We travelled through Laos four years ago and fell in love with it. I recently returned with a chef to show him the country and we spent a good few days getting under the skin of the Laos capital city. All I can say is throw away the Lonely Planet and any other guidebook as they’re not worth the paper they’re printed on. They are all wrong. *THIS* is the essential food guide to Vientiane.
Banh Mi – Hengboun Road
Best banh mi in Vientiane hands down. This little stall is presided over by two little old ladies who warm the amazing French bread over coals while the other layers the rolls with the essential mix of filling. Each roll only costs 10,000 kip (AU$1.20) and if you’re leaving on a bus or even heading home – ensure you stop by to pick up something for the road. Make sure you say you would like ‘spicy’ so you get a dose of her special sauce.
Address: Corner of Chao Anou Rd & Rue Hengboun.
Vieng Sawan – Hengboun Road
In the middle of Chinatown, Vieng Sawan specializes in niem niuang (barbecued pork meatballs) and many varieties of (spring rolls), usually sold in “sets” (sut), fresh lettuce leaves, mint, basil, various sauces for dipping, sliced star fruit and green plantain. All I can say is that we went back for repeat visits for the special fried spring rolls that you will see displayed at the front of the restaurant. If restaurants back home allowed this liberal amount of herbs, food would be a whole lot more interesting. Cost about AU$2 per set.
Address: Rue Hengboun – about 6 shopfronts past the above banh mi joint.
The charm of visiting Vientiane is that the good stuff doesn’t necessarily always jump out at you. They can only become known with time and trial. The broth is pork-based, rich but not oily. You can choose “cow piek” a thick rice noodle, or “pho” thin rice noodles, or “mee” yellow egg noodles, along with pork, duck, or chicken. The best part and the thing that makes it so delectable is the healthy topping of fried shallots which adds a sweet roasted flavor that is so aromatic and addictive that I wish the after taste would stay on my palate for the rest of the day.
Address: The best way to find this place is to spot the green Fuji Film shop sign and right next door you will see a sign with DELICIOUS NOODLE – on Rue Saylon.
Mr Vilasid Duck Noodle Soup
We only stopped here as there was a flock of locals huddled on the footpath at sundown. It’s amazing the difference in what Lao cooks do with cuisine. While travelling the country by scooter we came across many rural towns that had herds of ducks, yet did not find one place selling duck on the menu. So this was something that caught our eye and we have to give it a try.
This Vietnamese influenced noodle dish is often massacred by those in other Asian countries by adding black sauces of some kind. What we loved about travelling in Laos was the prevalence of this basic noodle soup and the subtle differences each cook in her shack could do. This was no exception. Cost about AU$2 per person.
Address: Ask a local but it’s very central.
Chinese Set Lunch
This was a blind stumble and it paid off. The family running the place had little english so we sat down and pointed to the other table who had food and gave them the thumbs up. We were presented with a whole bunch of dishes and a mountain of rice to have it with. We were worried – did these guys see tourist dollar and were out to sting us by serving us every dish in their repertoire? That’s now how it’s done in Laos (unless you’re a tuk tuk driver). This meal came to a not too shabby AU$3.50 each.
Address: As per the photo above is all I got ;).
As Hoppy (the chef I was visiting Laos with) had just returned from 2 weeks in Japan and with us heading over in just over 2 weeks we decided to give this little place a chance. We stuck our head in the door and found only Japanese people sitting on the floor which was a great sign. Run by a young couple from Kyoto, Hisaya and Aya Okada, who play Bach and Bob Dylan while cooking Japanese-inspired healthy treats. Diners sit on floor cushions sampling dishes like pork cutlets topped with sautéed shiitake and enoki mushrooms (48,000 kip) and a minced white radish and green-onion-and-soy-marinated chicken salad (42,000 kip).
These’s a good selection of Japanese dished done with style and it’s also one of the only places in town for you to try the Beer Lao Gold. The chocolate cake is to die for so make sure you leave a bit of space.
Address: Hengboun Street; 856-20-5510-4050.
Loas food is HEAVILY influenced by the Thais because the country is so narrow. Like Australia, they think they have a cuisine but really it’s a miss mash of variations from the surrounding countries. Laos Kitchn is a good place to set up when that midday sun starts bearing down on you.
I highly recommend the larb gai (spicy chicken salad) with a side of sticky rice. Grab the rice in your hand and flatten it out. Then use it to grab the spicy salad and put it all in your mouth. Then grab a bottle of water to help with the sweat.
Address: 140/01, Unit 15, Rue Hengboun, Baan Anou, Vientiane, Laos.
Kuvieng Fried Chicken
Laos does have its own version of KFC and it’s cooked in a shack beside the road by a few girls and presided over by the female colonel herself, dishing up chicken and chips to long lines of people jumping off their scooters and picking up a quick dinner. It’s a worthwhile dinner on the way to seeing a live match of Muay Laos (more on that to come in a future post).
Address: Boulevard Khouvieng, Vientiane, Laos