That’s exactly what he told us as we sat down next to the Mekong River, ready to eat a local Laos food feast in Luang Prabang:
“Without Trying Chili Fish Poop Dip, You Haven’t Been to Luang Prabang”
In this post I’m going to share with you the details of a restaurant that serves what was easily the best meal I had of local food in Luang Prabang.
Luang Prabang is known for being one of the most relaxing places on the planet – well that’s what I think.
If I was in charge though, I’d say it should be even better known for how its so jam-packed with delicious things to eat.
Xieng Thong Phonsavanh, a local restaurant on the Mekong riverside on the peninsula of Luang Prabang serves a meal which will bring an eater to a state of taste-based-sensory overload. It’s one of those restaurant that really is well worth a trip to Laos just to eat at this restaurant.
The Warm Up
The menu consists of a single laminated page, written in Laos, English, and Chinese. It contains only meat items aside from the delicious pressed-algae snack that is Kai Paen.
You should make sure to arrive just before 6pm. Watch the sun set over the river as you get ready to feast.
It wasn’t five minutes before the first of our dishes arrived.
The restaurant owner told us directly – “this dish goes with beer.” And we obliged.
Time in the sun evaporates any moisture from Kai Pen, and although they might look like nori seaweed for sushi rolls, these things are always deep fried. Just for a few seconds each though, as they are so paper thin, a mix of herbs included in the drying process helps give the fibrous strands body as well.
You might get a hint of galangal or tomatoes, but they all receive a heavy dose of roasted sesame seeds presenting a wonderful smoky flavor. They are best when piping hot, but watch your fingers in case the oil is still crackling!
Freshly caught Mekong River Fish
Laab Pa was next, one of the most important dishes to any evening meal in Laos, and one of the best of all Laos foods. This meat salad is spicy, sour, full of delicious bites of fish, and well-mixed with huge amounts of local Laos herbs.
The large amount of mint leaves combined with green onions, red onions, and hot red chilies always make this dish so refreshing, but also much lighter than just ordering a large piece of grilled fish.
The Laap goes so well with sticky rice, but also comes with a huge accompanying plate of yet more fresh herbs.
You take a little bundle of herbs, grab an entire fresh chili pepper, and in your other hand roll a small ball of warm sticky rice.
Dip the sticky rice into the fish salad, soak up as much of the Mekong fish as you can, and then follow it with the herb/chili chaser combo.
Chunks of Fatty Fish Belly
Next up was a huge bowl full of chunks of fish caught right from the river. This boiled fish soup is simply called Gaeng Pla, but it can include several variations to the basic fish soup recipe – up to whatever fresh catch the chef is working with that day.
It was sour, the broth so incredibly hearty, and the chunks of fish huge and meaty.
It was so good that it could have easily been the highlight of the meal were it not for the dish that followed…
Chili fish poop dip
Jaew Kee Pa.
This dish was a game-changer. Our order was already a meat-lovers selection approaching maximum flavor perfection – but this last item just made our night a royal flush.
I found myself dreaming about this dish just 24 hours later. I couldn’t help myself – its the kind of thing that you write home about, blog about, send out a memo to every food lover and quote the chef himself – “Until you’ve had this dish, you haven’t arrived in Luang Prabang.”
The name you see on the menu is “Fish Penny Sauce,” but a direct translation of this would be Fish Poop Sauce.
Don’t worry – there isn’t really any poop in it. At least I don’t think so.
What it is though, is a blend of fish eggs, sesame seeds, possibly some sesame oil, and lots and lots of dried chilies and chili oil. This mash of richness easily deserves to be the example found in the dictionary of flavors when your mouth looks up ‘umami.’
I couldn’t help but order an extra woven Kratip full of steaming sticky rice just to go with this plate.
Hunting down local food in Luang Prabang, this dish would be foremost on my hit-list. It was in a daze that we left, and I would happily visit Luang Prabang again just for another order of Jaew Kee Pa.
And All is Good in the World
When we were nearly finished, the chef returned to our table, just in time to see each one of us slowly slump into a glorious food prompted slumber.
Finishing this meal was truly like coming out of a dream.
The owner is so quiet and calm that at first he may even seem unfriendly – but that’s only until you see how he completely devotes his passion. When you start talking with him, he’s so incredibly friendly.
It is always great to receive recommendations directly from the owner himself, and in his own words – “You haven’t truly arrived [in Luang Prabang] until you’ve had this dish.”
Fish Soup (Kaeng Pa) – 40,000 LAK
Fish Meat Salad (Koy Pa) – 40,000 LAK
Fried Chicken (Jim Kai) – 50,000 LAK
Chili Fish Poop Dip (Jaew Kee Pa) – 20,000 LAK
Pressed Algae (Kai Pen) – 15,000 LAK
How to Get There
To go: Walk past Saffron Coffee, look for the blue fish sign. The restaurant is Xieng Tong Suwannawong, just past the Mekong Riverview Hotel. The Xieng Tong park next door is a great place to walk around and digest while dreaming about your most recent food success.
I hope you’re hungry to visit Laos after reading about the fish feast at XiengThong Restaurant in Luang Prabang. Check out another incredible dish we tried from Pa Kham Tan Laap Restaurant in Vientiane.