Dec 26 2012
For travellers seeking an exotic dining experience, Laos offers opportunities from crunchy crickets fried in chillies to savoury chicken testicle pudding. For those travellers with a less adventurous palate, meals in the countryside are often limited to fried rice and noodle soup and for vegetarians, sticking to a meat-free diet is almost impossible. In Vientiane, food options are more expansive and many good restaurants serve vegetarian food; Western restaurants will usually have vegan and vegetarian options on their menus, and their staff will usually be trained to accommodate dietary needs.
Vientiane in particular has a number of Indian restaurants that serve vegetarian food. Many serve a variety of vegetarian curries at around 17,000 kip. Cheese lovers beware! Most Indian restaurants advertise paneer cheese on the menu, but are in fact serving tofu. An exception is Aashifa, which serves some of the cheapest Indian food in town, and also some of the best, with extensive vegetarian and meat-based options. On the corner of Fa Ngum and Nokeokoummane Roads, Aashifa boasts an impressive menu with excellent descriptions of regional dishes from around India and Malaysia, and delicious paneer cheese freshly made in their kitchen.
Vientiane also has a number of restaurants serving vegan Asian food with many dishes made using substitutes for meat, fish and seafood that can be very tasty and well-seasoned. The best of such restaurants by our reckoning is Cuisine d’or Vegetarian Restaurant on Manthatourath Road, left of the fancy big white hotel on the corner of Setthathilath Road. This restaurant serves many vegetarian versions of traditional dishes using tofu, mushrooms or meat substitute, such as larp and hot and sour soup, which is essentially vegetarian tom yum. Also, rather than using MSG to season their stir-fries, like so many other restaurants, Cuisine d’or Vegetarian enriches their dishes with seasonings like tamarind paste, lemongrass and crispy fried basil, which makes for some pretty delicious stir-fries.
Another Asian vegetarian restaurant is Vegie Hut, which serves a mix of Southeast Asian and Chinese dishes. With an affinity for saxophone music and a tendency to cook on the oily side, Vegie Hut still serves decent food; their claypot dishes, wonton soup and pot-stickers fried in chilli oil are recommended. Vegie Hut is located on Asean Road near Patuxai. Standing with your back to the monument, facing the three roads, take the one to your left, Sibounheuang, and walk for about 10 minutes until you hit Asean Road. Make a right at the traffic lights, and you’ll see Vegie Hut just after the turn. Note this place is closed on Sundays.
A few other vegetarian restaurants around town are open for lunch and with all-you-can-eat lunch buffets at around 25,000 kip, they’re good value. Nirvana serves good food and is located on Simeuang Road, down the street from the French Medical Centre. A more central option, with less tasty food, is located more centrally on the small street that connects the end of Saylom Road (off Lane Xang Ave) with Khoun Bu Lom Road.
Outside of Vientiane, restaurants in Luang Prabang, Pakse and Vang Vieng often also accommodate vegetarian travellers, but beyond these areas it may be difficult to stick to an animal-free diet. Travellers in rural areas can ask for vegetarian food — ahaan djae or for food without meat, with vegetables — bor sai sinh, sai pak. However, soups are made with meat stock and most stir-fries are seasoned with fish-sauce (nam pa.)
While Lao food contains very little dairy, vegans may find egg (khai) in a great number of dishes. Lao cooking is very standardised and asking restaurants in broken Lao to modify standard dishes usually doesn’t produce the desired result. The easiest way to travel in Laos is simply to accept that some animal products will find their way into your belly and perhaps seek some small comfort in the fact that most meat (sinh) is by default, free-range.
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