Experience genuine Lao food | Cruise Mekong River

Experience genuine Lao food

Experience genuine Lao food

If you’re looking to experience genuine Lao food, you can’t do better than Tamarind Restaurant and Cooking School. Their speciality is tasting platters of home-style dishes you won’t find on any other menu in town, and the staff will even show you the traditional way to eat it. A must-try is the meuyang, a do-it-yourself wrap bursting with herbs and fresh veggies. Wash it down with Tamarind’s custom juice blends featuring local ingredients like hibiscus flower or jujube fruit. This place is made for those with a genuine interest in food and is a fabulous introduction to the food of Laos. Although the restaurant is very Westernised in its service, setting and atmosphere, the flavours dished up are very Lao. Tamarind is an extremely popular restaurant and is always full in high season, meaning that bookings are essential for dinner and often for lunch. For such a popular quality restaurant, the prices here have remained low over the years and we can only imagine that the day will come when they yet again need to move premises to accommodate the flocking crowds. Cooking classes are also offered, but with good reason are often fully booked – book ahead of time.

Experience genuine Lao food

Experience genuine Lao food

Cafe Toui is a tiny little restaurant on a side road which heads down to the river from the Sisavangvong Road at the peninsula side of the night market. The Lao food here is some of the better of its kind to be had in Luang Prabang. Coconut milk curries and meat steamed in banana leaves feature on the menu as do a few appetisers such as spring rolls. It’s all delicious and the setting is not dirty and basic like some of the budget options in town. Accordingly, the prices here hover around the 40,000 kip for a main dish and higher when looking for a buffalo steak. But the quality is what you are paying for and the pork and chicken dishes we recently had contained no fat, gristle or bones.

A tourist favourite for more than a decade, Tamnak Lao is one of the best restaurants on the main tourist strip to sample authentic Lao cuisine. Serving a full range of Lao dishes (plus the obligatory pasta and burgers), they are quite popular with tour groups and can get very busy at meal times, so be sure to pack your patience. Recommended are the pork-stuffed bamboo shoots, steamed fish with lime and lemongrass and eggplant dip served with a fresh baguette. Many diners enjoy the tried-and-true Lao recipes so much that they come back for Tamnak Lao’s cooking class.

A long-running backpacker favourite, the price of the Vegetarian Buffet has remained stable and the quality is as so-so as ever. And although there are few other places where you can fill up for a dollar, it’s probably because there is no meat used here and the flavours are very basic. The menu changes nightly, but you can count on steamed veggies, pumpkin curry, potatoes, salads and rice. Add fresh spring rolls for 1,000 kip each. They have a few tables set up along the street and also sell beer and soda. The buffet sets up around 17:00 and goes until the food runs out around 21:00. A raft of copycat buffets have set up in a nearby alleyway and serve equally cheap but disappointing food.

Formerly the Pond View Terrace Restaurant, Roots &Leaves has kept the pond and fruit trees, expanded the menu and added a dinner show. The performance of traditional music and dance goes from 19:00 to 21:00 and is free for guests dining here. This is one of the better cultural shows to see and the dancers are accompanied by musicians playing traditional Lao instruments. The food is tasty and presentation is as beautiful as the restaurant’s gardens. Bookings are recommended as there are often big groups who take up most of the space here.

Fine dining
Still as popular as ever, 3 Nagas presents a menu of truly refined Lao food (without the offal) in a heritage-listed setting. While the prices are more typical of New York than Luang Prabang, the presentation and quality are first-rate and it’s an experience you won’t soon forget. Staff are highly knowledgeable about the menu and can recommend dishes featuring in-season local ingredients. These days the restaurant is split across two buildings across the road from one another, but the menu is the same. One side is set in a casual garden with candlelit tables while the other is in an old colonial building. On our most recent visit we noticed that drink prices were excessive, with a simple bottle of local water costing in excess of $4 after a 21% tax was added. In fact, this 21% tax is added across the entire menu which is an anomaly in Laos. It’s especially disheartening given that headline prices are already quite high for Laos. Still, this is one of the best places in Luang Prabang to eat for the traveller who isn’t on a tight budget.

In a colonial-chic building with bamboo shades and hardwood tables, L’Elephant is a longstanding favourite. They serve both Western and Lao cuisine, but on our lunchtime visit the aroma of baking bread was definitely stronger than that of chilli. French fare like frogs’ legs and steak tartare grace the menu, but equally popular are their degustation menus of Lao cuisine. Some dishes are traditional like lemongrass pork, while desserts like ginger ice cream are their own creation. The ambience is sophisticated and there’s an extensive liste du vin. It’s an expensive restaurant by Lao standards with the cheapest set menu starting at 180,000 kip and rising sharply from there. Still, it’s a popular restaurant and has a great reputation.

In an elegant setting overlooking the Nam Khan, The Apsara arguably serves the best food in Luang Prabang. A mouthwatering selection of Asian and Western fusion dishes are on offer, many of which you won’t find on any other menu in town. For uniquely Asian flavours, try the buffalo cheek massaman curry (85,000 kip) or a whole fish stuffed with lemongrass and drizzled with a tamarind-lime sauce (150,000 kip, suitable for two). You can even try a tagine of goat cous cous and of course an extensive international wine list is available. Definitely recommended for their whole fish in tamarind sauce.

It’s hard to recommend one riverside restaurant over the others, but we do think the one directly across from View Khem Khong Guesthouse is better than most. The menu is not as extensive as some of its competition, but they do traditional and local dishes very well. Highly recommended are the Luang Prabang sausage, Mekong river weed, and laap, a salad of minced meat and herbs. They can make a vegetarian version using fried tofu, but you’re better off with the Luang Prabang vegetable salad instead. The number of local people eating here is evidence of their authenticity and fair price and, of course, there’s a great view. Don’t confuse this place with a nearby restaurant called View Keamkong Restaurant.

Among the riverfront restaurants with their carbon-copy menus, Hot Pot Restaurant has taken a different approach and specialised in Chinese-style hot pot. Comparable to fondue, the table centres on a boiling pot of spiced broth that you cook your meal in. Choose from skewers of meat, seafood, tofu and veggies, and dip them in the broth until done. It’s pretty tasty once you master the process. It’s quite a fun and affordable shared dining experience. Eat all you like for a fixed price of 60,000 kip per person, but don’t take more than you can eat otherwise the feisty owners will charge you extra.

Cross the bamboo bridge over the Nam Khan for a meal on Dyen Sabai’s chilled-out terrace. The menu is mostly light Lao fare, and the eggplant dip and dried sesame pork are the perfect tapas-style partner for a big bottle of Beerlao. Vegetarian options are available or, if you like meat, enquire about sindad, Lao-style barbecue. Happy hour from 12:00 to 19:00 means two cocktails for the price of one. A fee is payable in the dry season when the bridge is in operation. The views are great and this beautiful spot remains undiscovered by the package tour groups, but has become more popular in the past couple of years.

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