The Best Traditional Laos Dishes You Need To Try

Chilli Pepper
Chilli Pepper | Simon/Pixabay

Experiencing all that Lao cuisine has to offer is not an experience for the faint of heart. Laos’ famous fermented fish sauce, padek, has a distinct fragrance. Insects ranging from silk worms to ants and crickets can be found on many menus. Raw and cooked meats from all manner of animals are grilled and served on a stick or sautéed and served with rice. The following traditional dishes are on the tame side and will gently introduce travelers to delicious, must-try Lao foods.

Fer and Kopiak

Fer is the Lao version on Vietnamese phở noodle soup. A rich broth with noodles and meats, it comes with a pile of greens and chili sauce to spice it to taste. Before the government started cracking down on illegal drugs, marijuana was a common ingredient as well. Kopiak is another common Lao soup with wider, handmade chewy rice noodles, meat and garlic.

Lao Fer Soup


Lap Mu Krop

Grilled River Fish

Landlocked Laos has no shortage of freshwater seafood caught in its many rivers. Grilled river fish is covered in salt, stuffed with lemongrass and other spices, skewered and grilled over coals. The flakey fish is most often eaten with the hands by pulling apart the meat and creating a lettuce wrap with sticky rice and sauces. The fish are not deboned so be aware of small bones as you dig in. Lao people have no problem eating eyeballs, tails and skin, but also aren’t offended by more choosey visitors. Just pass of the scraps to the stray dogs or cats that run the Lao streets.

Grilled Fish

Spicy Dipping Sauce

Whether ordering a meal at a restaurant or taking away street food from a stand, no Lao meal is complete without a variety of sauces. Jeow som is perhaps the best known, made with chilis, garlic, cilantro, sugar, lime juice and padek. Dip lettuce wraps, meats or sticky rice into the sauce for an added kick. Some Lao dipping sauces like jeow padek made with fermented fish sauce, lemongrass and ginger are often disliked by foreign pallets. Others like eggplant sauce with spring onion and garlic are major crowd pleasers.

Dipping Sauce

Black Sticky Rice

The vast majority of Lao people are subsistence farmers. Sticky rice is a staple of the Lao diet and served with breakfast, lunch and dinner. Black sticky rice is a varietal that is sweeter than its white counterpart and is often used in desserts. Heineken Lao Brewery makes an award-winning black rice beer called Namkhong Special. Look for it in Vientiane.

Black Rice

Papaya Salad

Made with young, green papaya this is not your average fruit salad. The fruit is chopped into long thin strips and mixed with padek, lime, chilis, salt and sugar to give it a spicy and savory taste. Shrimp, tomatoes, eggplant and carrots are common additions as well. All of the ingredients are pounded with a mortar and pestle giving rise to the Lao name tam mak hoong, or “pounded papaya.”

Lao Food

Mango Sticky Rice

Mango sticky rice is a cooling go-to Lao dessert after a spicy Lao meal. Made with glutinous sticky rice cooked in coconut milk and sugar, it’s served with fresh ripe mangoes and often topped with sesame seeds. This dessert can also be made with black sticky rice or a mix of black and white rice which leads to a purple colored dessert.

Mango Sticky Rice
landscape with balloons floating in the air


Connect with like-minded people on our premium trips curated by local insiders and with care for the world

Since you are here, we would like to share our vision for the future of travel - and the direction Culture Trip is moving in.

Culture Trip launched in 2011 with a simple yet passionate mission: to inspire people to go beyond their boundaries and experience what makes a place, its people and its culture special and meaningful — and this is still in our DNA today. We are proud that, for more than a decade, millions like you have trusted our award-winning recommendations by people who deeply understand what makes certain places and communities so special.

Increasingly we believe the world needs more meaningful, real-life connections between curious travellers keen to explore the world in a more responsible way. That is why we have intensively curated a collection of premium small-group trips as an invitation to meet and connect with new, like-minded people for once-in-a-lifetime experiences in three categories: Culture Trips, Rail Trips and Private Trips. Our Trips are suitable for both solo travelers, couples and friends who want to explore the world together.

Culture Trips are deeply immersive 5 to 16 days itineraries, that combine authentic local experiences, exciting activities and 4-5* accommodation to look forward to at the end of each day. Our Rail Trips are our most planet-friendly itineraries that invite you to take the scenic route, relax whilst getting under the skin of a destination. Our Private Trips are fully tailored itineraries, curated by our Travel Experts specifically for you, your friends or your family.

We know that many of you worry about the environmental impact of travel and are looking for ways of expanding horizons in ways that do minimal harm - and may even bring benefits. We are committed to go as far as possible in curating our trips with care for the planet. That is why all of our trips are flightless in destination, fully carbon offset - and we have ambitious plans to be net zero in the very near future.

Winter Sale Offers on Our Trips

Incredible Savings

Edit article