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Favorite Dishes at Bay Area Lao Restaurants [Split from San Pablo: That Luang Kitchen thread]

I'm Laotian, so I'm very hard on Lao restaurants. I tend to order very specific dishes from various Lao restaurants throughout the Bay Area because I've noticed that each restaurant has its own strong points.

Most, if not all of the following items should be eaten with sticky rice.

Here are my list of favorite dishes/restaurants:

VIENTIAN CAFE (Oakland, CA):
-Nam Khao (Lao fried rice ball salad)...it's nice and crispy...do not eat with sticky rice...great green onion flavor, but if it's too strong for you, the next time you order this dish just ask them to cut down on the green onions.
-Lao sausage (eaten with sticky rice)...comes with chewy pork skin and fat...yummy!
-Lao duck "yum"-type salad (eaten with sticky rice)...I believe the dish is called "Duck Salad" on the menu. This is not the same as Duck Larb. =)
-Soop Nor Mai (shredded bamboo with Lao herbs, steamed).
-Lao BBQ'd Pork ribs (eaten with sticky rice)...nicely charred with a great lemongrassy taste.
-Gaeng Nor Mai (bamboo soup with fermented fish flavor)...eaten with sticky rice.

CHAMPA GARDEN LAO CUISINE (Oakland, CA):
-The Champa Sampler...comes with Lao sausage, Nam Khao, and crispy spring rolls...the last two items are meant to be eaten as lettuce wraps. You should eat the sausages with sticky rice.The sausages served here don't have chewy bits of pork skin and fat, but they're still good nonetheless.
-Lao chicken noodle soup called "Khao Piak"..you should order the chicken version and ask for pork blood cubes. This soup does NOT use any coconut milk nor curry. When the soup arrives, top it off with some fried garlic, chili oil paste, and some black pepper.
-BEERLAO!!!!!!

GREEN PAPAYA DELI (Oakland, CA):
-Tum Maak Thua (long green bean salad)...similar to green papaya salad, but more flavorful. Call in advance because they tend to run out of this dish. If they don't have enough green beans, they'll ask you if it's okay to add some shredded papaya in with the long green beans. Please tell them NO THANK YOU! Don't order this dish unless if it's made only with long green beans. (Eaten with sticky rice and a meat entree...tastes best with deep-fried fish or grilled pig intestines).
-Ping Sai (Grilled intestines) - comes with lime sauce or "bitter" sauce. This dish is pretty plain, but it's really good with the bitter sauce and sticky rice.
-Beef Larb (with big chewy bits of tripe)...I like it either rare or cooked and slightly bitter...enjoy with sticky rice.
-***My friend mentioned that their Mok Pa (Lao steamed fish wrapped in banana leaves) is really good.
-***I haven't tried their version of this salad, but I noticed that they sell Lao Salad (aka Luang Prabang salad) with Laotian egg garlic dressing...should be good!

THAT LUANG KITCHEN (San Pablo, CA):
-Gaeng Kieng Nai (beef organ soup)..if you're adventurous, you can ask them to make it slightly bitter.
-Beef Larb...if rare and bitter...this is NOT the westernized version of Larb. Don't order unless the meat is farm bought on Fridays and Saturdays...ASK the waiter to confirm.

DARA LAO THAI RESTAURANT (Berkeley, CA):
-Beef Larb (cooked)...very good for a cooked version of Larb...great dill taste, which is typical of Laotian cooking...it's still good even though there's no tripe in this one. My co-workers really loved this dish.
-Pineapple duck red curry...this type of curry dish is common in Laos, Thailand, and Cambodia because of the Indian influence (i.e. curries).

ROSE GARDEN (San Pablo, CA):
-Lao papaya salad (eaten with vermicelli noodles or sticky rice).
-Lao quail stew called Aw Nok (or something similar to this).

