Food & Drink in Laos
Lao food doesn't have the variety and depth of the more famous cuisine of neighboring China, Thailand and Vietnam, but you can eat well in Laos if you take the time to learn a little about the cuisine while you're there. While few people travel to this country with food as their prime objective, a little experimentation can take you a long way towards appreciating the cuisine can be very rewarding.
It's little surprise that Lao food is similar to Thai cuisine, given the long interwoven history the two countries share. But while dishes such as meat salad and (som tam, papaya salad) will be familiar to anyone with even a basic knowledge of Thai food, there are some aspects of Lao cuisine that are unmistakably Lao. The most obvious of these is "khao niaw" (sticky rice), which is classed by scholars as being one of the main identifiers of Lao culture.
In the Mekong River valley areas, where Lao culture is strongest, sticky rice is ever-present. During five days of trekking through villages in Champasak Province we ate sticky rice with every meal. That might sound a bit repetitive, but the "khao niaw" was only part of these meals, and each one was complemented with at least two different and tasty Lao dishes.
Sticky rice isn't so popular in mountainous areas - the H'mong don't eat at all - and the culinary variety can be pretty limited, too. The limits come from a lack of money and difficult growing conditions.