In the 1500s the Europeans arrived to the region, however
generally bypassed Laos in favor of the southern water routes.
This changed dramatically in the late 1800s when France colonized
Laos. The French and other, earlier Europeans brought new foods to Laos, usually
via Thailand or Vietnam. Among these new foods were, few of which greatly changed
the cuisine, include maize (corn), potatoes, chili peppers, peanuts, tomatoes, and
sweet peppers from the Americas and breads, pastries, cakes, and some dairy products,
including butter and cheese from Europe.
In more recent times, Laos has added new foods and food services
to their culture, but these recent additions haven't altered the cuisine, but
rather have only added to it. Frozen foods, fast foods, and "ethnic" restaurants
are growing in popularity, but these additions are still primarily limited to the
Noodles: noodles are a common base in numerous dishes
Rice: rice is usually cooked and served as sticky rice and accompanies
Regional Variations, Specialties, & Unique Dishes
Foe: similar to Vietnam's Pho, this dish
is rice noodles, vegetables, and a meat served in a broth
Laap: the national dish is beef or fish ground with herbs,
spices, and lime juice
Tam Maak Hung: green papaya mixed with crab or prawns,
garlic, lime, fish sauce, and spicy peppers
Dining in Laos is similar to the rest of Southeast Asia, but
in many ways is truly a combination of its neighbors as there are aspects of all
these dining techniques rolled into one in Laos.
If you are lucky enough to be invited to eat at a local's house be sure to bring
a small gift to show your appreciation; fruit or pastries are good choices. When
meeting locals, try to arrive on time and remove your shoes before entering the
house or restaurant if others have done so before you. Greet everyone upon arrival,
beginning with the elders. Also wait to be shown a seat as elders are generally
seated first and your host may show you to a pre-assigned seat.
As you sit down you may encounter a few different settings. Many people, especially
when serving sticky rice, eat with their right hand and only their right hand as
you may be expected to dine in the same manner. In other situations, you may find
chopsticks to be the dining utensil of choose and when noodles are involved you
will almost always receive chopsticks. In some places, and among some people, forks
and spoons are common and this is a growing trend throughout the country. In this
case use the spoon in the right hand to eat from and hold the fork in the left hand
to push food onto the spoon, but don't eat from the fork. Only in high end restaurants
will you find a knife on the table.
When the meal arrives, the dishes are placed in the middle of the table. Serving
and eating begin in order of age and honor (and men are served first, then women)
so don't begin until you're directed to do so by your host. If serving yourself,
be sure to never touch the serving spoon to your plate or if no serving spoon is
present, take foods from the communal bowls with the back end of your chopsticks.
Among the dishes will probably be soup and a starch, typically rice. The rice is
the main course and must be treated as such, while the soup, starch, and any other
food in a bowl should be eaten by bringing the bowl up to your mouth. In order to
accomplish this you are expected to have both hands on the table at all times, even
having your elbows on the table is acceptable in most situations.
When you are finished eating, be sure to finish all the food on your plate and in
your bowl, as leaving any food behind is considered wasteful and rude. Once the
food is done, place your chopsticks together on top of your rice bowl or on the
chopstick rest next to your plate if you have one. If you have a spoon and fork,
place then face down together on your plate.
If you are dining in a restaurant you will have to go to the register to get and
pay for your bill as the Lao find it odd and somewhat rude
to bring a bill to your table. In restaurants catered to tourists check to see if
a service charge has been added. If no service charge is included tipping is at
your discretion; in most nice restaurants tips of 5-10% are expected, but in local
restaurants and in towns or villages tips are not expected or required.
Celebrations & Events
Although Laos has numerous celebratory events, few have close
ties to particular foods served at each. All of these events, including weddings,
anniversaries, birthdays, etc., usually serve authentic Lao dishes and personal
favorites for those who are being celebrated.
Laos has all the international favorites available when it
comes to drinks, but the local juices, including sugar cane juice and coconut milk
are among the more authentic locals. Tea is also very popular in Laos and it is
generally served with sweetened condensed milk over ice. Coffee, milk, and soft
drinks are also readily available in Laos.
If you want some alcohol in Laos try the local beers, starting
with "Beerlao," which is highly regarding by locals and foreigners alike.
For a more authentic local taste, try the lao hai, which is similar to
sake or lao lao, which is similar to whiskey. Other whiskeys also exist
as whiskey is oddly popular in Laos, but still takes a back seat to beer.
The tap water in Laos should not be consumed. Be sure to also
avoid anything with ice as it may have been made from the tap water. Salads and
fruits could have also been washed in the tap water so be careful with those foods