I haven't tried any of the tangy Laotian soups served at Lao restaurants, because I prefer my mom's homemade soups. =) In addition, the Lao papaya salads served at Lao restaurants in the U.S. aren't as good as the ones made at home. The chefs tend to use low-quality fermented fish sauce versus the nicely aromatic fermented fish sauce.

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  1. >>>-Soop Nor Mai (shredded bamboo with Lao herbs, steamed).

    Is that fermented shredded bamboo? If so, Thai House Express used to have it but they don't serve it any more at the Castro location. I loved it.

    4 Replies
    1. re: SteveG

      The bamboo shoots aren't fermented...just the sauce. It's a traditional Lao bamboo dish made with fermented fish sauce called Padaek. Many Thai restaurants serve Lao dishes so it's probably the same dish. However, it takes longer to make this dish, so I'm not surprised that they rarely serve it at Thai restaurants. On the otherhand, since "Soop Nor Mai" is a traditional Lao dish, it's commonly served at Lao restaurants.

      1. re: yummyrice

        I can't seem to update my previous posts. Anyway, I'm sorry but I meant to say "Mok Nor Mai" (shredded bamboo with Lao herbs, steamed), not "Soop Nor Mai" (Lao shredded bamboo shoot salad). However, both dishes are good. The main difference is that one version is steamed, whereas the other is tossed like a salad.

        1. re: yummyrice

          Yeah, Thai House Express used to have some "Isan" style dishes, which are of course closely related to Lao foods. They had Soop Nor Mai, a shredded bamboo shoot salad, but it had a very funky flavor and they described it as fermented. The taste was not strongly flavored of fish sauce, it was more like the Burmese fermented tea leaf salads in flavor.

          1. re: SteveG

            Yes, Soop Nor Mai is a traditional Lao bamboo salad with Lao fermented fish sauce called Padaek, but the Lao herbs help to minimize the fishy flavor. As mentioned in another thread, "Isan" style dishes are actually traditional Lao dishes.

    2. Wonderful list. I was wondering about that quail stew at Rose Garden. I wasn't sure if it was ordered regularily to take a chance on it.

      Do you have any opinion on PhinThong in San Pablo?

      -----
      Champa Garden
      2102 8th Ave, Oakland, CA 94606

      Vientian Cafe
      3801 Allendale Ave, Oakland, CA 94619

      Green Papaya Deli
      207 International Blvd (at 2nd ave, Oakland, CA

      Dara Thai Lao
      1549 Shattuck Ave, Berkeley, CA 94709

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

      7 Replies
      1. re: rworange

        hmmm I've eaten at PhinThong once, but I didn't order too many items. Therefore, I can't really offer much advice. I ordered their Larb salad and Nam Khao (fried rice ball salad). I noticed that their Lao dishes were more expensive than their Thai dishes. The dishes that I ordered were okay, but nothing to rave about. Their Larb salad was too Americanized for my liking, but then again I'm Laotian so I'm pretty picky, but other people might like it (especially if you're not Laotian). In addition, their Nam Khao just wasn't crispy enough for me. Hopefully they've improved on their recipes since my last visit. I haven't gone back since about a year ago. Laotians prefer going to Lao restaurants that cater to the Lao palate, but if you don't care about authenticity, then there's plenty of Thai restaurants that offer westernized Lao dishes that are more compatible with the American palate.

        1. re: yummyrice

          Thanks. I was guessing there might be some Americanization here since they are located near the hospital and are probably catering to the tastes of the staff there.

          As long as I'm asking, any opinions on Lao Thai kitchen in Albany?

          1. re: rworange

            I've never been there before. That place isn't widely talked about in the Lao community. The only restaurants that are popular amongst the Lao crowd are Vientian Cafe (Oakland), Green Papaya Deli (Oakland), That Luang Kitchen (San Pablo), and Champa Garden (Oakland). Anyway, I'll check out that Lao Thai Kitchen place someday and let you know what I think of it.

            1. re: yummyrice

              Before I forget, there is a 2 hour window to edit posts. After that you can't edit.

