Vegetarian and vegan meals go back much further than the typical Western fare of tofu-pups and veggie burgers. Those that have never enjoyed Lao food before are in for a real treat. Laos is a Southeast Asian country bordered by Vietnam, China, Cambodia, Burma and Thailand.
Freshly prepared Lao food is meant to engage the taste buds, springing them to life. Similar to its neighboring countries, Thailand and Vietnam, Lao cuisine tends to be light and healthy as the ingredients always include an abundance of fresh veggies and herbs. However, their curries tends to be lighter than those of Thai curries, making them a welcome treat for health-conscious vegetarians and vegans.
Ingredients such as chili, dill, tamarind, ginger, mint, garlic, spring onions, sweet basil, lemongrass and a variety of spicy or bitter greens are part of virtually every meal – many of which are said to have preventative and curative properties.
Fresh veggies and local herbs used in Lao dishes vary depending on the time of the year. However, one thing stays the same: the ever-present “glutinous” rice known as “sticky rice”. Of course, the more familiar long grain rice is also available, but the Laotian’s affinity for a bamboo basket of sticky rice always takes the cake!
Although Laos is a predominately Buddhist country, the concept of vegetarian and/or vegan is quite new. In Lao Buddhist traditions, monks are not forbidden to eat meat; it is only forbidden for monks to kill the animal. Most Laotians are non-vegetarians, and the vast majority of their food contains some sort of meat (or meat-based ingredients, or meat by-products). Veggie stir-fries, soups and even salads (yes, salads!) are most likely non-vegetarian. But with a few tweaks and changes using traditional ingredients, Lao cuisine easily translates into a vegetarian or vegan delicacy.
There are some things to be cautious of for those travelling in Laos. Sure, there are no obvious chunks of meat in common Lao dishes (though a detailed second look may prove otherwise!); the dish may appear to be vegan, or be noted as vegetarian.
But, on many more occasions than not, a typical Lao dish will contain at least one of the following ingredients: fish or oyster sauce, chicken/pork/beef broth, shrimp or fermented fish paste, animal-based seasoning powder, etc. Vegetarian or vegan travelers may need to seek the consult of a guide to navigate the murky waters of Lao fare!
Many an independent traveler, as well as a few prominent travel writers, who thought they were eating pure vegetarian food were, unbeknownst to them, in fact eating some or all of the ingredients mentioned above when they ordered a “vegetarian” or “vegan” meal.
Once you have managed to discover the delectable flavors of Lao food (the animal-free version of Lao food that is!), it will definitely not disappoint, leaving you wanting to learn Lao secrets so you can make it back home.
You can make some easy adjustments in your own kitchen, without the hidden agendas. For example, here’s a vegan version of Lao Stuffed Lemongrass, adapted from Vegetarian Recipes and Cooking:
Recipe for Lao Stuffed Lemongrass
Prep Time: 35 minutes; Cooking Time: 10 minutes; Servings: 4-6
- 8 oz. extra firm tofu, drained and cubed
- 1 tsp. soy sauce or Bragg’s Liquid Aminos
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- 6 green onions, chopped
- 1/2 cup cilantro, chopped
- 1/4 tsp of lime zest
- 1/8 tsp of fresh lemon thyme
- 1 tsp. sea salt
- 10-12 thick stalks lemongrass
- 1/2 cup egg replacer, such as Ener-G Egg Replacer (equals roughly 2 eggs)
- your favorite kind of non-GMO oil, for deep frying
- After cubing and draining tofu, place in a pan with 1 tsp. soy sauce until brown and let cool.
- Crumble tofu and place into food processor with the garlic, green onion, cilantro, lime zest, lemon thyme and salt.
- Blend until all ingredients are incorporated.
- Starting about 1/2″ (1cm) from the base, make a 2″ (5cm) slice that goes all the way through the lemongrass, up the stalk, not vertically.
- Rotate the lemongrass 1/4 turn and repeat.
- Fill your lemongrass “shell” with 2-3 spoonfuls of the tofu mixture, and close the “shell.”
- Coat each piece of stuffed lemongrass in your egg replacer, following the directions on the egg replacer packaging to make the egg, which usually just involves adding water.
- Deep fry in a wok or deep pot until browned.
Image Credit: Lemongrass photo via Shutterstock
Founded by long time vegetarians and avid travelers with almost twenty years experience living, working and organizing trips within Asia, VegVoyages aims to provide you with exciting and unique “off-the-beaten-track” vegan and vegetarian adventures. An adventure with VegVoyages is not your typical holiday or package tour, and we don’t hand your trip off to agents. Instead, we oversee every one of our adventures personally to ensure that you get the best adventure possible…and vegetarians and vegans are no longer the odd ones out!