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Lao food is spicy and delicious. There are many similarities between Lao and Thai food, although the former is slightly influenced by Chinese cuisine. Lao dishes are distinguished by the use of aromatic herbs and spices. Rice, especially sticky rice served in small bamboo containers, is the foundation for all Lao meals, and almost all dishes are cooked with fresh vegetables, fresh water fish, poultry, duck, pork, beef or water buffalo. Lime juice, lemon grass and fresh coriander give the food its characteristic taste, and various fermented fish condiments are used to salt the food.

A traditional Lao dish is laap (also meaning ‘luck’ in Lao), made from a raw fish or meat crushed into a paste, marinated in lemon juice and mixed with chopped mint. It is called laap sin if it has a meat base and laap paa if it is fish based.

There is also a well-ingrained Vietnamese culinary tradition, and Chinese food is never hard to find. Laos has inherited a sophisticated and tasty colonial legacy. French cuisine is widely available, with street cafes serving delectable fresh croissants, baguettes, pain auchocolat and a selection of sticky pastries.

Food in Daily Life

Sticky rice is the staple Chinese, Vietnamese, Hmong, and some other groups favor non-sticky varieties that can be eaten with chopsticks or spoons rather than with fingers. Spoon and forks are used to manipulate the dishes that accompany the rice, while sticky rice may be dipped directly into condiments of chili pasted and fish paste. Soup is a regular feature of meals. In the countryside, people eat chopped raw meat and foods gathered from the surrounding forests. Hygiene campaigns have caused a decline in the eating of raw foods in cities. Laab, finely chopped meat with spices, is a favorite dish that can be eaten raw or cooked.

For most lowland Lao, fish dishes are a central part of the diet. Relatively little pork is eaten, and chicken, buffalo, or beef is more common. An important culinary change in the main cities since the revolution is a spread of dog eating, which previously was associated with Vietnamese and Sino-Viet groups. Dog meat is considered a “strong” male dish and is accompanied by strong liquor. Rice whisky often accompanies snack eating among males, and heavy drinking usually occurs on ceremonial occasions. At the New Year heavy female drinking also occurs. In the countryside and mountains, fermented rice “beer” is drunk from jars using bamboo straws. In the cities, beer consumption is widespread.
Influenced by the French, many Lao in cities and small market towns drink coffee and eat bread at breakfast, which strikes Lao visitors as exotic. In the cities there are French, Indian, and Chinese restaurants that cater mainly to foreigners. The dish ordinary Lao most commonly consume in roadside restaurants in few, a soup-noodle dish imported from Vietnam.

Food Customs at Ceremonial Occasions

Lao do not reserve special foods for the New Year or other occasions, and food generally do not have special meanings. Khao poun, fermented rice vermicelli, signifies life pilling up over the years, while Laab means luck. Celebrations involve more food and a greater variety of foods, with more sweets, desserts and alcohol. There are occasions for reinforcing village recip0rocity and solidarity. End of harvest celebrations are similar.
Buddhists make offerings of food to monks from the local temple. Usually this is done when the monks file through the village or city early in the morning. Among some southern minority groups large buffalo sacrifices take place, but they have been discouraged by the government. Less spectacular sacrificing of buffaloes and other animals occurs among all the ethnic groups.


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