              Anyway, location, location, location.

              Lao Thai Kitchen has been on Solano Avenue for many, many years so I am guessing they are catering to locals in that area rather than the Laotians. I was surprised actually to see recs from Dara on your list as I would have guessed they were catering more to Berkelites than Laotians. I like the place, but don't know a lot about Laotian food.

              There is some sort of in-law who is from the South ... Southern US ... so don't be alarmed to also see a brief menu of Southern dishes. I think it is the Southern father-in-law who makes those dishes.

              1. re: rworange

                >>>Before I forget, there is a 2 hour window to edit posts. After that you can't edit.

                Thanks for letting me know. I was wondering why I couldn't edit any of my older posts.

                >>>I was surprised actually to see recs from Dara on your list as I would have guessed they were catering more to Berkelites than Laotians.

                The owner of Dara is a very kind and polite Lao woman. Although her customers are primarily Berkelites, she does try very hard to promote Lao cuisine in Berkeley. Although her Larb dishes lack organ meat, they still have the essential flavors of Lao cuisine.

                Not many people know this, but Lao Larb salads are not required to have organ meats. It's actually more about the flavor of Larb, but the offal helps to give a "Lao" texture to the Larb. Sometimes when we make Larb for Lao children, we don't add the offal to the Larb because Lao children in the U.S. don't care for offal.

          2. re: yummyrice

            Oh you hit a nerve! My palate gets irked at Americanized SE Asian dishes. I am finding more and more just dump sugar in the supposed to be balanced flavours.

            Do you know if Heng Fath Market is reopened? I saw a blurb about them getting raided on the news. I hate going to that area any time. C'est la vie. I have no fear going anywhere in Laos, Isan, etc, but that area is "bad" at night. I know go in the daytime, but a green eyed blonde in a sleek MBZ is not norm. LOL But dang I always loved shopping there....dirty or not-they have some very hard to find ingredients and the brands I prefer.

            1. re: shantihhh

              Heng Fath was raided? I had no idea! No one in the community has mentioned anything about it being closed, so I'm sure it's still in business.

              And yes, I don't like too much sugar in foods. So far, Lao cuisine in the U.S. hasn't gone the "overly sweet" route meaning it hasn't become too Americanized, YET! Thank, goodness! Let's keep our fingers crossed. =)

              I used to enjoy eating at this one Vietnamese place when it seemed more authentic, but recently their dishes have become so sweet now that I rarely eat there anymore. But interestingly, I noticed more Westerners dining there. Coincidence? I think not.

              more sugar in dishes = more Western clientele (i.e. more business)?

        2. Happy new year! Fantastic, thanks for taking the time to share this with us. This kind of advice is what I love about this site.

          At the recent Lao festival in Civic Center, the report here was the first I learned of Da Nang in Albany having Lao dishes. If you have any recs there, we'd love to hear them.
          http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/611270
          Also, would love to know the name of the hot chili paste we bought.

          One of the dishes I really loved at an Issan place in SoCal was the grilled tongue and i'd love to find that up here. Any ideas? It's on the menu at Kaoneow in San Pablo, but no one has been successful in ordering it yet.
          http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/547853

          Recently I tried a Lao place in Santa Rosa, Vang Vieng Kham. If you have a chance to check it out, please let us know what you think.
          http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/611162

          -----
          That Luang Kitchen Lao Cuisine
          1614 23rd St, San Pablo, CA

          16 Replies
          1. re: Melanie Wong

            Melanie--Grilled tongue is available at That Luang--I recently had it. Thumbs up--it comes with your choice of bitter sauce or tomato-chili sauce. Yummy rice actually knows the name for the tomato-chili sauce--it is in the That Luang post.

            1. re: Melanie Wong

              Thank you for wishing me a Happy New Year!...and you're welcome. It's nice to know that there are people who are interested in learning more about our cuisine.

