By the time we did our cooking class in Laos we were fully committed to the challenge of completing a lesson in every country on the rest of our trip. The difficulty here was that we were on a very tight schedule and struggled to find the selection of cooking classes that tend to be on offer in other destinations. They were also very expensive with most advertised at 40-50USD and upwards per person which would have been a bit of a stretch with our backpacker budget.
Our original plan had been to find one in Luang Prabang which I think would have been our best option and had the biggest range of classes to choose from. However with only 2 nights there and a long list of things to see we didn’t quite manage to fit one in. next up was 3 days in Vang Vieng and whilst we enjoyed some amazing food here and even spent an afternoon at an organic farm tasting some of the local produce, we couldn’t find any cooking classes. This left us with the capital Vientiane and a hasty rush to find a class that had spaces for the following day – almost the final day of our 10 days in Laos. After a rather fraught search we booked our cooking class in Laos through Backstreet Academy which was actually a lesson where you’re taught to cook in a local family home which was very different to our previous classes. It was also cheaper at 25USD each plus the online booking fee.
We were quite excited for this one as not only was it a less commercial environments we’d discovered that Laos food is delicious and had enjoyed many dishes along our journey to Vientiane. Laos cuisine is different from that of its South East Asian neighbours, with French influences in many dishes and meats like beef and sausage more widely used. The most famous dish is ‘Laap’ which is a kind of salad made using minced chicken, pork or beef that’s mixed with lemongrass, mint, coriander, chilli and various other herbs. It’s packed with flavour but not too spicy and often eaten with sticky rice which is a daily staple in Laos. We had chosen our preferred dishes when booking our cooking lesson and opted for chicken Laap, bamboo shoot soup and a selection of sauces which are traditionally eaten alongside sticky rice.
This class didn’t include any shopping or Market visits so we headed straight for the house of the family we would be cooking with. They were amazingly friendly and welcomed us into their home, introducing us to family and friends who were also around for the day, and got us set up with our aprons and cooking stations. We were based outside on the patio using a typical stone stove and an open grill.
The cooking class in Laos was one of our favourites due to it being a completely immersive experience. It was just us and our teacher and her assistant, and between us we all mucked in to do everything from grilling meats and garlic, chopping veggies, squeezing the colour from bamboo leaves and grinding herbs and spices to make our sauces. Whilst this made it a little harder to completely track what went into each dish, we were assured that they would happily send us any recipes we needed. It definitely felt very hands on and we had the opportunity to try out plenty of different cooking techniques even though we weren’t just preparing one dish each like you do in a typical cooking lesson.
Once we’d cooked we all sat down to eat with the family which was really interesting. It added a whole new level to the experience learning about how they live, work and of course, cook. The couple have a 2 year old daughter and are saving hard for her to go to university in the future, hopefully in Europe as they believe she would get an excellent education and have a great future if she can achieve this. It was surreal to sit and chat, enjoying our meal whilst this little girl was watching videos on YouTube to help her learn her letters and numbers in English – technology is amazing!
So overall our cooking class in Laos was incredible and we’d definitely recommend taking the opportunity to cook as part of an ‘in home’ experience rather than a standard cooking school if you get the chance. It’s less organised and structured but the dishes tasted so different to how we’d enjoyed them in restaurants and were clearly more reflective of how they are enjoyed on a daily basis by families in Laos. The chance to see a little glimpse into family life was also fascinating and something I’m really happy we were able to do.
Laos Chicken Laap Recipe
Ingredients (serves 2)
200g Chicken Meat
175g Sticky Rice (recipe)
2 Banana Flowers
1 Handful Chopped Mint, Spring onion, and Coriander
1 tsp Fish Sauce
4 Small Chillies, Chopped
Grill the chicken meat until it’s cooked through and chop the chicken into small pieces.
Cut the banana flowers into small pieces
Stir the chicken meat in with the banana flowers until it’s mixed well
Add salt and pepper together with the fish sauce and continue to stir until combined
Serve mixed with sticky rice