If you come to Laos, you should try to enjoy the following dishes:
Larp (Meat salad)
If Laos were to nominate a national dishes, a strong contender would be larp, a “salad” of minced meat or fish mixed with garlic, chillies, shallots, galangal, ground sticky rice and fish sauce. Traditionally, larp is eaten raw (díp), though you’re more likely to encounter itsúk(cooked), and is often served with lettuce, which is good for cooling off your mouth after swallowing a chilli.
Tam mak houng (Papaya salad)
Tam màk hung, a spicy papaya salad made with shredded green papaya, garlic, chillies, lime juice, pa dàek and, sometimes, dried shrimp and crab juice. One of the most common street-vendor foods, tam màk hung, is known as tam sòm in Vientiane; stalls producing this treat are identifiable by the vendor pounding away with a mortar and pestle. Each vendor will have their own particular recipe, but it’s also completely acceptable to pick out which ingredients – and how many chillies – you’d like when you order.
Pîng kai (grilled chicken)
Usually not far away from any tam màk hung vendor, you’ll find someone selling pîng kai, basted grilled chicken. Fish, pîng pa is another grilled favourite, with whole fish skewered, stuffed with herbs and lemongrass, and thrown on the barbecue.
Mók pa ( Fish steamed in banana leaves)
A special dish of southern Laos and Luang Prabang, well worth ordering if you can find it, is mók pa or fish steamed in banana leaves. Other variations, including mók kheuang nai kai (chicken giblets grilled in banana leaves) and mók pa fa lai (with freshwater stingray), are also worth sampling, though they appear less frequently on restaurant menus.
There are plenty kinds of these sauces: made of tomatoes, eggplant, peanuts. The famous, jeow bong, is made of buffalo skin and chillies. In general, the veggies are first put in a hot brazier to blacken, then they’re peeled. That’s how the dip becomes distinctively smoky in taste. To eat, tear a piece of sticky rice, shape it into a ball and shovel a little bit of jeow into your mouth. No second dippings with the half eaten ball!