The Mekong countries serve up some of the world’s best food, often in settings far removed from the usual high-end restaurant scene. Instead of sit-down restaurants, look for the region’s finest cuisine at a street stall or night market. The outdoor, anything-goes spirit of street food is part of the charm: you know it’s good when a) locals are queuing up alongside you for a meal; and b) you forget the streetside setting and focus on the food.
Here are three street-food settings where the food always comes first!
Roast Lao food at Luang Prabang Night Market
In a narrow alley just off the Luang Prabang Night Market entrance, you’ll find a series of street food stalls selling all sorts of Lao cuisine. You can order cooked food a la carte, or sit down to a buffet-style meal, all in a crowded alleyway table set-up where tourists can barely squeeze in between to the stall of their choice.
What’s on the menu? Everything – ping kai (roast chicken) and ping pa (roast river fish) cooked to order; papaya salad (tam mak houng), served from two different vegetarian stalls; and fruit shakes in dragonfruit, mango, and lime flavors.
You can find the Luang Prabang Night Market at Sisavangvong Road, in a central location starting at the junction of Kingkitsalat Road and ending right after the National Museum. The Night Market takes place every night, starting at 4pm and ending at 10pm.
Lort Cha at Central Market, Phnom Penh, Cambodia
Lort refers to the fat rice noodles making up the bulk of the dish; the lort is stir-fried with bean sprouts, chives, Chinese broccoli and beef – it’s finished off with a thick red sauce and a fried egg before serving. Hearty, spicy-sweet and chewy, lort cha is an iconic taste of Phnom Penh – and where better to try this than in an iconic Phnom Penh building like Phsar Thmei?
Suan ye (sour pickled fruit) at Nanning Night Market
Zhongshan Road is Nanning’s central area for street food – ranging from the conventional to the highly quirky. From 6:30pm onwards, stalls set up alongside the established restaurants on this street, selling dishes like skewered baby octopus, strong-smelling noodles called luosifen, and the pickled sour fruit snack called suan ye.
The last item is an iconic Nanning dish: traditional fruits in suan ye include mango, guava, lotus roots, pineapple, and peach; more savory versions might throw in carrots, broccoli and cabbage. Once selected, customers often add seasonings like brown sugar, plum powder, spicy salt, licorice, or cilantro.
In Guangxi’s semi-tropical climate, sour foods like suan ye offer a bit of relief from the heat: a refreshing break that makes the warm summer evenings in Nanning more tolerable, even enjoyable.