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Apr 11, 2009 11:31 AM

green papaya salad contest -- early reports?

Melanie's great report about her great Lao meal in Santa Rosa

links to a mention of the Lao Festival in SF Civic Center today, which includes a green papaya salad contest:

Anyone have more information or reports from the first couple of hours? Should we all rush over to Civic Center?

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  1. I just came back and my first reaction was how crowded it was by the food booths, mostly due to the layout. It was hard to order food at peak time.

    I had Nam Kao from the Da Nang booth, but it was served room temperature so the fried rice bits were a bit too crunchy. I only tried one booth's papaya salad, but I'm partial to Thai style so I'm not a good judge of the Lao version. This one was made with rice noodles on the side. I tried a pork bbq stick and it was nicely marinated with lemongrass, but found the inside medium rarish so I tossed it.

    Moist Lao sausage and tasty beef jerky were highlights for me.

    3 Replies
    1. re: DezzerSF

      Which booth was Da Nang's (aka Krung-Thep)? The one closest to the stage that had the beef jerky was Rose Garden. On the other side of the line-up (excluding the end booth that wasn't food related) was a caterer from Fresno. I'm hoping to ID the ones that have restaurants so that we can have access to the food other times.

      With the tents unmarked as far as what they were selling and the crazy crowds, we had no idea where to stand. I even asked people in line and they didn't know what might for sale, they just picked a line. So we went around the back of the tents to see what was cooking . . . and there was a lot going on. I was surprised at the variety that each stall seemed to be preparing. The guys from Fresno were stunned at how busy it was and were surprised that there were so few booths. The boba booth on the other side was from fresno too, and I saw a standalone booth that didn't have hot food prep that was selling fresh rolls and Viet sandwiches.

      Here are a couple shots from behind the scenes.

      Da Nang Krung-Thep Restaurant
      905 San Pablo Ave, Albany, CA 94706

      Rose Garden
      1811 23rd St, San Pablo, CA 94806

      1. re: Melanie Wong

        I think Da Nang might have been second closest to the stage. The huge fried rice balls were pre-fried and then made to order for us. They also had these tapioca? balls filled with pork that were pretty tasty. We also had some of their rotisserie chicken leg that was pretty moist.

        I didn't make it around to the other side though, and my friend went and got the beef jerky and sausage, so I don't know which booths they were from. The tasty beef jerky was a dark red color, that she explained was dried out, then quickly fried.

        The papaya salad and bbq pork stick I tried was from the opposite end of the booths (close to the Viet stand), maybe second from the end. They had Thai Tea as well as those pink pork sausages? in plastic wrap. I didn't get to try it though.

        I liked how most booths had little baggies of various things for cheap, but unfortunately I didn't know what most things were.

        1. re: DezzerSF

          Thanks, then I think Da Nang is the first photo I linked above. That was second from the stage end, and you can see the chicken legs on the grill. Those mahogony colored sausages looked great . . . should have asked the guy to sell me one throught the chain link fence.

          Surveying the backside of op'ns, Rose Garden's booth was the only one frying jerky. So, if yours was warm, that's probably where it came from.

    2. They were running out of food by the time I got there at 1pm, in particular the sticky rice which is kind of essential for eating Laotian food. Everybody was wandering around, asking "Have you seen any sticky rice? I can't eat this without sticky rice!" Nearly every stand was making their own papaya salad, which I wasn't sampling because I was looking for more exotic stuff. Plus, I didn't want to risk hauling it home on Muni.

      The food stand closest to the civic center station has some interesting desserts and a very nice eggplant/chicken/dill stew that is on the counter. No one is buying it and it might still be there if you hurry. Their sausage was better than the stand in the middle, however was fairly pricey at $3/link.

      The stand on the end closest to the stage had the beef jerky (pretty good) and a beef/beef tripe larb that looked nice and spicy. Unfortunately, just when I got to the front of the horde, the last plates of larb and sticky rice were snapped up. I ended up with the jerky, some mysterious packages wrapped in bamboo leaves and a bucket of a sweet, spicy chili paste which I think may contain some meat and/or seafood products.

