It’s a fact that food is one of Laos’ biggest drawcards, for locals, long-term residents and visitors alike. But where to take an out-of-towner craving an introduction to the best of Lao cuisine – in one meal, on one table?
Of course, it would be impossible to get every single amazing Lao dish into one meal – no table in the world would be big enough – but Kualao Restaurant, housed in a gorgeous restored French colonial villa in downtown Vientiane, has one of the best set menus on offer.
Set out on a traditional rattan tray, the premium set menu – designed for one person, but able to be shared by two – has a classic selection of some of the most popular Lao dishes, many eaten every day by locals.
Kang som pa – A sour fish soup, using Mekong fish sent up from Champassak province in the south.
Yor jeun, or fried spring rolls – These much-loved appetisers hint at the Vietnamese influence apparent in Lao cuisine.
Larb ped, or duck larb – No introduction to Lao cuisine is complete without larb, the national dish that is eaten at all celebratory occasions. Comprising finely minced meat and herbs, this version uses duck, a premium meat in Laos.
Or lam mou – A meat and vegetable stew that uses a recipe originally devised for the Royal Family in Luang Prabang several hundred years ago. This version, using pork and mushrooms, has a smoky flavour that is as close to the original as you can get.
Mok pa fork – A traditional dish of steamed fish in banana leaf, although this version uses pa fork, a type of fish not often used in this way. It is also presented in the shape of a cake, rather than wrapped completely.
Kua pak luam, or stir-fried vegetables in oyster sauce. Not strictly a Lao dish but one that traditionally accompanies most Lao meals.
Gai hor bai teuy – An original Lao dish of deep-fried chicken wrapped in pandan leaf.
Sai oua keuang – Delicious pork sausages using the traditional Luang Prabang blend of herbs and spices.
Jeo bong – Another Luang Prabang special, this is a spicy chili sauce served with steamed greens.
Kao gum – Almost all food in Laos is accompanied by sticky rice, and this one is an unusual deep purple variety. Many Lao meals can consist of only Kao gum and Jeo bong!
Mak mai – Many Lao meals are concluded, as here, with a selection of fresh tropical fruits, including ripe papaya, pineapple and melon, accompanied by fresh Lao tea or coffee.