The cuisine in Laos was a mystery that I looked forward to unlike the Thai and Vietnamese food that we are familiar with back at home in Canada. The dishes in Laos include many of the same Asian dishes we’ve been encountering, but with a splash of Indian, barbecue, and seafood. We encountered a few gag inducing items, as expected, as well as a few nasty treats while mid-meal…
Laos is the land of shakes, and with scorching temperatures above 40 degrees Celsius, it was cheap, refreshing, and a healthier-than-beer way to stay cool. Fruit shakes consisting of blended ice and fresh fruit are popular all over Southeast Asia, but we have never drank as many as we did in the hot afternoons of Laos. The flavour options were seemingly endless: mango, dragon fruit, papaya, avocado, pineapple, coffee, banana, orange, apple, tomato, coconut, and my all time favourite – Oreo shake.
We indulged in Indian food as an occasional change from rice and noodles, and even though I had no interest in trying any I often liked to check out the street barbecues. Fish and squid tentacles sizzled alongside skewers of various meats on sidewalk grills. The most visually disturbing skewer I saw was of chicken feet, often two chickens worth of feet per stick, glimmering under the street lamps. In order to politely take a photo of these grilled feet I asked Alistair to purchase a skewer of his choice, and therefore paying for my picture that was clearly taken out of disgust. Alistair described his chicken skewer as strangely flavourful; a boney chicken ball on a stick, with a greasy aftertaste that left him feeling uncomfortable.
While in Muang Ngoi we ate most of our dinners at a popular all you can eat buffet. It was a great deal (especially for the bottomless pit we call Alistair) and it was really nice to fill your plate with a little bit of everything instead of ordering just a single large plate of rice/noodle/stirfry. There were of course consequences to eating from a buffet in a developing country small town. Halfway through one of my baguettes I noticed something poking out, and proceeded to pull a long chicken feather from the baked dough. Worse than my feather baguette though was Alistair’s ant pancake which only after eating most of it did he discover the concentrated fried ant clump lining the bottom. I won’t bother getting into the cockroaches, let’s just say they were a common sight at most restaurants and guesthouses.
To end on a positive note, because we both did enjoy the food in Laos, I will pleasantly describe the cuisine as a fusion of Thai and Vietnamese with amazing fruit shakes that often revived me from the melting heat.
Al’s Beer Corner
Beer in Laos, similar to Vietnam, is cheap and comes in nice big bottles. Unfortunately there is really only two different local brands of beer. Fortunately however I got food poisoning halfway through our Laos trip and I couldn’t even think of beer half the time we spent here so I didn’t even have time to get bored of the same beer (pff, like that would ever happen anyway).
The beer of choice is Beerlao, and no surprise here, is also known as their national beer. Heavily the favourite among locals and backpackers Beerlao is often the only local beer sold in a bar, and at around a $1.50 for a 640ml bottle it was my go-to beer of choice. However, due to the fact that I have had my fair share of Tiger beers in Vietnam, and Heinekens were breaking the bank at 2 bucks, I often didn’t have a choice. Nevertheless, an ice cold Beerlao goes down crisp and easy like a good lager should.
The other local Laos beer is called Namkhong. Although basically just as good as Beerlao and often cheaper by about 20 cents, the fact that Namkhong just doesn’t quite roll off the tongue the same way as a Beerlao does when ordering one I had to send Beerlao home with top honours.
There was also a third beer here that I discovered, but it was in a league of its own – Beerlao’s Dark Lager. It was about the same cost as a regular Beerlao and almost half the volume (330ml), but tipping the scales at 6.5%, Beerlao Dark Lager packed a serious flavour punch that wasn’t a knock-out but just enough to offer a refreshing change from the light-weight regulars. Unfortunately, due to the cost per alcoholic volume ratio, Beerlao Dark Lager wasn’t taking home any medals for me this time around.
Since I spent almost a week without beer in Laos (shocking I know), I thought I should mention that a good Coca-Cola classic or 7-up can still do the job and take the heat off for all those non-beer drinkers out there. Don’t think that makes us friends though…