3.271 Larb Gai

Cycle 3 – Item 271

2 (Tue) September 2012

Larb Gai


Majestic View Restaurant & Bar

(Sengtawan Riverside Hotel)

-Vientianne, Lao PDR-


Research Trip to Cambodia + Lao PDR: Day 5 of 6

In Vientiane.  Following a series of meetings in Cambodia with the Ministry of Health and the National Assembly, part of a long-term project sponsored by WHO to assess health legislation in countries across the Western Pacific Region, we’re in Lao PDR just for today to meet with the WHO Country Office about rolling out the project here.  Heading back to Korea tomorrow.

On the riverbank of the Mekong River, just across from Thailand.

We’re staying at the Sengtawan Riverside Hotel.


Korean Restaurant is, well, a Korean restaurant.  Even in Korean, it’s called “Hanguk Sikdang (Korean Restaurant).”

My personal Prime Directive when traveling overseas is to eat local cuisine as much as possible.  For obvious reasons.  Especially when I’m in a country for the first time.  Even more so when I have limited time on the ground.

A corollary to the Prime Directive is to avoid Korean food as much as possible.  That can be quite difficult when traveling with Koreans, who often insist on eating Korean food while overseas.  They also carry around tubes of gochujang, which are provided free on Korean Air, in case they can’t have Korean food, so they use the condiment to Koreanize whatever local food they’re forced to eat.

Just one day in town, a few precious opportunities to explore Laotian cuisine, Professor KSY insisted that we find a Korean restaurant for lunch.

Banchan (3.0): legit.

As I had mentioned in the post on Day 3, KSY is very peculiar/particular about food while traveling.  Here’s another story: in 2007, I accompanied KSY and her research assistant on a week-long fact-finding mission to Boston.  For the first 4 days, KSY refused to eat at a restaurant, and prohibited the assistant as well, claiming that eating in restaurants would make the trip seem like a holiday.  Instead, they only ate instant foods from a convenience store near their hotel.  I was staying separately with my best friend HSK, who was living in Boston at the time – in any case, she’s not my boss, so I could eat whatever.  Come to think of it, she shouldn’t be able to tell anyone what not to eat, but Koreans do that kind of thing.  On the 5th day, she finally relented and agreed to join us, along with the assistant, for Sunday brunch at a dim sum restaurant.  Incidentally, as we were getting seated, I got a phone call from MIL that W was going into labor (3.5 weeks premature).  I flew back the next day, arriving 2 days after DJ had been born.

Doenjang Jjigae (3.0): legit.

Back to the present, I could sense that the trip had brought her to the point of implosion, and I know that Korean food calms her down, and I wanted to end the journey on a positive note, so I quietly went along, though I didn’t really eat much, saving room for dinner.

Haemul Pa Jeon (3.0): legit.

The food was okay.   Way better than the food at the North Korean restaurant in Phnom Penh.

And so, Laos becomes the 7th country and Vientiane becomes the 18th city outside of Korea where I’ve had Korean food.


Pha That Luang
The reclining Buddha in the temple adjacent to Pha That Luang.


The WHO country office, housed in a French colonial mansion built during the 19th century.


Larb is a Lao dish.  It’s a salad consisting of minced meat – beef, pork, chicken (gai), fish – mixed with chilies and greens and spices and herbs, tossed in a tart dressing consisting of fish sauce and lime juice.  The national dish.

The restaurant is located on the top floor of the hotel, with balcony seating overlooking the Mekong River.

Research on the local cuisine – the opening paragraph of the food section in a travel guide at the airport bookstore a couple hours prior to arrival – indicated that larb is a must-try dish.  

The national beer is Beerlao, a light yet hoppy lager, similar to Cambodia’s Angkor and Thailand’s Singha, but with slightly less depth of flavor.

Alas, I didn’t like it.  Although I could appreciate the general concept of the dish, I was unable to handle the overwhelming heat from the chilies and the overpowering licorice flavor from the spices/herbs (anise seeds?).  Maybe I’ll eventually acquire the taste on a future trip.

Morning Glory (3.5): can’t get enough of this – too bad it’s not available in Korea.


The Jura – “Superstition” 10-year, acquired from the duty free store at Phnom Penh airport – finally, I’ve discovered a Scotch single malt that I don’t like.
Luang Prabang Sausage (2.5): takeout from the restaurant, a pretty good late-nite snack.




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