Dining in Style: A Gourmand’s List of Luang Prabang
Requested by Lao Airways
Photos by Chanodom Vimuktananda
The phrase “La joie de vivre” beat its drum into my head repeatedly on this last trip to Laos and UNESCO’s World Heritage site, Luang Prabang. Literally translated to “the joy of life”, I heard this for the first time back in 2010 from a Laotian business owner of the restaurant Arisai in LP—where during the restaurant’s break he would sit in front of his restaurant enjoying his cigarettes, watching the world go by. He told me that “money is not the answer in life, but rather good food and a glass of wine is the needed prescription of la joie de vivre”. Though I missed this gentleman on my recent sponsored trip by Lao Airlines (his restaurant has been closed since), but his words were echoing in my mind, along with my heart. Therefore, I have chosen to focus my trip to the good foods found in Luang Prabang, for my joy of life.
Like many cities, the food of Luang Prabang has a unique and different taste than the rest of the country, which is not as spicy as other regions in Laos. Authentic Luang Prabang is rather mild except for Tam Buk Hung or papaya and other salads, which are all rather too spicy for Westerners. Fortunately, I had a Thai friend whom owns a royal villa in town, Viceroy Club that was offered me a list of gourmet options as well great talks about the basics of what to expect from Luang Prabange fare. Not wasting any time, after checking in to Muang Thong Hotel, I was out and about immediately and good thing too: it took me four glourious days to nearly complete the delicious list. Let’s see what I got myself into.
525 Luang Phrabang
Or as I prefer… Alice in Boozy Land
It wasn’t my immediate plan to start drinking this early in the list endeavor, but trust me—this bar is sooooooo irresistible. Andrew J. Syke, having worked in the hospitality business for most of career, decided to pick up his life and move from jolly ‘ole England to the beautiful town of Luang Prabang, the city he fell in love with and the new home of his dream bar. 525 was chosen specifically for its importance to happy hours around the globe: 5 minutes to 5 (pm), in other words “it’s time to drink” after a long day’s work. Hipster, stylish, hip-chic…and everything else nice you could name this cozy bar, manages to still offer and extensive range of premium spirits, liquors and cocktails from all over the world! But, before getting your drink-on, do not forget about the food. Tapas. You will be getting the tapas here, because believe me, this place beckons its patrons to enjoy her bread and butter while sharing with good friends making good times, joy.
525 Luang Phrabang: Kingkitsarath Rd. Tel. +856 71 212 424
Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/525luangprabang
Open daily: 5.00 pm-11.30 pm.
Home away from Home
Nanta, a half Swiss Thai self-proclaimed party person that was known for always hosting people back in her home town in Switzerland has taken her hospitality ideas to her new Luang Prabang restaurant under the “hosting at home concept”, which she has now been doing for strangers for 6 months already!
Novelty Café has been quickly recognized and well known for its freshly brewed coffee with a distinctive delicious taste: not at all sour, slightly bitter, and evokes a chocolatey aftertaste. Yum! The signature breakfast dish is the hashbrown egg nest, along with the egg frittata, and served to order with deli cold cuts and freshly baked baguettes. Another hot item to enjoy is the brownies, which only a single bite is needed to completely make your day!
Novelty Café is the ideal place for those that have been travelling way too long and need a holiday from your holiday! All you need is a homey atmosphere, good vibes, and comfort food—especially when you find yourself suffering from a deadly hangover. The book exchange is also bonus points every time in my book!
Novelty Café : 126 Sisavangvong Rd. Tel. +856 20 55 195 023
Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/NoveltyCafeLaos
Open daily: 9.00 am-10.30 pm.
Manda de Laos
The Taste of Mother of Food
The “mother” of Lao food can be found at Manda de Lao (Manda means mother in Lao), which features Laotian family cuisine followed directly from the original recipes from Toon’s family, a partner of this restaurant that also owns Maison de a Bois Hotel. I didn’t have to travel all over Laos to taste the food of each and every region, simply because they are all brought to you by Mother: the signature of the North, South, East and West are dished out with the modern look. I was mesmerized at the start by the two sets of menus I chose, which apparently are pretty and tasty!
Starting with the amuse bouche, Mieng Lao, and betel nut leaves wraps with steamed sticky rice mixed, aromatic and refreshing: which is a very good start for boosting your appetite. Also noted are the appetizer sampler dishes of Lao signature plates: Koi, minced Mekong salad, banana flower salad, Luang Prabang sausage and mustn’t forget the eggplant dipping sauce! The main dish that melted in my mouth was the very juicy Buffalo steak—which should not be missed!
