Street ladies abound in Laos, you’ll see them on every street where tourists gather. Street ladies I hear you say? I am strictly talking of the pancake-making variety. In Luang Prabang and here in Vang Vieng there are loads of friendly street food vendors lining the sidewalk offering fresh-cooked Laos-style street food. Baguettes, pancakes, noodles, soups and. of course, shakes, much of it is not traditional Laos street food, it has influences from many places, in part because of local history, but it’s no less tasty for it. Laos street food incorporates traditional Laos dishes like noodle soups and grilled meats, French-influenced baguettes and tourist-friendly dishes like shakes and filled roti.
While most of the street food stalls are identical in what they offer, they do differ in quality as you would expect. We found our favourites in Vang Vieng, Luang Prabang and Vientiane and once found we continued using them for the duration of our stay. Let’s talk about Laos street food, traditional Laotian street food, night market food and tourist-style snacks on our Laos food and travel blog.
Laos Street Food
Street Food in Laos for Tourists and Backpackers
I’m a Chef but I’m not a food snob. Yes, much of the street food in Laos is churned out for the tourists, backpackers, and travelers. Much of it is Laos adaptations of western foods or, as you’ll find in Laos food generally, the dishes of neighbouring countries. You, as a new visitor to Laos, will want to know what street food you will be able to find and how to feed yourself on a budget. There are plenty of restaurants at all price points, but Laos street food is tasty, filling and cheap. You’ll find more typically Laos dishes a little way away from the Oreo shakes and tofu baguettes, we’ll talk about those further down the page.
Common Laos Street Food – Roti or Pancakes
Vang Vieng street food stalls offered us tasty pancakes. Actually, these pancakes were roti but so much more delicious than your regular pancakes. The fillings were endless from banana and chocolate to chicken and bacon. Our savoury favourite was tomato, cheese, onion and, of course, chilli. These super crispy roti are cooked on a big mobile solid top with hot coals keeping it super hot.
Laos Famous Street Shakes
Not to be outdone by their southern counterparts the street food stalls of Luang Prabang were the shake masters. The biggest standout by far was the oreo and banana shake, a personal favourite of the boys. Made with sweetened condensed milk, this was sickly sweet and could only be enjoyed by those with an extremely sweet tooth. Of course, they made shakes in all the garden variety tropical fruits for the remaining tourists.
Laos Street Food Baguettes
Laos street food stalls provide good fresh baguettes with all sorts of fillings. Filled fresh while you wait, we tended to play it safe with the cheese salad variety, minus the lettuce. Of course, not just any cheese but the white Laughing Cow type cheese triangles which we only eat and enjoy enormously while traveling. Cost-wise it was cheaper to get a baguette freshly filled than to actually buy the ingredients and do it yourself. Although visually similar to the Banh Mi of our favourite Vietnamese cuisine, the complexity of local flavours was absent and these Laos baguettes had a strictly tourist feel. That said, they make a good cheap lunch on the go.
Coffee Stalls On The Streets of Laos
Take away coffee was a bit hit and miss with the Laos street food vendors putting their own special spin on it. Coffee came in a milkshake container with lid and straw. Yes, a hot coffee through a straw and complete with a carry bag to walk with. Plastics are in abundance in Laos, let’s hope things are changing as rapidly as they are in other parts of Southeast Asia. You can see a street coffee stall in the image above. You’ll also find some modern coffee shops and bakeries in popular tourist areas.
Traditional Laos Street Food
The best traditional Laos street food we could find was noodle soup. There are many varieties but the photo above shows our favourite, a little noodle soup stall in Luang Prabang which offered meat-free ( although not vegetarian) noodle soup along with an identical version containing meat. We list a few more street food dishes you can find in Laos below.
Laos Noodle Soup
Noddle soup in Laos varies, the dish in the picture above was from one of our favourite outlets, featuring thin noodles, delicate stock and plenty of fresh additions. Other styles exist, famously Khao Piak Sen, this dish is more robust and the noodles are thicker and spongy, we didn’t enjoy this version as much. The noodle soups of Laos, to us, didn’t seem to have such incredibly interesting flavours of those in Vietnam, maybe it’s unfair to compare.
You will also find Khao Soi in Laos, a dish synonymous with Chiang Mai in Thailand. The Lao version is different, lacking coconut milk.
Is it Safe to Eat Laos Street Food? The Luang Prabang Night Market Buffet
As for just about anywhere in Southeast Asia, you will find spring rolls, both vegetarian and meat. Quality varies as does the oil they get cooked in. The key advice is to make sure there is a high turn over and if possible locals are buying and eating as well.
Talking to other tourists will also give you some insider knowledge about who has the best spring rolls in town.
Laos Donuts or Dumplings
We bought bags of Laos donuts many times at street food shops and hole in the wall outlets, the kids loved them. Unfortunately, I never took a photo. The picture above is from Cambodia, you will find fried dough sticks and balls throughout Southeast Asia and China, each will be slightly different.
Spicy Green Papaya Salad
Stalls selling green papaya salad can assemble a dish of extreme deliciousness for you in minutes. This can be vegetarian or vegan if you ask for it that way, otherwise, it can contain fish products or meat. This is almost identical to spicy Thai green papaya salad, as served in Thailand.
Laos Barbecued Meats and Fish
Laos Sausages – Sai Oua
Sticking with the meat theme, Laos does have sausages. Sai oua being one local term. Sai is also the sausages of northern Thailand, you’ll find them in Chiang Mai and beyond. We’ve tasted both Thai and Laos versions, I couldn’t tell you if they’re identical, but they’re both pretty good.
Laos Street Food Is it Safe to Eat?
Is it safe to eat from street stalls in Laos? Well, mostly, for us, yes it was safe to eat at street food stalls. However, and it’s a big however, I was seriously ill for several days after eating at the buffet in Luang Prabang. My wife and kids refused to join me in eating there and they were fine. We ate dozens of roti, we drank all of the fruit shakes and dined on baguettes (without lettuce), and consumed gallons of noodle soup, but that street food buffet could be a bad idea. We mostly stayed vegetarian but I tried a few meat dishes from time to time. I’d be very careful with lettuce, we saw the street food vendors washing salad leaves in a bowl of water also containing a baby. Just tread carefully and stay well if you plan on indulging in Laos street food. The baguettes and shakes gave us no problems during the 6 weeks we were there.
There was no reason to go hungry in Laos if you didn’t fancy a trip to the local restaurants. With the wet season downpours coming all too frequently, the friendly street food vendors even invited us under cover of their umbrellas while they cooked our favourite dishes. Just watch out though, I saw a couple of electrical blenders on the street food stalls explode in the rain in the Luang Prabang night market. It all adds to the excitement. In conclusion, you’ll find abundant Laos street food wherever there are tourists, authentic or traditional Laos food is harder to find on the streets and you may need to look harder for it. Laos food is often the same (or very similar to) Thai dishes or has the expected European influence, be sure to find the traditional foods of Laos in the local markets and restaurants.