Who would have thought that the minuscule seat of a vanished kingdom, sandwiched between rolling mountains in the interior of one of Asia’s poorest and most remote lands, would become a leading mecca for foodies? Or that outdoor cafés along the upper Mekong River would serve up some of the world’s most thrilling salads, made of watercress and other greens grown in garden plots that reach right up to the embankments? The cool climate makes this the only place in Asia where dishes are informed by dill — also chips of smoked wood to flavor amazing stews. On every side street, there are racks of sunbaked tortilla-like rounds of cassava cakes flecked with coconut, and astounding seaweed snacks topped with sesame and, yes, sun-dried tomatoes. For the more omnivorous, there’s wild boar, even bats — and many variants of Lao laap, spicy ground salads of pork or fish, best sopped up by balls of sticky rice. Carrying on Laos’ royal legacy, local chefs can still whip up delicate court specialties like stuffed stalks of lemongrass.
Les 3 Nagas — An upscale hotel restaurant that dresses up the laap and the Mekong catfish to very good effect, tel: (856-71) 253 888.
Park Houay Mixay — A longtime mainstay of the tourist trade, but still one of the best places to sample the full range of Lao dishes, tel: (856-71) 212 260.