Luang Prabang is a city that prides itself on its food. Some dishes are unique to the royal city, and others are simply done better here than elsewhere – all of which conspires to make this the town in which to dig into Lao food with a sense of mission, despite the wide availability of international cuisine. At the top of your list should be or lam, a bittersweet meat soup made with chilli wood, lemongrass, aubergine and dill. Another local speciality, jaew bong, a condiment of red chillies, shallots, garlic and dried buffalo skin, is an excellent accompaniment for khai paen, a highly nutritious river moss that’s first sundried with sesame seeds, garlic and chilli, then fried in oil.
Phak nam, a type of watercress particular to the area, is a common sight in Luang Prabang’s markets, and is widely used in salads. The most common style appears on menus either as “watercress salad” or “Luang Prabang salad” and is in fact quite similar to a Western salad – a light alternative to the meat salads more commonly served in Lao restaurants. Locals even add a twist to the Lao staple, tam màk hung (papaya salad): the distinctive Luang Prabang flavour of this dish comes from the addition of crab juice.