The Major Differences Between Thai And Laotian Food

While many people in America are familiar with Thai food, or at least its “greatest hits” such as pad Thai and panang curry, fewer people have tried Laotian food. The two countries share a border, much of it consisting of the Mekong River (via Google Maps), but very different histories, particularly throughout the late 20th century. During the Vietnam War, Thailand was a U.S. ally, while most of Laos was controlled by the communist Pathet Lao allied with the North Vietnamese Army (via The Rand Corporation).

Rather than being a gratuitous history lesson, the above info is actually relevant to why Thai food is available all over the U.S. whereas Laotian takeout has yet to take off. As Cooking With Lane explains it (Lane herself being a Laotian of Vietnamese descent who spent time in a Thai refugee camp), many Thai immigrants came over to the U.S. with the money, resources, and training to open restaurants, while numerous Laotians came instead as refugees. U.S. involvement in the area may have ended with the Fall of Saigon in 1975 (via the History Channel), but the repercussions on those left in-country continued for decades to come.

According to Countries and Cultures, Laotian immigration continued in significant numbers into the 1990s. What’s more, much of the Laotian population remains economically disadvantaged even today, undoubtedly impacting their ability to open restaurants. If you live in an area with a significant Lao population, though, you owe it to yourself to seek out the culinary gem that is Laotian cuisine.

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