Lao Vegetarian Recipes


Laos' food culture is dominated by subsistence farming and the mighty Mekong River, which snakes its way through seemingly endless jungles from Huay Xay to historic Luang Prabang, through Vientiane, and then on past Savannakhet and Pakse before moving on to Cambodia and Vietnam. The river has provided many Laotians with their daily sustenance for centuries, and many freshwater seafood varieties, river vegetables, and aquatic herbs find their way into Lao cuisine. Centuries of occupation and colonial rule by the French, combined with the striking flavors of Southeast Asia, have provided Laos with true Continental-Asian fusion cuisine. You can just as easy find a chicken baguette on the streets of Luang Prabang as a bowl of Or Lam.

Fresh herbs and vegetables, chilies, and fermented fish products dominate, as elsewhere in Asia, but you will find many ingredients woven throughout Lao cuisine that are not available in the West - some don't even have an English name! Exotic ingredients such as "pepper wood", "monkey vegetable", khai pene, and Mekong mushrooms all give Lao food its amazingly unique flavor - unlike anything you'll find in neighboring Thailand or Vietnam. Laotians are particulary fond of bitter-flavored foods, which they believe ward off sickness (and mosquitos!)

Lucky for traveling vegetarians, meat is not a common luxury in Laos. Any and all protein sources are used whenever available, but the general lack of meat has led the Lao to create a cuisine based on vegetables and, of course, the ever-present sticky rice. A Lao meal is not complete without a massive ball of the local staple, whose lore is also deeply woven into the local culture (as we're told, one postulate for the Lao being of such small stature is the the consumption of so much sticky rice, which makes them, quote, "stick close to the ground"). Usually served with a wide array of spicy and flavorful dips, for which the Lao have a special taste, sticky rice forms the glue that holds Lao cuisine together. Due to the lack of (until recently) modern restaurants in Laos, most of the recipes that are available are about as authentic as you can get - the same you'd be served in a small roadside stand overlooking the Mekong.

Before his death and later Communist takeover, Phia Sing, chef to the last royal family of Laos, recorded his recipes in two notebooks, which were then passed to an Englishmen via the Crown Prince, preserving hundreds of years of Lao royal culinary tradition from extinction during occupation of the royal palace (which continues today). These dishes represent a very different style of Lao cuisine - one replete with lavish ingredients and intense preparations. You can pick up a copy of the translated recipes here.

If you are looking for the most authentic Lao ingredients available, please don't hesitate to contact our friends at Tamarind Restaurant in Luang Prabang. They ship local LP specialties (like jaew bong and khai pene), as well as other hard-to-find Lao products internationally.

Check out the menu on your right for our list of Lao vegetarian recipes!

Lao Regional Recipes

Luang Namtha (1)
Luang Prabang (2)