On my recent trip to Laos in May, I was not expecting to be blown away by the food. This country is far less popular with travellers than its neighbours, say Thailand or Vietnam. But it was a pleasant surprise about the variety of breakfast as well as the quality of them. Laos’ people tend to be super friendly to visitors who have been taken a long flight to their country and eager to please you by serving the best dishes.
Most of Laos’ food is similar to Thai cuisine but the breakfasts here like Khao Piak Sen, Khao Piak,… I had never heard of before. So I decided to just order each different dish every morning and see what I’m served.
1. Khao Niew
Khao Niew or Sticky rice is the staple food of Laos, means you can see it in every meal in this country: breakfast, lunch, dinner, main course, snack, you name it. In the other country of Southeast Asia, sticky rice is only used on special occasions, but here, it is part of the everyday meal of the local. I was very surprised when a friend told me that Laos’ people had unwritten etiquette to sticky rice. And for your future trip, I would tell you how it is done:
– Because you will have to eat this food with hands so it is crucial that you need to wash your hands before and after your meal.
– Take a handful of sticky rice with one hand and roll it up into a small ball or cylinder shape.
– Break off the rice ball by your other hand, take the amount you need for each bite.
– Dip it into chilli sauce and eat that with your fingers until you are full.
The combination of sticky rice with Laos’ chilli sauce took me a few bites to get used to it but I loved the way it woke my morning up because it was so hot and yummy.
Khao Niew or Sticky rice is the staple food of Laos. You can see it in every meal in this country: breakfast, lunch, dinner, main course and snack (Photo: Alexandra Moss)
2. Khao Piak Khao
Khao Piak Khao (or thick rice soup) is a Lao favourite and for the best dish, you should walk along the Sisavangvong road. I found the stall during my trip to the National Museum. It is in an alley right across from Wat Mai and the Museum, easily noticed by a lot hungry Laos’ customers from children getting ready to school to government officers stopping by on their way to work.
Right when I found a seat, the seller quickly ladled out hot boiled rice soup from a big pot into a bowl and brought it to me. My soup came with pork meatballs, spring onion, deep-fried garlic, ginger, cilantro and a hard-boiled egg (but you can order a poached one if you don’t like boiled-egg). Available on the table are chillies, pepper, fish sauce, sugar, soy sauce for you to season the dish. For my favourite, I added only chilli and pepper and stirred them together, made sure that the onion and cilantro were medium cooked with hot soup. Khao Piak Khao is not a big breakfast but it is delicious and worth to try, and it costs only 10,000 kips ($ 1.2).
3. Khao Piak Sen
Don’t be confused with Khao Piak Khao, Khao Piak is a kind of soup with thick handmade rice flour noodle and topped by chicken, egg, spring onions, shallots, deep-fried garlic, lime, bean sprout and chilli. Similar to Pho in Vietnam, Kuy Teav in Cambodia, and Mee Soto in Indonesia but its ingredients and recipe are absolutely different from any other noodle soups in the region based on its ingredients and recipe.
When I first saw my Khao Piak Sen, I was expecting it tasted like Pho Ga in Vietnam but eventually, it turned into a pleasant surprise: the broth was delicious, the noodle was sticky, slippery and refreshing, the chicken tasted tender and juicy. For the best bowl in Luang Prabang, I would vote to Xiengthong Noodle on the main street. The restaurant opens from 7 am to 2 pm and it cost only 12,000 kips ($1.5) for a bowl of pork and egg. The dish often comes with a cube of blood but if you don’t want it, tell them “baw sai leua”.
Khao Piak is a kind of soup with thick handmade rice flour noodle and topped with chicken, egg, spring onions, shallots, deep-fried garlic, lime, bean sprout and chilli (Photo: avlxyz)
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4. Baguette with sweetened condensed milk
Yes, you read that right. The baguette is a daily breakfast in Laos and you can easily find a baguette stand everywhere, even in rural villages. This is a truly Lao breakfast: baguette with sweetened condensed milk.
This food is also a familiar breakfast for Vietnam families. But if the Vietnamese tears the baguette into small pieces, dip them into condensed milk, Laos cuts the baguette open then pours half a can of condensed milk over it. The picture looks amazing and it’s actually pretty good. Don’t forget to enjoy it with a cup of delicious Lao coffee, which usually comes along with some spoons of the same condensed milk. A simple but sweet way to start your day.
