Taste Your Way Through Luang Probang! 

The inland city of Luang Prabang, Laos is worth a visit for its unique fare and rich local culture. What makes it particularly special is since it is a bit off the beaten path from the rest of Southeast Asia, it is not as jam-packed with visitors. Unlike other more ‘famous’ southeast Asian cities, Luang Prabang is tiny and landlocked, (but sits right next to the Mekong river), making it less trafficked than its counterparts and, the perfect place to add to your next Asia trip. With only a few flights in and out, it can be a bit of a hassle but it is packed with some culinary gems. This small city might only have a ‘downtown’ that consists of a few blocks, but there is good food everywhere you turn. In addition to feasts for your belly, Luang Prabang itself is a feast for your eyes and heart: the whole city is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, meaning the architecture and even riverboats are all produced and maintained in their traditional methods.  

This list is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to what to eat in Luang Prabang, there are plenty of amazing eats that we just couldn’t fit in the article, so make sure to try every culinary delight thrown in your path, it is worth it.

What to Eat in Laos #1

Laap

Laap is one of the national dishes of Laos, simplified it is a water buffalo meat salad. The water buffalo meat is first marinated in lime and bile…yep, intestine juice. Next, the meat is tossed in a variety of herbs, minced garlic, chopped lemongrass, and sprouts. If you are feeling adventurous, some locals add diced tripe for a hint of flavor. Depending on the chef, the dish is either cooked in oil or served raw in a similar fashion to beef tartare. The dish is usually presented with a side salad, which brightens up the plate.  

In Luang Prabang it is traditional to use water buffalo meat, in the rest of Laos, however, the meat types may vary from city to city. Also worth noting, although it is marinated in bile, the flavor is not overpowering. It has a subtle metallic flavor similar to other organ meat dishes. The dish is a bit strange to some western palates but we suggest you give it a chance.

What to Eat in Laos #2

Moonshine 

Moonshine, obviously a winner, and Luang Prabang is not lacking in its specialty alcohol selection.  With your choice of sticky rice wine, regular rice wine, whiskey, banana whiskey or snake whiskey, you will feel the fire in your belly.. and throat. Ranging from 15% to 50% each moonshine has something to offer, so you might as well try them all. If you are looking for a power kick, grab the bottle with a snake or scorpion which is said to give its human drinker powers from the animal. If you get the time, take the trip an hour up river to whiskey village (Xang Hal). Here you can see the process live, as they ferment and age a variety of spirits including but not limited to whiskey. All while getting a taste of all the spirit flavors. However, if the journey upriver is a little too much for you, don’t fret, there is plenty of moonshine being sold at the night markets.

What to Eat in Laos #3

River Weed 

Although this is dish is not featured in the Stretchy Pants video, it is worth mentioning. Luang Prabang is not lacking in unique street food, including buffalo skin, coconut cakes and beyond, but the local favorite crispy snack is clearly river weed from the Mekong river. This snack is usually dried, seasoned and sold by the bag in most of the local markets. With a salty, umami-rich flavor it is actually quite tasty.

Since Riverweed is a very easily sourced ingredient (just head down to the river), it pops up on many menus around town in a variety of cooking styles. So if drying river weed is not your thing, be sure to look out for another style.

Lemongrass Chicken

This fried chicken ‘meatball’ is delicious. It starts by combining cilantro, kaffir leaf, garlic, scallions, and ground chicken. The lemongrass stalk is then used as a basket for the meatball. This is done by cutting strips about ¾”up the stalk of the lemongrass, leaving the top of the stalk intact. The chicken meat mixture is then placed in the bottom of the lemongrass stalk and deep fried to golden brown perfection. Depending on the chef, some people choose to wrap the basket in a banana leaf and steam the chicken instead. The finished dish is served in the lemongrass basket and garnished with cilantro or another green. No matter how you choose to cook it, the flavor is not overpowering but rather a nice medley of garlic and lemongrass that leaves you wanting more.

What to Eat in Laos #4

Mok Pa River Fish

River Fish is cooked in a variety of ways throughout Luang Prabang and a big part of everyday life for the people of Laos. Due to the location of Luang Prabang, right on the Mekong river, river fishes, like tilapia, are featured in many dishes throughout the city. In Luang Prabang, river fish can usually be interchangeable with meat in any noodle or rice dish.

One of the most popular dishes is called Mok Pa. Mok Pa, also featured in Thai cuisine, is a marinated fish cooked in a banana leaf. The marinade paste is made from shallot, dill, Thai basil (or Lao basil, as they call it) scallion, chili, kaffir leaf, lemongrass, and sticky rice powder. The coated fish is then wrapped in banana leaf and steamed. The major difference between the Laos and the Thai version of Mok Pa is the Laos version of this dish does not contain coconut milk or egg, both of which are featured in the Thai version.

What to Eat in Laos #5 Sausage

Another street snack not featured in the video but worth a shout out is the street sausage, which is seen on almost every corner of the city. Sausage in Luang Prabang can be one or multiple types of meat in a casing, but the most unique is made from water buffalo. With a tougher texture then pork or chicken, water buffalo sausage tends to be a bit chewier than what many westerners might be used to.  If you really love the water buffalo sausage, you might be interested in trying the water buffalo jerky, which is also sold at the night market. Whatever you choose, if you are a meat lover, this is food to try.

If you are an adventurous eater heading to Asia, be sure to add Luang Prabang to your list of pit stops. Not only is the food unique but the city bleeds authentic southeast Asian culture. From historical temples to vibrant night markets, it is the perfect city for a 3-day culinary adventure.

What to Eat in Laos #6

Khao Soi Soup (Luang Probang Noodle Soup)

This soup is well… very, local.  The traditional Luang Prabang version of this soup is made from a rat stock base, yep that was not a typo. Although some chefs choose to use a more favorable pork stock base instead, it is common practice to create a rich broth from rat bones. The broth is topped with noodles, minced meat, fermented bean sprouts and sometimes pork rinds. The soup can also be tried in parts of northern Thailand without the traditional stock base.  If you are visiting Luang Prabang, be sure to clarify what stock base you would like to try. Ultimately, this dish is not for the faint of heart.

If you are an adventurous eater heading to Asia, be sure to add Luang Prabang to your list of pit stops. Not only is the food unique but the city bleeds authentic southeast Asian culture. From historical temples to vibrant night markets, it is the perfect city for a 3-day culinary adventure.

Check out this Video on 5 Things to Eat in Luang Probang! 

If you are a visual learner like us here at Stretchy Pants, here is a short video on what to try on your visit to Luang Probang, 

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Cheers,

Kara & Ruby