Sticking with tradition on Compass and Fork, our last food post for a country is a dinner party. We have featured 5 recipe posts for adjoining SE Asian countries Laos and Cambodia. The food is definitely one of the reasons you travel to Laos and Cambodia. It is good and cheap on the hip pocket. Not unlike food from Thailand and Vietnam, but with some subtle differences.
As you would expect the food of Laos and Cambodia is influenced by the cuisines of other countries within the region, such as Vietnam, Burma, Thailand and China. Laos is quite mountainous and has some cooler areas. Laos and Cambodia are close to Burma so it is easy to see why there are more curries and soups. There is a greater use of Indian ingredients, particularly spices rather than the more common Chinese ingredients found throughout Vietnam. Thai influences are also very strong.
In the warmer parts of Laos and Cambodia, there are more salads, lighter soups and maybe more vegetables and herbs used in their cooking. There is still heat to be found but rather than being in curries it is more often found in salads. Lao and Cambodian salads can be “hot” but they are mellowed out with sweetness from sugar and other ingredients. They can also contain 4 or 5 different herbs, as well as grated or julienned vegetables. They are a taste and color sensation.
And as we have mentioned in our Asian Cooking Essentials Guide, meat or fish is not the dominant ingredient in Lao and Cambodian cooking. It is an ingredient like any other and would typically make up 10% to 20% of the meal, with fresh vegetables and herbs making up the remainder. This is not just because of price but it is cultural as well. Lao and Cambodian people have always eaten a wide variety of vegetables and herbs, with herbs being just as important as the vegetables. Given the health benefits of herbs, maybe they on to something there.
Don’t underestimate Lao and Cambodian cooking. It may not ring off the tongue like Vietnamese or Thai food, but it is just as good, just not as well known
The French Legacy
At one stage and for many decades, France controlled not only Vietnam, but neighbors Laos and Cambodia as well.
The legacy of this was the introduction to the region of cattle (bred for beef production rather than being a beast of burden) baguettes, croissants, carrots, cucumbers and lettuce. The use of these ingredients is now very widespread throughout Laos and Cambodia.
The French legacy was not just around food either, Phnomh Penh in Cambodia and Luang Prabang in Laos both contain magnificent examples of French architecture. Luang Prabang is a UNESCO world heritage-listed city because of the stunning architecture on display.
Alcohol In Laos and Cambodia
In our dinner party posts, we normally feature wines of the country and encourage our readers to try wines to accompany the meals. That has worked to date, as Turkey, Italy and Patagonia have a well-established wine culture going back hundreds of years. As you would expect in a tropical climate, there are no wineries of note within Laos and Cambodia.
Spirits are available everywhere throughout Laos and Cambodia and many bars in Luang Prabang and Cambodia had rather generous happy hours extending for long periods of the day. Cocktails are good and at a very reasonable price throughout Laos and Cambodia.
Rice wine is popular and is consumed by many of the locals. Locally made in many villages, it is naturally cheaper than imported spirits. Although not in Laos nor Cambodia, you can read a rather humorous account of our favorite day in Vietnam which involved imbibing rice whisky in the home of a Mai Chau couple. Full of laughter and communicating through a translator we had a great day. So the rice whisky played a big part in that.
Apart from rice whisky, the locals would drink beer if they were drinking alcohol. A cold beer or two goes well in that climate! And the beer is good. Our favorite beer in Laos and Cambodia is without doubt, Beer Lao. Brewed in Laos, this beer wins my award for the best brewed beer in Indo-China. It comes in “Lager” style, “Gold” style and “Dark” style. The dark in particular, is delicious.
Beer Lao is freely available in better liquor stores. Seek them out, they’re good!
Compass & Fork Laos and Cambodia Dinner Party Menu
Do try and source some Beer Lao. Better liquor stores within the US and other countries stock Beer Lao.
Within Laos and Cambodia, it is common for the food in a multi-course meal to be served all at once and let people slowly graze over the whole selection.
Click on the recipe name to access the recipe.
Laos and Cambodia Dinner Party Menu
ENTREE (MAIN COURSE)
serve both entrees (mains) with steamed rice
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