General Discussion


Learning Laotian Cuisine – What to order?


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General Discussion 33

Learning Laotian Cuisine – What to order?

rworange | Nov 14, 2005 02:29 AM

Laotian Cuisine – just what does that mean?

I moved to an area with about a half dozen Laotian/Thai restaurants. It seems that these restaurants are mainly Isan – the food of Laotians who settled in Northern Thailand.

Supposedly Isan/Lao food is similar. They both use sticky rice as a staple. So that influences the cuisine. Unlike Thai food it doesn’t use coconut milk and curries or more, messy, oily foods. I’ve read the Laotians eat food by breaking off a piece of sticky rice with their fingers, rolling it in a ball, making a depression in the rice and using it to scoop up a bit of food or dipping it in the sauce. So, that’s the reason the food is simpler and lighter.

A chowhound wrote “Lao food isn't nearly as spicy as Thai food. The heat is usually added at table with condiments”. Yet other references dispute that. It seems for every comment about Laotian food, there is an opposing view.

Someone else wrote: “The Lao palate is accustomed to grilled or steamed foods--with relatively simple flavorings, and fresh, uncooked vegetables. Lao cuisine, which is very healthful, uses a relatively small variety of herbs and spices, with a particular and distinctive emphasis on garlic and galanga (not ginger, as has been asserted elsewhere).”

Lao food is more Vietnamese oriented, while Isan is simpler, the food of a poorer people. What dishes scream “I’m Isan” while others are “Laotian Classic”? How would I tell scanning a menu? It seems there is more discussion on the web about the difference between Thai and Laotian food than about the difference between Laotian and Isan. No examples that I can find.

So what does that mean that Lao food itself is Vietnamese oriented? In order to find Lao food rather than Isan am I looking for a Lao/Vietnamese restaurant rather than Lao/Thai?

Given that all we have is Isan in the area, it seems that most of the Lao dishes don’t formally appear on the menus. If you know what you want, you can order anything.

So, my question is what are good Laotian dishes that can be requested?

Even newspaper reviews, if any, usually focus on the Thai dishes or it’s the same old Lao dishes like tam mak hung (papaya salad), Larb (Laap), sticky rice. Which is a funny sentence if you consider my first Lao meal was two days ago.

So here I am with my Lao cookbook, A Taste of Laos, written by a local Thai/Lao restaurant, which two out of three Amazon reviewers trashed and a wikipedia article.

Any other good books / links on Laotian food? Even the guy who trashed the cookbook, recommended buying it because there are only two other books out there.

If all else fails, there's always McThai with the fish McDippers or the McSamuria pork burger.


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