Traditional Recipes of Laos


ISBN-13 978-1-903018-95-8

Published 14 Sep 2013

320 pages; 156×232 mm; paperback; 99 b&w illustrations



Phia Sing

Traditional Recipes of Laos

•TikTok sensation @saengdoungdara has superb films of himself cooking from the book here • A foundation text for Lao cookery • Revered by Laotians around the world • Much additional matter on how to cook this sparkling cuisine • Prospect Books first published this manuscript (from notebooks compiled by the late Master of Ceremonies and Chef at the Royal Palace at Luang Prabang) in 1981. The first edition was a parallel text: Lao on the left, English translation on the right-hand page. Later editions (after 1994) were in English only. This version reestablishes the Lao text and prints the English unchanged from previous editions. The notebooks are a precious resource for those wishing to cook Lao food: the 124 recipes were compiled to give a balanced view of the cuisine (albeit from quite a high-ranking perspective). In the thirty years since its first appearance, materials and ingredients have become easier to source, and the cooking techniques and styles more familiar to us. The dishes, therefore, are very cookable. There is a long prefatory section, written by the late Alan Davidson and his daughter Jennifer, which explains much about Lao cookery, ingredients and equipment. The whole book is plentifully illustrated with drawings done from life by Soun Vannithone and other Lao artists. The introduction is 50 pages long and covers the life of Phia Sing; Lao eating habits and attitudes to food; Lao culinary terms and culinary equipment; and Lao ingredients. The recipes occupy 250 pages and there is a supplement of 10 pages with recipes for Lao desserts (which were not covered by Phia Sing’s notebooks). Phia Sing (d. 1967) was Master of Ceremonies and Chef at the Royal Palace of Luang Prabang. The late Alan Davidson was British ambassador to Laos in the 1960s and after a distinguished career in the diplomatic service, turned to writing and publishing on food and cookery. His masterpiece is The Oxford Companion to Food. He was the founder of Prospect Books.


Los Angeles Times (2019)

The Laotian fish curry fit for royalty, by Ben Mims, Cooking Columnist

It was 1974, and American bombs had only recently stopped falling here. In less than a year, Pathet Lao rebels would take over the entire country, establishing a communist dictatorship that exists to this day. Next door, and in only a matter of months, North Vietnamese forces would seize Saigon, and the Khmer Rouge would commence its repressive, genocidal rule of Cambodia.

It was a turbulent, terrifying time for many people in Southeast Asia, but British diplomat Alan Davidson and the crown prince of Laos were talking food. Specifically: fish.

Davidson, a burgeoning food writer, was interested in the edible fish of the Mekong River, and had sought the crown prince’s thoughts on the topic. Before leaving, Davidson asked for sources of fish-based recipes, and the crown prince paused, “as though searching his memory,” Davidson would later recall, and returned with two French-era notebooks.

defunct) Kingdom of Laos, a man called Phia Sing. Sensing their value, Davidson had them photocopied and translated, and in 1981, a little-known yet classic cookbook was born: “Traditional Recipes of Laos: Being the Manuscript Recipe Books of the Late Phia Sing, From the Royal Palace at Luang Prabang, Reproduced in Facsimile and Furnished With an English Translation.”

In later years, Davidson would go on to write “The Oxford Companion to Food,” one of the more influential books on the topic of food in the English-speaking world, and Phia Sing would have his literal dying wish realized: With the publication of “Traditional Recipes of Laos,” his recipes had been recorded for posterity. Today, this unlikely collaboration serves as an influence for chefs and restaurateurs in Luang Prabang, the tourist destination in northern Laos, as well as a glimpse into a lost, almost fantastical culinary world.

I first visited Luang Prabang in 1998, a century after Phia Sing was thought to have been born there. Laos had only just opened its doors to tourism, and I suspect that little had changed since Phia Sing’s time. Located on a finger of land at the confluence of the Mekong and Khan rivers and ringed by mountains, Luang Prabang was dusty, sleepy, remote (we reached the town via a two-day boat trip along the Mekong River from Thailand) and staggeringly beautiful: The town’s abundance of Buddhist temples and French-era architecture meant that, in 1995, UNESCO designated it a World Heritage site. Then as today, a walk through the town’s morning market, which unfolds outdoors along narrow alleyways, revealed items that Phia Sing would have been intimately familiar with: immense, prehistoric-looking catfish and graceful sheatfish; traffic-cone-orange mushrooms and stout wedges of bamboo; resplendent but flavorless torch ginger flowers and a dark, gnarled, peppery-tasting vine known as sakhaan; jungle animals and bundles of dried buffalo skin.

