This month, during a hardcore giggle session, two of our esteemed staffers inadvertently found out where the line for their friendship stood. No lie! It just goes to show you how passionate we Lao are about food. In honor of every Lao person, we asked our staffers: What is your favorite Lao dish and what Lao dish do you think is overrated? Don’t forget to let us know about yours!
–Saysomphorn Sisavatdy, firstname.lastname@example.org
Favorite Lao Dish: The best part about Lao food is communal eating. Nothing brings people together better than noodle soup — it’s nearly impossible to make a huge pot and not call the extended family over to share. I love all noodle soups (pho, khao soi, mee katee), but number one is Khao Piek Sen. Rolling out noodles by hand is labour-intensive, and as a kid, I always felt the love whenever Mom made it. This past Christmas, my family and I found ourselves staying over with some relatives unexpectedly. My auntie knows it’s my favourite dish, and I woke up to a huge pot of Khao Piek Sen in the morning. Even as an adult, I have so many fond memories associated with this meal.
Overrated Lao Dish: Tum…anything. Shocking, I know. I was never big on fruits and veggies growing up (what’s the opposite of a vegetarian?). I couldn’t get down with Tum Mak Hoong and all its varieties. To this day, I still won’t eat it, mostly out of habit. But, my tastes have changed and I love me some veg. So hand me the kohk and sak, would ya?
Favorite Lao Dish: For me it would be Larb Xeen, heavy on the lime and the meat medium rare. It’s simple and great for all occasions. To me, the definitive soul food of Laos. It’s a working man’s staple (our lunch almost everyday when I was a construction worker working alongside humble farmers). There is just something humbling about a dish of Larb eaten with friends, families, or co-workers underneath the shade on a hot summer day. Plus, it’s one of my father’s favorite dish, every time I have it, I’m reminded of him and the lessons he taught me over a bowl of Larb.
Overrated Lao Dish: Is there such a thing?
Chanida Phaengdara Potter:
Favorite Lao Dish: My problem is I have too many favorites. But if I were stranded on an island with only one dish to eat for days on end– then it would be Pun Pba. It’s a fresh array of herbs, vegetables, fish and promotes communal-style eating in every sense of the dish.
Overrated Lao Dish: Nothing is ever overrated when it comes to Lao food, it’s just a matter of how your taste buds respond. The only thing overrated are the terrible Americanized shortcuts to Lao food. This includes using half & half instead of coconut milk, jalapenos instead of serrano peppers, etc. Fushion is fun and fine, but I loathe everyone’s constant claim on authenticity– which doesn’t exist. True to Laos’ diversity is that every region, every village, every family’s recipe is and always will be slightly different.
Favorite Lao Dish: In addition to Tum Mak Hoong, my favorite would be Khua Mee – it’s a greasy, carb-filled mess and I love the thin cut omelette.
Overrated Lao Dish: I don’t know if any dish is overrated, but maybe all are over-“curated.” So many people say Larb has to have this ingredient, Tum Mak Hoong has to have that ingredient. Because “that’s how’s they eat it in Laos”… Which is annoying, since Lao people aren’t some monolith, and I doubt everyone in Laos has the same exact taste buds. If I wanna make Larb with pepperoni and tum up some zucchini, I will. Luckily I don’t wanna, but you know what I mean.
Favorite Lao Dish: It’s obviously gonna be a tough one for everyone and might change day to day. So (let’s say clocking in at a 76.56% fave rating, out of a possible 300.00%), I’m gonna say Mok Nar Mai. There is something about the gorgeous green lushness that you first see after you unwrap the banana leaf that just…builds the anticipation. Then, the wafting aroma from the steam hits you. It’s herbaceous AF, it’s hearty without containing meat, it’s everything it visually promised. How can you hate on something so consistent? Which leads us to the creaminess of the green sauce juxtaposed against the pleasant chew of the bamboo and mushrooms, a not unpleasant consistency. Mouth.Watering.
Overrated Lao Dish: NAM KHAO. IT’S FRIED RICE, PEOPLE. Relax! Oh, you added coconut to it so that makes it special? No–just gives it an unpleasant weirdness. You fried them into balls first so there’s more crunch? Ok, saving grace/great technique. Did you get clever and turn it into lettuce wraps? Congratulations for making it “healthy” by using one of the least helpful greens to exist. I do like som moo, though. Don’t be cheating with the store bought ham, either. I called it overrated, that doesn’t mean I still wouldn’t eat it.
(Hey, nam khao is my second all-time favorite -CPP)
Bryan Thao Worra:
Favorite Lao Dish: A good dish of Mieng done right gets my attention, but it’s easier to find an order of Laad Na noodles at a Lao restaurant in the US these days, so I usually make my first judgement of a restaurant on how well they can make the simple dishes, before we go on to the ones that require even more complexity.
Overrated Lao Dish: That Balut and Barbecued Duck Head with the Ant Egg Soup is all yours.