The foods eaten by the people of Laos

The Lao People's Democratic Republic (Lao PDR), or simply Laos, has a rich culinary tradition that has evolved over the last 500 years. Influenced by neighboring countries like Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam, as well as by its indigenous cultures, Lao cuisine is known for its robust flavors, extensive use of fresh herbs, and a variety of fermented foods. Here's an overview of the foods that have been a part of the Lao diet over this period:

Staple Foods

  1. Sticky Rice (Khao Niew): The cornerstone of Lao cuisine, often served in small baskets and eaten with the hands.
  2. Rice Noodles: Used in soups and stir-fry dishes.
  3. Corn and Millet: Consumed in some areas, particularly in the more remote regions.


  1. Fish: Given the abundance of rivers, particularly the Mekong, fish is an essential part of the diet.
  2. Poultry: Chicken and duck are commonly used.
  3. Pork and Beef: Consumed, but less frequently than fish and poultry.

Vegetables and Legumes

  1. Bamboo Shoots: Often used in stews and stir-fries.
  2. Mushrooms: Foraged from the wild or cultivated.
  3. Green Vegetables: Such as morning glory, various lettuces, and mustards.
  4. Legumes: Such as long beans and various peas.

Seasonings and Condiments

  1. Chilies: Both fresh and dried, used liberally.
  2. Fish Sauce (Padaek): A traditional fermented fish sauce.
  3. Lime and Tamarind: For acidity and tang.
  4. Fresh Herbs: Such as lemongrass, mint, and coriander.

Traditional Dishes

  1. Laap or Larb: A meat or fish salad featuring finely chopped protein, flavored with fish sauce, lime juice, and fresh herbs.
  2. Tam Mak Hoong: Also known as Papaya Salad.
  3. Mok: A dish where meat or fish is steamed in banana leaves with herbs and seasonings.
  4. Khai Paen: Riverweed that is seasoned, sun-dried, and fried.
  5. Sien Savanh: Dried or cured meats.

Sweets and Desserts

  1. Khao Lam: Sticky rice cooked with coconut milk and sugar in bamboo tubes.
  2. Coconut-based Desserts: Such as puddings and jellies.
  3. Fresh Fruits: Mango, lychee, and bananas are often eaten fresh or made into smoothies and desserts.


  1. Tea: Both green and black teas are popular.
  2. Lao Coffee: Particularly from the Bolaven Plateau.
  3. Beer Lao: The national beer, enjoyed by many.
  4. Lao-Lao: A local rice whisky.

Foreign Influences and Modern Foods

  1. French Influence: Baguettes and coffee, a legacy of French colonial rule.
  2. Thai and Vietnamese Influence: Similar ingredients and dishes, like noodle soups, owing to cultural and geographical proximity.
  3. Chinese Influence: In the form of stir-fries, noodles, and some seasonings.
  4. Modern Cuisine: With globalization, international foods like pizzas and burgers are increasingly available, especially in urban areas.

Over the last 500 years, the cuisine in Laos has retained its distinct flavors while also incorporating influences from various cultures, resulting in a culinary tapestry that is both rich and diverse. From the simple, communal act of sharing a basket of sticky rice to the complex flavors of dishes like laap, the foods of Laos offer a window into the country's history, geography, and cultural diversity.

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