Lao cuisine is the new Thai. Dishes such as tum mark hoong (the Lao version of sum tum Thai green papaya salad) have been incrementally creeping into our vocabulary, thanks to Northern-Thai and Lao restaurateurs keen to showcase their native cuisine. My fascination with Lao cuisine begun with restaurants including House, Holy Basil, and Green Peppercorn. Then I stumbled across Ngeun’s Lao-Australian food blog and I knew we just had to collaborate with him to truly demystify the cuisine.
Adding to our series of cultural food tours and food crawls in Sydney’s suburban pockets, I Ate My Way Through Laos-in-Sydney is a hands-on Lao culinary adventure in the heart of Sydney!
Throughout the inaugural event, Ngeun shares his passion and knowledge about Lao cuisine, which he has kindly summarized here:
Laos is a small, landlocked country, located in Southeast Asia. It is one of the least-populated, and least-developed, countries in the region. Uniquely located in the middle of Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, Burma and China, Laos is rich in culture and tradition that is both similar and distinctly different from its neighbours.
The main religions of Theravada Buddhism and Animism emanate a simple, relaxed ethos that flows over into traditional life.
Bordered by the Mekong River and lush forests, Lao food is characterized by the use of fresh local produce, particularly river fish, herbs and vegetables, and simple preparation methods. Historically, Lao food has been influenced by cooking traditions the Southern regions China.
Lao food has been likened to Thai food, partially due to some Lao dishes having been served in Thai and Isaan restaurants. Laos and Thailand share similar dishes, including Laos’s national dish, “larb” (spicy minced meat salad prepared similar to steak tartare), and “tum mark hoong” (spicy green papaya salad) – mainly a result of the migration of Lao people into Thailand. Other classic Lao dishes include, “gaeng nor mai” (bamboo shoot soup), “khao piak sen” (Lao noodle soup), and “bon pa” (finely minced fish dish). The list goes on.
However, Lao cuisine is characteristically more pungent, fiery, rustic, yet simple. Distinguishing features of Lao cuisine include the symbolic staple “khao neow” (glutinous/sticky rice), “padaek” (Lao fermented fish sauce) and “jeow” (often fiery and intensely flavoured condiment). Some notable ingredients used in Lao cooking include galangal, padaek, chilies, and ground roasted glutinous rice powder, all of which impart a distinctive aroma and flavour to many Lao dishes.
Traditional scarcity of food and meat has some Lao dishes served with a level of spiciness, including “larb” and “jeow” to create addictive flavours that last longer; as only a small amount of the dish is needed to be enjoyed with each mouthful of “khao neow”.
A typical traditional Lao meal may comprise of “larb”, “tum mark hoong”, “tom” (a soup dish), “jeow”, grilled meat or fish, fresh herbs and vegetables, and of course, a basket of steaming hot “khao neow”. Customarily, Lao food is eaten with the fingers, where a bite-sized portion of sticky rice is shaped into a flattened ball with the fingers, and used similar to flat bread to pick up a portion of a dish and then eaten.
Discovering Laos in Australia
In Australia, the Lao diaspora is small and close-knit, with communities located across the landscape, mainly in capital and major regional cities. Sydney has a Lao population of over five and a half thousand people (in 2006) with most families located in the outer South-Western suburbs including Fairfield, Liverpool and Campbelltown. As a result, these suburbs are also home to a majority of Lao restaurants in Sydney.
Sydney is a great place to explore Lao food. Although few and far between, Sydney is home to several Lao restaurants that offer a variety of both traditional and modern Lao dishes for the whole community to enjoy. As the modern Australian palate broadens, and seasoned Sydney diners seek out more exotic flavours, Lao cuisine presents itself as a wonderful choice with its selection of vibrant dishes. Once hidden and unsung, Lao food enters the limelight as a delicious and rewarding cuisine for all foodies to experience. Some popular Lao restaurants in Sydney include Holy Basil, Lao-Thai Luammit, Lao Village, and Green Peppercorn.
Our exclusive curated event takes place in Sydney’s ‘Thainatown’, a strip of Thai and Laos specialty shops at the rim of Chinatown.
It kick-starts with a guided grocery store tour in Haymarket to discuss essential Lao ingredients and cooking items.
This is followed by a visit to one of Sydney’s most esteemed Lao restaurants, where attendants participate in a hands-on cooking class to prepare their very own traditional Lao dish.
The tour concludes with a delicious Lao banquet comprising a selection of classic Lao dishes to share, including an exquisite grilled ox-tongue (which chef Tony of Holy Basil says is naturally tenderized with green papaya)!
Thanks to everyone to made it to our inaugural event!
If you’re interested in learning more about Lao food, this interactive guided Lao food experience is now available for corporate bookings and large groups (10+). View the I Ate My Way Through Laos-in-Sydney event information or submit a booking enquiry.