao Ji Pate. It is inspired by the popular French baguette and given a Lao twist.
Khao Ji Pate is quite like Banh Mi of Vietnam. The baguette is filled with pork liver pate, ham, cilantro, cucumbers, carrots, a choice of dressing including mayonnaise, chili sauce, and a spicy brown sauce that only the seller knows the recipe of. I still remember how delicious it was when I had my first bite of the crunchy crust of my baked bread combined with its rich fillings. You can eat Khao Ji Pate every day, no kidding!
Last on the list is Khao Poon Nam Jeow. The main ingredients of this noodle soup are pork innards such as intestine, blood, heart, liver, and kidney which are boiled and then cut into pieces. Vegetables such as young bamboo shoots, banana flowers, cabbages, and gray papaya are also served in Khao Poon Nam Joew. If you don’t like inner organs, consider when you order Khao Poon Nam Jeow.