Laos is a foodie’s paradise, especially for those looking to add an experiential flavour into the mix. Ever had a yearning to milk a buffalo, plant rice in paddy fields or to harvest your own coffee beans while learning and enjoying the fruits of your labour? Then Laos sounds like a place for you!
In Vientiane, you can find restaurants to suit every taste and budget, from the cheap and cheerful and very filling bowl of Khao Piak, a noodle soup that will set you up for the day, to the high-end Indochinese fusion food of 3 Merchants. From delightful French cuisine at L’Adresse or Nadao, to fancy Italian at Villa Opera, you’ll find an abundance of delectable eateries throughout Vientiane. Kungs Café is popular for a lazy Sunday with a mango sticky rice pancake, and PVO is great for its Vietnamese offerings. There’s some great Japanese at Fuji Restaurant and Fujiwara and even good Egyptian fare at Easy Bar. For Lao street food, pop along to the night market in the early evening and sit on the rickety stools eating noodles with shellfish, BBQ fish or the local favourite – spicy papaya salad.
As Lao food is becoming more widely known, it is gaining a well-deserved reputation for the punch of flavours and freshness it delivers. Noi, at Doi Ka Noi in Vientiane is a big believer in bringing you a menu that starts with gathering the freshest ingredients from their organic garden and creating the day’s menu from those. Whether it’s the fish soup with ants’ eggs, or the stuffed bignoniaceae tree flowers, you are sure to have a meal that is unlike any you have tried before.
The sugar cane that grows easily here is the starting point for Laodi Rum and their rum tours give you the chance to see every step of the way to creating their delicious drink that is perfect in a mojito as the sun sets over the Mekong River. And to work off your hangover the following day, try heading out with Safari Tuk Tuk for their Rice Planting Tour. You will be taken out to the paddy fields and given the chance to wade in!
And if you have ever wondered where your salt comes from, now is the time to find out. From deep underground, at the Salt Mines in Ban Keun, the salt water is pumped to the surface and then heated over fires, leaving just the crystals to sprinkle over your dinner later.
When you visit the south of Laos, be sure to check out the Bolaven Plateau. It is here that the volcanic minerals in the soil and the cool temperatures of the plateau have created the perfect environment for growing the Lao coffee beans that are becoming well known for their high quality taste. You can stay on a coffee plantation, harvest the beans, try your hand at roasting them or just relax with a perfect cup to start your day. Sinouk Coffee Resort offer a choice of tours and experiences that will give you a great introduction to the process that leads to your shot of espresso. Alternatively visit Mystic Mountain Homestay where Mr Khamsone delights in sharing his enthusiasm and knowledge about Lao coffee.
Of course Luang Prabang, with its own unique local delicacies, should be on every foodies itinerary. Tamarind Restaurant not only offer a wide selection of delicious Lao dishes to try, but are famous for their cooking courses and market tours. Try your hand at tossing the steaming sticky rice or making your own jeow (a type of dipping sauce), and learn from their chefs about the different herbs they use.
If you’re ready to get your hands dirty, then the family-friendly Rice Experience at the Living Land Farm is a must. Learn about the different stages involved in traditional rice production and have a go yourself! They also offer a great little restaurant and a homestay option which is a great way to get to know your hosts and understand their passion for the land.
And no culinary experience in Laos would be complete without a visit to the Laos Buffalo Dairy in Luang Prabang. Here, you can not only try their delicious buffalo cheeses and ice-creams, but you can also get your hands dirty giving the buffalos a bath and learning more about their activities and community outreach on a guided tour. Or maybe you’d like to milk one of the buffalos, or make some buffalo cheese! No matter what you choose, this will definitely be one of your more memorable foodie experiences in Laos!
And if after all that you are craving a drink or two to wash it all down, don’t miss out on The Spirit House in Luang Prabang with their own hand-crafted blends and mouth-watering cocktails.