Khao soi is a popular dish in Laos and northern Thailand (Flickr: Alpha)
List Words : Food & Drink | 07 February

Where to eat in Luang Prabang

Nick Pulley, founder of your Top Tour Operator 2013 Selective Asia, reveals where to stop for a bite to eat in this tasty Laotian city

Recommending excellent places to eat in Luang Prabang can be awkward. There’s a lot of choice, but that’s not the problem – it’s just that some of the tastiest places don’t actually have names. Referrals, therefore, tend to involve on-the-ground directions, visual clues, crosses on maps... possibly some arm waving... and ideally some interaction with the locals, who often refer to favourite eateries only by the proprietor’s name.

That’s perfect for me, because I like to just land in a place unprepared, and discover it physically, with as much interaction and sensory input as I can stuff into a trip. There’s nothing like following your nose in an unfamiliar place, especially when a “wrong” turn can sometimes lead to fantastic discoveries. That said, it always helps to have a few  recommendations tucked in your back pocket, especially when you’re keen to get off the tourist trail and eat like a local.

1. Mrs Chanh’s Khao Soi restaurant

Location: opposite Wat Sene

Khao Soi, popular across Northern Laos and Thailand, is a soup made with flat rice noodles, not dissimilar in look from tagliatelle and often still handmade by cutting up a flat sheet of steamed rice dough with scissors. Depending on the dish, your noodles may come fried or slippery, and served in a variety of sauces.

Mrs Chanh is an expert and very popular with the locals. In my opinion, this is the best place in the city to try this local speciality. Wat Sene is by the river, off Sakkaline Road.

2. Stalls at the night market

Location: Sisavangvong Road

Open from 17.00 til 22.00, the night market is on the tourist map but there are tasty authentic treats to be sniffed out here, nonetheless. It’s a good place to buy local handicrafts, often direct from whoever made them, while you’re choosing dinner from among its numerous food stalls.

Knick-knacks aside, the food here is popular with locals and visitors, with all sorts on offer, from buffalo sausages and grilled  river fish to Hmong vegetarian specialties, and French-influenced bakery. There’s an unbeatable buffet, as well as the usual grilled  chicken, sticky rice and papaya salad.

3. No name restaurant, but popular with locals

Location: Sin Dat on Khem Khong Road

Asia’s cheeseless answer to fondue, sin dat is a do-it-yourself barbecue, cooked on a grill over a bucket of hot charcoal that sits in the middle of your table. You’ll receive a plate of sliced meat, chicken or fish, many and varied veg, a pile of rice noodles, some eggs, a pot of broth, and a selection of local condiments, any of which you can cook and combine in whatever way you please. It’s delicious, lots of fun, and satisfying, even for the less domesticated diner. The best, most authentic place to eat it is this spot on the Mekong River at the top end of Old Town, about parallel with the end of the night market.

4. “Kitchen by the Mekong”

Location: inside the Xiengthong Palace

Yes, it has a name, and is located inside a boutique hotel. But this historic building was the final residence of the Lao Royal Family, before they were overthrown in 1975, and its recently opened restaurant is a good choice for both ambience and eating. You’ll eat on a terrace overlooking the Mekong or inside the elegant but friendly dining room – the chef here is very good and serves a selective but representative choice of dishes from across the country, as well as a few select Issan Thai gems so often enjoyed by Laotians.

5. The small street food breakfast market

Location: on the junction of Kitsalat Road and Khem Khong Road

You'll find this gem on the riverfront, near the cross-river ferry. From the crack of dawn this place serves up French baguettes, soup broths, and the most incredible Laotian coffee, all on dusty tables that look like they’ve not seen a damp cloth in a decade. Sit on your plastic stool, rubbing shoulders with the locals while they read the paper, chat about the day ahead, and wonder at you popping Dairylea triangles into your baguette or choking on your first unexpected chilli of the day.

Nick Pulley is Managing Director of Selective Asia. His passion for travel has taken him from the deserts of Namibia to the frozen tundra of the Canadian Arctic, but his heart has always remained firmly in Asia.