Fear Factor Foods in Laos

Last Updated on August 22, 2011 by Christine Kaaloa

fear meMe with a spoonful of deep-fried grasshoppers!

As an American, I’ve lived most of my life in a shiny glass bubble and I’ve always been a picky eater.

Traveling is my time to experience bold new adventures, embrace street foods and broaden the glossy sheen of my bubble. If you’ve read my my Korea’s Fear Factor Foods then you know I like to have fun with my ‘Fear Factor Foods‘ series. One of my more exciting moments in travel actually comes with discovering unique food culture shocks!

For instance, on my first day in Laos, visiting Vientiane’s night market, it occurred to me I didn’t have an iota about Laotian street food. Not one.  Ignorant American. But could you blame me… how many Laotian restaurants do you know of in the U.S.?… 

My point, exactly.

fear marketnigte

Standing between me and the growling pain in my stomach- which was becoming more audible my the second- was a thin line of food tents. I was eager to get my first sampling of Laotian food.

Okay, well not quite. To say I was ‘eager to sample the food’ is a bold-faced lie. I was curious to see Laotian food and if it seemed friendly enough, then maybe I’d consider trying it.

This was my  discovery…


Four types of Fear Factor Foods in Laos:


1.  Mystery Meats & decoding shapes

Street food in Laos can feel ambiguous at times. Just because you can’t see the animal, doesn’t mean it’s not there and not knowing what’s in a dish is just as scary… as discovering what its contents really are. Perusing the shishkabob meat vendors, I found myself attempting to decode shapes and wondering, What the hell kind of meat comes in that size and shape? Rationale might say that if meat comes cooked in a consistently odd-looking shape, then I might try to match an animal, rodent or reptile of that demeanor.

fear fish sticksThe ones behind the fish completely puzzled me.

For instance, I kept seeing this meat which was reminiscent of a rat. Surely, Laotians don’t eat rat. I dismissed the idea. Then when I was in Luang Prabang shopping at the produce market, lo and behold, I saw it… Total food culture shock.

fear ratFear Factor Foods in Laos: Whoa… Rat jerky!

fear rat2 1It’s things like this which make me glad I’m vegetarian!


2.  Deep Fried Bugs

Bugs and insects are a common snack theme around Asia so by now I don’t feel food culture shock when I see them:  Thailand, Korea, Cambodia, China and yes,… Laos. They love the bugs and it has surprisingly good protein such that even the United Nations has promoted it as a more eco-friendly diet. But one mystery that always confounds me, though: How do they catch all these bugs?

I attempted to ask this pleasant gentleman (below) how he got his grasshopper/cricket insects– i.e. bug traps, harvesting, chasing them down?  He responded by tossing one of those deep-fried thingies back in his mouth and after a crunch or two, offered me one.


fear bugs

Well, so much for growing beyond language barriers…

Salty. Tastes just like shrimp!

3. The foods that make you go… hmmm.

There’s mystery meats… and then there’s mysterious purposes!

fear husksFear Factor Foods in Laos: Animal hide jerky?

Fear bloodLet’s swish and gargle blood by the pint? Do shots? Sprinkle it on for salad dressing? Use it as sauce for our pork sashimi? (above)

Fear meat…and what’s up with that brown liquid?

• The Yum vs.  Hmmm… vs  Ewww!

90% of the time, food is all about presentation. We eat with our eyes before we let it into our mouths. Let’s face it, would you eat something that looked funky, unfamiliar and mildly unappetizing?

For instance, these were some Laotian street foods that gave me a mild case of fear factor in Laos



fear shells


chicknI dunno about the chicken…


And then BAM!

6459904 1


6466368Okay, so I’ve seen cow hoofs, horse legs and chicken feet in Vietnam. But it still ewww… give me the bugs, instead!


“Safe foods” aren’t always safe

Remember the adage- looks are deceiving. Even something which looks ‘safe’, though not presenting fear, can offer unpleasantness. When I finally mustered the courage to order, I chose the dish below. It looked veggie harmless enough, but my first bite was so  spicy, it burned just sitting in my mouth. What you see in that package is exactly how far I got eating it.


Does ‘Going local’ mean starvation? 

 Generally, if the city or town is in Lonely Planet, you’ll almost always find at least a couple of  tourist restaurants around; starvation isn’t a factor. But if you truly want to experience local foods, you’ll need to be daring, compromise your eating habits and know you may not end with a full stomach.

In Luang Prabang, I’d find Laotian street foods, such as a cheese baguette (the baguette is common there) sandwich, fruit salads with yogurt and fruit smoothies. The grilled fish on a stick tempted me many times and I’d heard from other travelers, it was delicious.

But going back to my first night in Laos- this (below photo) ended up being my dinner!


Anyone have  fear factor foods in Laos to add to this list or perhaps pleasant raves of their experiences with Laotian food culture?

Related Laos articles on GRRRLTRAVELER:
Previous Post
Getting to Nong Khiaw, the traveler’s elbow and armpit of beauty.
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13 Comments. Leave new

  • […] On the other hand, you could be a little more open-minded and eat this jerky-style skin of rodent with a dipping sauce made of its own blood. Don’t be so squeamish. Embrace our differences. It’s the same as lasagna.[6] […]

  • I am 100% positive I am never trying rat jerky! There are a few things I would eat that you photographed, I’m not too picky, but there are a lot that would turn me vegetarian, haha. You are braver than me when it comes to the bugs, I ate my one grasshopper and I am done!

  • I really don’t want to be picky when it comes to the food I eat but perhaps, I’ll just content myself with vegetables too. I don’t know. I love Laos when it comes to the attractions it has but I really just have to pass on these…………

  • Honestly, it’s a miracle you don’t starve to death on the road. I couldn’t eat any of that stuff, and I AM a carnivore.

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  • Laura in Cancun
    August 26, 2011 1:46 am

    I’ve got a hankering for some rat jerky smothered in blood sauce. YUM!

  • Oh wow – rat jerky…that’s the most disgusting thing I’ve seen since the guinea pigs hanging in Peru!

    • @Andrea: Yeah, kinda nerve jangly. Talk about trust issues with any meat on a stick after that. Did you try the guinea pig? Apparently Megan will be doing that soon.

      @Laura: Yeah, just cook me up some of that. Ha ha… and yikes.

  • I’ve eaten chicken feet but I’m not sure how the bugs would taste or if I could even swallow them! Great photos…I think I’d stick to the seaweed Pringles though!

  • Um, wow. That stuff covered in fur looks…not…great! I’m going to be trying guinea pig here in Peru sometime in the next week or so…I think that’s pretty fear factor! 😀 And I ate iguana in Honduras (and then found out it’s a protected species…grrr). No insects though, as a general rule.

    • @Megan: The iguana story makes me sad =(. As for Peru and guinea pigs, I’ll be checking for that post soon! Furry creatures and reptiles are scarier than bugs; you’d be committing to a mouthful.

      @Natasha/Glampacker: Chicken feet – I imagine- must be… crunchy? Oooh. You’re very brave. Where and how did you get through that one?