You cut the baguette open then pours half a can of condensed milk over it and enjoy
5. Khao Ji Pate
There is another variation of baguette in Laos called Khao Ji Pate. It is inspired by the popular French bread and given a Lao twist but somehow it works very well. You can find Khao Ji Pate in every street of Luang Prabang but the stands on Kitsalad Road near Dara Market make the best sandwiches. It reminded me of Banh mi of Vietnam. The baguette is cut along its length to open, then filled with pork liver pate, ham, cilantro, cucumbers, carrots, a choice of dressing including mayonnaise, chilli sauce and a spicy brown sauce that I can’t discover the recipe of. I still remember how delicious it was when I had my first bite of the freshly baked bread with flaky, crunchy crust combined with the rich fillings. I could eat this sandwich every day, no kidding! And it takes of you only 8,000 kips ($1)
The baguette is cut along its length to open, then filled with pork liver pate, ham, cilantro, cucumbers, carrots, a choice of dressing including mayonnaise, chilli sauce and a spicy brown sauce
6. Laos Pho
Pho may have originated in the neighbouring country Vietnam but at my first taste, I recognized that the homemade beef broth set Lao Pho apart from the main recipe of its neighbour. The broth of Laos is less salty and lacks the aroma of cinnamon, star anise, ginger than Vietnam’s broth.
Laos Pho is what I think the best noodle soup in this country. And the best place to try it is a family shop on Phou Vao Road with 20,000 kips for an enormous bowl. The shop is easy to find: you get to the road, see on the left of the Haysoke Hotel, it is across the street from the Finance Department building. The owner can speak Lao, French and some Chinese. I don’t know if that is the reason why locals flock here for breakfast or a lunch treat.
When the steaming bowl arrives, you will have to spend some minutes to add every single condiment on the table to make the best blend of hot, salty, sour and sweet for your interest. And what makes Lao Pho different from Pho in Hanoi, Vietnam is the greenery. A lot of herbs in a bowl with mint, basil, coriander, chilli, lime, bean sprouts and green beans, yes, raw long green beans. It was quite strange to me first but then it made me a little high with joy when dipping the green bean with other greenery into the broth and ate them with noodle and a piece of crispy pork. Very delicious and addictive I would say.
When the steaming bowl arrives, you will have to spend some minutes to add every single condiment on the table to make the best blend of hot, salty, sour and sweet for your interest
7. Khao Soi
Khao Soi or Khao Soy is another type of rice noodle soup. I’m quite a fan of Thai Khao Soi which has a lot in Chiang Mai so I decided to try another version of Lao. My friendly guide introduced his favourite place at Pho Wat Sen in Luang Prabang, located on the main street across from Wat Sen temple. And be quick if you want it on your future trip because the shop owner will place a “Finished Finished” sign as early as 10 am.
In the Lao language, Khao means “rice” and Soi means “cut” and so you can easily visualize that this dish is made from hand-cut rice noodles. Khao Soi is spicier than Khao Piak Sen with lots of spices and herbs such as garlic, onions, Thai basil, mint, cilantro, shallots, chillies, bean sprouts along with either pork, duck or chicken and poured over with boiled clear pork broth.
If you are interested in exploring how they make the noodle which they still cut by hand, you can visit ethnic Tai Neua village at Ban Siliheuang, Muang Sing, northwestern Laos, about 60 kilometres northwest of the town of Luang Namtha and 360 kilometres northwest of Vientiane.
In the Lao language, Khao means “rice” and Soi means “cut” and so you can easily visualize that this dish is made from hand-cut rice noodles
8. Khao Poon Nam Jeow
This noodle soup uses all the pork innards. Along with the variety of pork parts such as intestine, blood, heart, liver, kidney … which are boiled and cut into pieces, Khao Poon Nam Jeow accompanied by vegetables such as thinly sliced bamboo shoots, banana flower, cabbage, and green papaya. But consider eating if you are not a fan of inner organs.
Consider eating Khao Poon Nam Jeow if you are not a fan of inner organs (Photo: Tourismlaos)
There are some of my favourite Laos’ foods for breakfast but I’m sure they are not the full list of this country’s best dishes. If you looking for a culinary adventure in Laos, we already have some amazing tours for you. Whenever you come through a delicious dish, add its name to this list and don’t forget to say “I’m Lai” to the cook after you finish. It means you are very full and that is a sign of respect for eating a good meal. You will get a big welcome smile from the shop owner for your next coming back.