Lao Cuisine

It may not be as famous as Thai food, but Lao cuisine is similar and often just as good, though usually less spicy. Chilies are used as a condiment, but Lao cuisine also makes good use of ginger, lemongrass, coconut, tamarind, crushed peanuts, and fish paste. Because so much of the country is wilderness, there's usually game, such as venison or wild boar, on the menu. Fresh river prawns and fish—including the famous, massive Mekong catfish, the world's largest freshwater fish—are also standard fare, along with chicken, vegetables, and sticky rice.

As in Isan, larb (meat salad with shallots, lime juice, chilies, garlic, and other spices) is a staple, as are sticky rice and tam mak hu, the Lao version of green-papaya salad. Grilled chicken, pork, and duck stalls can be found in every bus station and market in the country. Northern Laos, especially Luang Prabang, is noted for its distinctive cuisine: specialties include grilled Mekong seaweed, sprinkled with sesame seeds and served with a spicy chili dip; and orlam, an eggplant-and-meat stew with bitter herbs. Sticky rice, served in bamboo baskets, is the bread and butter of Laos. Locals eat it with their hands, squeezing it into a solid ball or log and dipping it in other dishes.

Throughout the country you'll find pho, a Vietnamese–style noodle soup, served for breakfast. Fresh baguettes, a throwback to the French colonial days, are also available everywhere, often made into sandwiches with meat pâté, vegetables, and chili sauce. Laotians wash it all down with extra-strong Lao coffee sweetened with condensed milk, or the ubiquitous Beerlao, a slightly sweet lager.

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