As mentioned earlier, Luang Prabang is an expensive town. Even the recommended “cheaper” riverfront restaurants were twice or three times as much as street food. I’ve mostly been eating on the street and there are quite a few choices. They make quite a range of street eats and snacks. Let’s go through the snacks first.
River weed drying in the sun in clumps.
One of the most common foods is river weed, which is pretty much like seaweed but looks more hair like. The women smooth it out and dry it into giant sheets.
Flavored river weed drying on a bridge.
The locals eat this river weed with a chili paste. You can’t quite see it int he picture but there’s lots of sesame, garlic and tomato on the river weed.
Rice cakes drying out before being fried.
Another common snack, or at least for us, is the rice cake. You can see people drying hand made patties of rice in the sun before deep frying them. I tried them because I heard they were unlike the cardboardy American kind. Unfortunately I still thought they were pretty dry. The locals crumble them into their rice noodle soup.
Some sort of spicy olive or date.
You can also stop random carts with green mango salad or these olive things in a spicy sour powder. They were delicious but I was rather puckered out near the end. They look greener when not pickled.
There is a night market where one can wander around finding grilled meats & fish, spring rolls, crepes, sandwiches and other French inspired or Asian foods. One street has a bunch of “buffets” where you pay $1.25 to load up a giant plate with a plethora of cold dishes. The better ones have reheating pots and will throw everything on your plate into the pot and heat it up with a dollop of broth. It all ends up tasting orange to me. Flavorless and mostly greasy. I’d recommend skipping this value meal and going down to the morning market end for fresh made spring rolls or seeing where the locals are buying their to go bags on the same street, both are way tastier. I did have to buy some chopsticks and a spoon to buy the take home food. The morning market has a fresh spring roll maker and a few women selling really cheap ($.60) banana leaf wrapped bundles of rice noodles. I found a crepe down a street where the night market ended and the locals were lining up to get crepes in colorful cartoony cardboard wrappers with sprinkles and neon colored flavor goos. It was pretty good. For all the foods where they come prepackaged or on a table already made, go when they make them (7 am or so for the morning market, 6 pm for the night market) to get it fresh and steaming instead of cold later.
I’m usually a tea and not a coffee person but Lao coffee is rather delicious. It seemed to involve slightly cranky women with two silver canisters of thick brew. They pour a bit of condensed milk down an 8 oz glass, then some of the thick coffee concentrate before topping it off with some boiling water. Beware that you aren’t getting Nescafe (which is Lao made) or Coffeemate, which are both common now. Lao coffee is particularly bitter. I kept meaning to try it cold but the rather sketchy ice and my strong reaction to caffeine stopped me from drinking too much of the stuff. I stuck to the fresh fruit smoothies for my daily sketchy ice intake.
There are rows of baguette sandwich sellers from early morning to night on the main street. I tried one of their Lao style sandwiches and was rather disappointed. It was just a mediocre sandwich with pate as the meat. Then in my rush this morning I found a woman selling a more likeable Lao style sandwich. Full of fatty pork, pate and sliced scrambled egg all topped off with a spicy paste. The sandwich was at once chewy, spicy, full of flavor and all shoved into a soft, chewy roll. Skip the tourist beat and find this lady around the corner in the mornings.
The biggest surprise food for me were the random omelet makers. They come full of vegetables, usually lettuces of some sort, bean sprout, and with a fish and chile based dipping sauce. I was rather pleased with how filling and tasty these were. They’re usually found cheaply at the really small restaurants where you see a woman with a giant basket of eggs. The best part was watching the women break eggs by poking their finger through the bottom and letting the egg run out. They really do cook differently here and I enjoy watching it.