In “Traditional Recipes of Laos,” these ingredients find their way into dishes still eaten in Luang Prabang today, such as ua no mai and ua sikhai, shoots of bamboo or stalks of lemongrass stuffed with seasoned minced pork before being battered and deep-fried; or jaew bong, a chili-based dip that includes strips of dried buffalo skin. Ping kha fahn, a complicated recipe for grilling the haunch of a barking deer, is a nod to the royal palace’s proximity to the jungle, while nua ngua khua som, a stir-fry of beef that includes butter and canned tomatoes, shows a clear French influence.

I discovered “Traditional Recipes of Laos” a few years after my first visit, yet for me, the book was more than just a list of recipes. It was a snapshot of a fascinating culinary world, one that effortlessly intertwined mountainous jungle and royal palace, smoky grills and sauté pans, the eggs of paa buek (the world’s largest freshwater fish) and tins of crab meat. Even the way Phia Sing described ingredients (“a piece of beef the size of a hand,” “minced pork, the quantity the size of a duck’s egg”) conveyed a culinary sensibility that was evocative and beautiful.

I wanted a link to this world, and so I went back to Luang Prabang to seek out one of the few remaining people to have been directly involved in it: Chanthanom Chaleunsinh, the daughter of Phia Sing. (more online:

A note from the late Alan Davidson about the book printed in Mekong Express

Phia Sing and his Recipes by Alan Davidson, former British ambassador to Laos Chaleunsilp Phia Sing, who was born at Luang Prabang in about 1898, was an extraordinarily versatile man, a sort of Laotian Leonardo Van Vinci. He appears here in his capacity as the royal chef at the Palace in Luang Prabang. But he was also the Royal Master of Ceremonies, at a court of many and beautiful ceremonies, a physician, architect, choreographer, sculptor, painter and poet. In addition, he had been the mentor of the youthful Princes Souvanna Phouma and Souvannavong, and accompanied them when they went to Hanoi to pursue their studies at the university there in the 1920s. Phia Sing died in 1967. He had been ill for some time and knew that death was approaching. It was in these circumstances that he wrote out his recipes–114 recipes in all–in two little French notebooks. The principal translators received much help and advice from other qualified persons. In doing the translations, they sought to be fairly literal and kept to the sequence of ingredients and that of instructions which Phia Sing himself followed. In some instances the recipes would have been made clearer and easier to follow if the order had been changed; but it was thought better to eschew editing and stick to translating. However, certain steps were taken to make the recipes easier to use. Equivalent quantities are given, and some necessary explanations, and a few obvious additions (such as putting water in the pot with the ingredients before bringing them to the boil!) were made. All these are in brackets. So are the few additions which had to be made, e.g., because Phia Sing had omitted an ingredient from his list (the omission being apparent from a reference to the ingredient in the instructions). Note, however, that all punctuation marks are additions (Lao writing is not punctuated) and that for obvious reasons these have not been bracketed. Phia Sing himself added explanatory notes at the end of certain recipes. These appear under the heading ‘Note.’ Any similar notes added by the editors appear under the heading ‘Editors’ Note.’ All footnotes are by the translators or editors. By all these means the text and its translation have been presented with complete accuracy (save for the fallibility which must affect all translators) and no distortion; but the work of Phia Sing has been rendered more easily comprehensible by the discreet addition, in a manner clearly identifiable, of a little information to supplement his and of certain comments which at least some readers are likely to find useful. A note from the publisher, Prospect Books, Allaleigh House, Blackawton, Totnes, Devon TQ9 7DL, England.

Traditional Recipes of Laos is and will remain a book of unique interest for cooks and scholars. Virtually nothing has been published in the past about Lao foods and cookery, distinctive and fascinating though these are. The recipes are preceded by full information about Lao eating habits, utensils and ingredients. This information is illuminated by 100 drawings, all by Lao artists. Almost all the recipes can be used by anyone with access to Chinese and oriental grocery stores.