Lao cuisine is very similar to the food eaten in the north-eastern Isaan region of Thailand: very spicy, more often bitter than sweet, and using lots of fresh herbs and vegetables served raw. Some of the raw vegetables can be used to cool your mouth when the chilis are overwhelming.

Rice is the staple carbohydrate. The standard kind is sticky rice ເຂົ້າໜຽວ khao niaow, eaten by hand from small baskets called tip khao. Using your right hand, pinch off a bit, roll into a ball, dip and munch away.

The national dish is laap ລາບ, also larb, a "salad" of minced meat mixed with herbs, spices, lime juice and, more often than not, blistering amounts of chili. Unlike Thai larb, the Lao version can use raw meat dip instead of cooked meat suk, and if prepared with seafood makes a tasty if spicy carpaccio.

Another Lao invention is tam maak hung ຕໍາຫມາກຫຸ່ງ, the spicy green papaya salad known as som tam in Thailand, but which the Lao like to dress with fermented crab ປູດອງ pudem and a chunky, intense fish sauce called pa daek ປາແດກ, resulting in a stronger flavor than the milder, sweeter Thai style. Other popular dishes include ping kai, spicy grilled chicken, and mok pa, fish steamed in a banana leaf.

In addition to purely Lao food, culinary imports from other countries are common. Khao jii pat-te, French baguettes stuffed with pâté, and foe pho noodles from China are both ubiquitous snacks particularly popular at breakfast. Note that foe can refer both to thin rice noodles Vietnamese pho as well as the wide flat noodles that would be called kuay tiow in Thailand.