      Going home to make sticky rice now.

      10 Replies
      1. re: sfbing

        The sticky rice shortage was a problem. I'm sorry I missed the beef tripe larb. I was the third person in one of the lines for beef jerky at Rose Garden's tent, and I still had to wait for the fourth batch to come out of the fryer before they could give me a plate. This booth had coils of raw Lao sausage in ziplocks, anyone try it? The chili paste came in two strengths, one was sweet and the other one marked with an "+" on the lid was hot. My friend bought one of the hot ones and we used it for dipping our jerky. The Lao people in line with us told us the name, two words starting with hard "g", but I can't remember. Some of the ingredients we were told were in it are chili, shrimp paste, lemon grass, shallots and/or garlic.

        After watching the Tam mak hung (pounded green papaya salad aka som tum) contest, we had a beer Lao, then didn't feel like fighting the crowds to get any other food. I saw some mango with black rice walk by that looked good, and I might have tried to get that if I could figure out which booth.

        I hope the organizers do it again next year. They could double the number of food vendors and I think they'd all still do well.

        1. re: Melanie Wong

          >>>The Lao people in line with us told us the name, two words starting with hard "g", but I can't remember.

          It's called "Jaew Bong", but some people would pronounce it as "Gaew Bong" due to the differences in regional accents.

          1. re: yummyrice

            Thanks for the info, that sound like it. What should we put the chili paste on besides sticky rice?

            1. re: Melanie Wong

              You're welcome. You can also put it on Kai Pen, which is a Luang Prabang river moss fried snack.


              The image below is a photo of Kai Pen with Jaew Bong on the side as a dipping sauce. Kai Pen is an awesome snack with Beerlao.

                1. re: yummyrice

                  I've been looking for this stuff--where can you buy it in the US?

                  1. re: sfbing

                    I don't believe it's available here in the states. There are many Lao dishes that are only available in Laos because some of the ingredients are hard to find or unavailable here in the states. I wish the U.S. would import more products/ingredients from Laos so that we could introduce more local Lao dishes to westerners. There's not enough Lao/U.S. import-export companies, if any. Luang Prabang is the next hot spot for tourism and I would love to have an American entrepreneur open up a shop here in the states that specializes in hard to find products, ingredients, accessories, textiles, and crafts from Laos. =)

                    1. re: sfbing


                      Kaipen is available at some of the whole food stores in Northern California. It's also available online at, a company based in El Cerrito, CA.

                      Here is the direct link to purchase Kaipen:


                      1. re: yummyrice

                        Hey--thanks for the tip! I guess I'm going to drive the whole foods staff crazy looking for this.

                        1. re: sfbing

                          LOL! It may be easier just to call Lotus Foods and ask them for their list of retailers. I believe their main office is located in El Cerrito.

                          Lotus Foods c/o, Inc.
                          601 22nd Street
                          San Francisco, CA 94107

                          866-972-6879 (Toll-Free)


                          Lotus Foods, Inc.
                          921 Richmond Street
                          El Cerrito, CA 94530

                          Phone: 510-525-3137
                          Fax: 510-525-4226

          2. There was no schedule for the events on the website. Arriving after 1:30pm, we were happy to learn that we hadn't missed the som tum contest. Things kicked off about 2pm. Here's the photo that Jen sent from the Civic Center when things started. You can see the ingredients and condiments available to them.

            The contest had 25 entrants, who competed four at a time,then would have a final for the winner. We only stayed for the first round. Here are my photos, click on "show info" for the full captions of what's going on. It was very interesting to watch the differences and similarities in technique. I got to try three of the examples, but missed the first round's winner, contestant #1.

            1. The second annual is coming up April 10, 2010. Hope there are more food booths this go round


              1 Reply
              1. re: Melanie Wong

                Speaking of food, I believe they're doing the Buddhist alms giving at 10 am probably similar to what one sees in Luang Prabang for those who would like to offer alms to the monks and participate in this Buddhist tradition.

                It's going to be fun tomorrow trying the foods from different and hopefully new vendors too.