It is no stretch of the truth to say that cuisine in the Asian region is one of the best in the world. Much of the food in Asia tends to be heavily spiced, packed with a multitude of flavors, and contain a lot of excess fats. In Laos, locals enjoy either the tangy punch of a good pork laap, zesty papaya salad, or a hot salty ox blood soup. But can Lao food be healthy?
With rare exceptions, foreign visitors to Laos would generally concur that Lao food is quite tasty. But tasty doesn’t necessarily equate with healthy. Many Lao dishes can be really wholesome, especially those that undergo a more salubrious preparationprocess. Jeo (dips), stews, tossed salads, and steamed dishes are some of the healthier choices you can opt for if you want to avoid, especially if you want to lose, some kilos!
Dipping sauces (jeo)
Also known as Lao dipping sauces, these sumptuous melanges of pummeled spices, vegetables, and grilled meats (or insects) can constitute a whole meal accompanied by steamed greens and sticky rice. They can make for a healthy and filling lunch!
Stews and soups
(or-laam and kaeng)
The fabled or-laam, the Luang Prabang dish fit for kings, holds its place as the iconic Lao stew. An equally quintessential stew called kaeng nor mai (bamboo shoot soup) has yet to make an appearance on the international scene. While or-laam is not typically consumed as a soup, kaeng nor mai, with its slightly less viscous texture can be considered a fiber-rich soup.
Tossed salads (laap and koi)
Any laap or koi variant, such as an ant egg salad that does not undergo a fried cooking process, is just about as healthy as Lao salads go. Xiengkouang’s joup pak (soup pak in other regions) of steamed greens represents a very traditional Lao salad.
Banana leaf parcels (mok)
Mok is an ancient cooking technique by which meat and vegetables are steamed while wrapped inside banana leaves.
This method not only infuses the ingredients with a subtly sweet aroma and flavor but also retains the nutritious vitamins present in the juices inside the leaf. A classic is mok pa, with a glorious mix of steamed fish, veggies, and other herbs.
Text BY Aditta Kittikhoun
PHOTOGRAPHs BY Phoonsab Thevongsa