Lao desserts are delectable and filling, mainly made with sticky rice in combination with coconut cream or ripe bananas. You would also find them made with exotic fruits, perfect for summertime. In some desserts, the addition of agar jelly that comes in different colors makes these sweet treats look attractive. They are easy to find at roadside stalls and sold by Lao street vendors.
As the Lao people come from the present-day Chinese regions, a lot of the nation’s influence can be seen in these tasty treats. Also, with their migration to Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam, you can find similar desserts in these neighboring countries as well.
A refreshing summer delight, nam van or nam wan is a traditional dessert whose name translates into sweet water. While coconut milk is the key ingredient, it is essentially served with crushed ice. Another ingredient, agar jelly, adds colors like green, pink, white, or black to the dessert and gives it different shapes and sizes by slowly boiling it.
It’s common to find nam van sold by street vendors all across Laos and is often served on special occasions in various flavors, including sweet potato, tapioca root, banana, and taro. Depending on one’s preference, toppings of palm sugar syrup, sweet corn, fruits, or tapioca balls are added to make it tastier.
A popular Laos and Thai dessert, khao niaow ma muang, refers to sticky rice with mango. It consists of coconut-based glutinous rice and ripe mango toppings, an ideal combination to round off your meals. In addition to a drizzle of sweetened coconut milk, roadside vendors often sprinkle roasted sesame seeds and yellow mung beans for some crunchiness. A scrumptious dessert, khao niaow ma muang, can be eaten with a fork and spoon and sometimes using your hands.
Khao lam, or sticky rice in bamboo, is a must-have dessert for special occasions in Laos. Its preparation includes blending glutinous white or purple rice with coconut milk, red beans, sugar, and diced sweet potato or taro. The mixture is then stuffed inside bamboo tubes of various sizes and roasted until the rice is well-cooked and attains a sticky texture. Found mainly at street stalls, the dessert is often served hot after removing the hard bamboo shell in front of you. Though, it’s not uncommon to find vendors selling it by removing the outer cover beforehand.
This traditional sweet corn dessert is tasty and satisfying. It is a sweet pudding with sliced corn, coconut milk, and sugar. The combination of creamy and slightly aromatic coconut milk and fresh corns cut from the cob make it an irresistible treat. You will also find a similar dessert in Vietnam that goes by the name of che bap and includes pandan flavors and tapioca seeds.
An authentic Laotian dessert, khao tom is a steamed sweet preparation in small banana parcels. The insides include a coconut-based sticky rice layer topped with taro, ripe banana, or black beans. Ideal for quickly filling your hungry stomach, khao tom is a sought-after snack at street stalls. You must peel the banana wrapper before consuming the sweet, moist, and chewy interior. You would also find the tasty treat served at Buddhist temples during religious ceremonies or at Laotian households during special occasions like New Year.
Kanom Sam is a layered jelly delight. It’s made with a combination of rice flour and agar, a gelatinous substance produced from seaweed. While the rice flour makes it sticky, the different-colored agar is pleasing to the eye and gives it a firm but jelly-like texture. The addition of coconut milk makes it sweet and smooth. It’s easy to find kanom san sold in Laos markets and by street vendors.
A staple of Luang Prabang, key meo are deep-fried cookies made with rice flour, coconut milk, and sugar. Its name means ‘cat poo’ as its elongated shape resembles it. However, the gross name does not stop one from tasting the mouthwatering sweet delight. They are crispy yet chewy and made sweeter by drizzling a generous amount of molasses and grated coconut before serving. Visitors often carry these tasty treats as souvenirs to share with friends and family back at home.
Jeun kuay is a crispy fried banana dessert. Its preparation includes slicing ripe bananas and coating them in a batter made with rice or tapioca flour, eggs, sugar, and salt. Sometimes sesame seeds are also added to make it extra crispy. The banana pieces are deep-fried until they attain a golden brown color. A budget-friendly snack delight sold by street vendors, jeun kuay is sprinkled with more sesame seeds before they’re served. If eaten while it’s still hot, you will be able to enjoy the crispy outside and chewy inside.
Lao vun is a delectable jelly dessert having two layers. While the base contains a smooth coconut jelly layer, the top is made with creamy egg custard. The addition of pandan essence gives it a delicate grassy aroma. Often served in ready-to-eat cups by street vendors, lao vun can be enjoyed as a wholesome dessert by pairing it with sliced fresh fruits, ice cream, or coconut cream.
Khao nom kok is a semi-spherical coconut dessert. It’s prepared from a batter of rice flour, tapioca starch, coconut milk, sugar, salt, and oil. Though traditionally, khao nom kok had a savory topping of spring onions, you will now find it topped with sweet corn kernels or diced taro. Served in small bowls made from banana leaves, khao nom kok is delicious with a slightly crunchy exterior and soft, creamy inside that instantly melts in the mouth.
A traditional coconut milk pudding, kanom tuay is made with a combination of rice flour and tapioca starch. Adding the extract of pandan, a tropical plant gives it a sweet taste with a slightly grassy aroma and a tinted green appearance. A well-loved dessert by the people of Laos and Thailand, kanom tuay is traditionally served in small bowls after filling with yellow soybeans and garnishing with grated coconut.
A yummy Laos dessert, tom nam mak pao, has purple sticky rice called khao gum as its main ingredient. It’s cooked in sweetened coconut milk and topped with shredded coconut before serving warm in banana leaf. Besides enjoying it at the end of the meal, locals also have it as a breakfast dish.
A sweet banana treat, kuay ping is an easy find at roadside stalls and are pretty affordable. It consists of small-sized ripe bananas grilled over charcoal. Often, sweet potatoes and corn-on-the-cob are also grilled at the same charcoal stand. For extra sweetness, caramel syrup is drizzled over the roasted bananas. The delicious bite-sized delights can be quickly consumed in a few portions, and will want you to have more.
A mouthwatering street-side snack, hang peung refers to grilled honeycombs with bee larvae. Hot charcoals are used for roasting the banana-leaf parceled wild honeycombs making warm honey ooze out of the holes. The fresh honeycomb with whitish larvae is soft yet chewy, having a blend of sweet and savory taste with nutty and waxy undertones.
A favorite summer drink in Laos, nam pan is Laos-style fruit shakes made from various tropical fruits. Some of these are mango, pineapple, watermelon, pomegranate, dragon fruit, and passionfruit. In Laos, the word ‘nam’ means ‘water’, while ‘pan’ translates into ‘drink.’ Sold at street-side stalls, nam pan is made fresh with one or more fruits as per your choice. Also, you can customize it by adding sugar syrup, coconut milk, condensed milk, or just ice.
Sang kaya mak eu is a sweet custard dessert. It contains a combination of sweetened coconut milk and duck eggs cooked inside a hollowed-out pumpkin for more than an hour. Once done, thick wedges of the pumpkin covered with creamy custard are served. Besides being visually appealing, the orange dessert is also delectable to eat.
Khanom man tone or khanom muntone is a classic sweet and chewy steamed cake. The ingredients in its preparation include coconut milk, sugar, and grated cassava called man tone in Laos. Garnished with freshly shredded coconut, kanom man tone is sweet and slightly nutty, enjoyed at room temperature.
Best Desserts for Special Occasions: Nam Van, Khao Lam, Khao Tom
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