LUANG PRABANG, Laos – Silvery, slithery things indignantly flick their tails sending a wave of water out of the bucket. Unidentified creatures with small paws sizzle on a grill. There are stacks of limes, piles of chilli, heaps of sticky rice, towering flats of eggs of all shapes, sizes and colours. Vibrant vegetables, pungent jungle herbs – feel the pillowy mushrooms with your fingers, sniff the small bundles of mysterious bark, their medicinal aroma mingling with the sweet ripe smell wafting from the pineapples. Bumpy chicken feet protrude upward from carcasses on a table, an eerie still life. Suddenly, you feel something squish and ooze underfoot. Is it a rotten rambutan? Or an eyeball?
If you want to immerse yourself in local life, head to Phosi Market (also spelled Phousy or Phosy, and pronounced – ahem – “pu-ssy”). Luang Prabang’s largest market supplies the entire town. Be there early (6:00-8:00 am is best) to see it at its peak of busyness. While Luang Prabang’s Morning Market (talat sao) is closer, you’ll be bumping elbows with more tourists taking photos than actual locals shopping and the experience pales in comparison.
A walk through Phosi’s fresh market is not for the faint or squeamish. It’s fascinating, raw and real. You’ll see ingredients you’ve never seen before. Keep your eye out for – or follow your nose to – the buckets of rotting fish floating in revolting brown goo. “Padek” or Lao fish sauce is an essential ingredient in Lao cuisine. Count how many varieties of rice you can find.
How to get to Phosi Market
Phosi / Phosy Market is an easy 10-minute bike ride from the Luang Prabang town centre. From the post office, travel 1.6 km west (away from the peninsula) along Phothisalath Rd (19.878197, 102.122785). Pay a small amount to park your bicycle or motorbike.
A Luang Prabang cooking class and market tour are a good way to learn about Lao cuisine. Try Tamarind or Bamboo Tree‘s Lao cooking class, or Banana Boat’s Culinary City Tour with Chef Toui, who I wrote about in my post about the noodle soup dish of Laos.