Another Luang Prabang specialty is Aoh Lam, a Lao style vegetable stew, which is not too spicy for Westerners. And to finish of the wonderful meal was the highlighted coconut crème brulee and choux crème filled with vanilla ice cream and a delicious chocolate sauce! Ooh… After a long and luxurious meal, I believed a cocktail or two was in order to sit back and contemplate the beautiful UNESCO pound . I was surprised with how quickly the time had flown.
Manda de Lao : Unit 1 Ban That Luang, 10 Norrassan Rd. +856 71 253 923
Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/mandadelaos
Open daily: 12.00-3.00pm, 6.00pm-11.00pm
Secret place…Amazing Food
Finding a good thin crust pizza is not the easiest task in SEA. Normally the American cheese pie version seems to be the most popular, but not here in Luang Prabang, where the Italian chefs obviously don’t play with their food lightly. I was told that there was a wood fired oven pizza joint that opens only twice a week and is located a bit out of the city. With pizza on the brain, I quickly hopped on a pok-pok (Laos taxi), which cost around 100,000 kip roundtrip, which is definitely recommended because there is no other transportation out there.
The original ideas and plans of this restaurant came from the humble task of “cooking for friends” which eventually spread—you’ll understand when you try a slice. Lee Xiong, the owner, decided to open a restaurant once a week, but there still was not enough space for as many people that were trying to get a slice!
She recently opened the hours of operation to Tuesday and Friday, luckily for us pizza lovers. She prepares everything in the morning with Andrea Cassinis, her Italian husband and then they open for service in the evenings. Apart from 23 different pizza toppings, pastas, lasagna and other delectable home-mades, Secret Pizza also provides a salad buffet for free! SCORE!
Secret Pizza : Ban Nasamphanh 3 +856 20 56 528 881
Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/pizzasecret
Open Tue & Fri: 6.00pm- 9.30pm
Italian Fine Dining in Luang Prabang
I met my friend Viengkaeo, a Laos business man, the owner of Pack Luck wine bar back in 2010 that was ever so passionate on the topic of fine food and equally paired wines. This year, he finally opened his new Italian restaurant devoted to his love for fine Italian food.
As you enter the restaurant, not only does the fresh aroma of fine pizzettes come wafting from the kitchen, but the wait staff also comes rushing, making you feel like VIP! I was welcomed with a nice parma on a melon bed with a cheese side, refreshing goat cheese salad, four cheese pizza, followed by pasta in tomato sauce with fresh river prawns.
Before my stomach had the chance to fully burst, the 5 star dishes of the night had been excellently served. An special of the evening was the “Fish Steak”—braised Mekong fish on top a bed of mashed potatoes. Superb food, premium service, this place literally had it all—even delivery service to boot!! Complete cloud nine!
La Rosa : 40 Khoun Xoua Road +856 71 253 937
Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/La-Rosa-Italian-Restaurant-Luang-Prabang-Laos
Open Tue & Fri: 11.00am- 10.00pm
Blue Lagoon Café (New Venue)
The Never Ending Story of Creative Food
The Blue Lagoon should absolutely be at the top of any “must visit” or “must visit and try everything on the menu” list of great foods in most of Luang Prabang dining guides . The recent move was an easy two block change of scenery, still a great location, though the new spot is almost hidden away—for the better, I think. Once you step in you will find it rather spacious, yet still cozy with suitable décor and perfect ambient lighting.
Apart from the delicious menu, Chef Somsak continues to work hard to create new and savory dishes that satisfy all clientele. During this visit, he divulged his newest promotion of insects as “food of the world” and is furthermore educating guests on this crunchy faire. He explains how insects are particularly high in protein, cleaner than you you’d expect and very easily digestible—and being Thai, I couldn’t have agreed more! The insect dish I received was the Insect Salad—a light mixture of fresh tomato ants, caviar topped with gold leaf making this the most elegant insect dish that I have ever experience to date.
Insects aside, the next dish treated to me was a fancy Lao Fusion dish; loaded with a great combination of tastes this minced pork delicately wrapped in betel nut leaves was deep fried and topped with lemongrass sauce served with fried rice. Another list that aims for the top pick is the beef roll stuffed with ham and figs in a thick fruity gravy sauce—complete satisfaction guaranteed. Booking in advance during long holidays and festivals is highly recommended.
Blue Lagoon Café : Ban Choumkhong Luang Prabang +856- (0)21 255 283
Open: Sat 6.00 pm – midnight