Laos

Eating out in Luang Prabang: $1 plates to fine dining

 

First night in Luang Prabang, I ended up following a throng of people into a side alley off the night market. I stopped following them when I spotted the coconut waffle seller, the juice stall and the duo cooking dumplings, all of which I wolfed down. I’d only spent a couple of dollars and I was full. Then I saw it. The throng’s holy grail.

 

Several long tables crammed with heaped plates of noodles, fried vegetables, spring rolls, skewered meat and fish. It’s a simple set-up. Pay a dollar, take a plate, pile it high and enjoy. The food is flavoured to keep the majority happy (translation, not spicy enough) but it’s not half-bad.

 

Luang Prabang attracts backpackers, the affluent and everyone in between and no budget is uncatered to. At the Korean BBQ on the Mekong riverfront, a Beer Lao and plate of food costs around $5 per person. Further along is the very reasonably priced Luang Prabang Food, its extensive menu including laap (minced, usually cooled, meat cooked with garlic, chillies, lime juice, spring onion, mint and coriander) and the eponymous Luang Prabang salad with eggs, peanuts, coriander, watercress and fried garlic. Next door, DaRa’s pork steak in rum, sticky rice and fried bananas with honey lured me back twice as did the Korean food at Big Tree Cafe.

 

On the other side of Luang Prabang is the Nam Khan River. A top pick is Rosella Fusion, set up by young locals and serving dishes such as fried beef with lemongrass and basil with black sticky rice. Towards the backpacker area, S-Bar serves fine burgers, the Aussie Sports Bar does a brisk trade in comfort food while LaoLao Garden and riverview Utopia do decent food in very atmospheric surroundings. Best for ambience is Dyen Sabai, across the river via the bamboo bridge and brilliantly priced serving Lao fondue, desserts and cocktails on its riverview deck.

 

At the higher end, Apsara is a frontrunner. We dined on Lao dried beef salad with herbs, local buffalo sausage with chilli jam, pan-fried fish with tamarind sauce and Asian pears poached in wine with homemade vanilla ice cream. Other options include French restaurant L'Elephant (tip: the $10 lunch special is a winner), 3 Nagas and Tamarind, well-known for its cooking classes.

 

Former French rule has left a tasty legacy of excellent coffee, bread and pastries. The cafe scene is thriving with places such as Cafe Ban Vat Sene, Books & Tea (their Indian chai masala is made from scratch), ethically minded Saffron Cafe and Coconut Garden.

 

And this is just a taster - three weeks clearly isn’t just long enough to savour it all.

 

By Meera Dattani

  

You can get Laos included as a stopover on your RTW here

Published by Stuart Lodge