              I haven't been to any of those restaurants, but thanks for introducing them to me. Vang Vieng Kham looks promising, but as far as Da Nang is concerned, I try to refrain from ordering Lao dishes from Thai restaurants for obvious reasons. They usually end up being too Americanized or too sweet. However, since Da Nang actually had a booth at the Lao New Year Festival in SF, it's probably safe to assume that their dishes must be pretty authentic or close enough to the original Lao dishes.

              1. re: yummyrice

                >>> It's nice to know that there are people who are interested in learning more about our cuisine

                It is great to have someone really knowledable about Lao food as a guide. Many people have developed smarts by eating at various Lao restaurants, here or abroad, however it is nice to hear what is good to someone who is Lao and why the food appeals them.

                So far my favorite Lao dish was that dish mentioned in the That Luang link above ... Mok Pla - steamed catfish with green onion, dill, lime leaves and fish sauce.

                I MEANT to try the Lao papaya salad you recommended at Rose Garden last night and instead ordered the beef larb.
                http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/611702

                I went on a papaya salad crawl a few years ago ... the Thai, not the Lao version ... and was so bored out of my mind that I'm sure I blocked the rece when I walked in. Next time.

                For comparison sake I tried the pork larb at Kaoneow Cafe
                http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/5967...

                Thinking about it I liked the larb at Kaoneow better because of the juiciness and the additional fresh herbs on top in addition the herbs in the larb. The fact that it was $2 less expensive and a more generouse serving didn't hurt.

                Looking forward to trying that beef larb you recommended at That Luang some Friday or Saturday. I'm sure they will be amused by a bunch of gringos asking if the beef is farm bought that day.

                On the green papaya thread someone said "Lao papaya salad must be eaten with sweet sticky rice to tone down the strong fish taste and spices from the papaya salad. Use your hand to flatten a small chunk of sticky rice and then scoop up the papaya salad with your clump of sticky rice."

                Is that the reason for sticky rice to accompany most Thai dishes?

                And again, thanks for all the info and patience.

                1. re: rworange

                  >>>It is great to have someone really knowledable about Lao food as a guide.

                  Thanks for the compliment! I grew up on mom's home cooking. =)

                  >>>So far my favorite Lao dish was that dish mentioned in the That Luang link above ... Mok Pla - steamed catfish with green onion, dill, lime leaves and fish sauce.

                  It's funny but I actually ordered that Mok Pa dish today at TLK. It was good, but I've had better ones made by this one Lao lady from Luang Prabang, Laos. By the way, "Mok Pla" is a menu typo because the word for Fish in the Lao language is pronounced "Pa". The Thai pronunciation is "Pla". However, that fish tamale dish you had is actually a Lao dish so they should've spelled it as "Mok Pa" on the menu, rather than "Mok Pla"
                  .
                  >>>I MEANT to try the Lao papaya salad you recommended at Rose Garden last night and instead ordered the beef larb.

                  Again, the Lao papaya salads at Lao restaurants just don't compare to the ones made at home. The one at Rose Garden is good, but I've had way better ones at Lao parties. Yes, Lao papaya salad uses fermented fish sauce which gives it that pungent flavor, but it should not taste overly fishy in a bad way. Many Lao cooks at the Lao restaurants here aren't experts in making papaya salad. Only a select few are naturally talented, but unfortunately you're not going to find them working at a restaurant. There's high quality fermented fish sauce and cheap quality fermented fish sauce. The cheap ones give off an unpleasant fishy odor and they have an unpleasant fishy taste. It seems that the high quality kind is reserved only for home cooking because they cost more to make or purchase. Anyway, I'm not saying that you're going to like the Lao papaya salad at Rose Garden, but at least it's not westernized so it's good enough in my book. =)

                  >>>Looking forward to trying that beef larb you recommended at That Luang some Friday or Saturday. I'm sure they will be amused by a bunch of gringos asking if the beef is farm bought that day.

                  hehe I could imagine the surprise on the Vietnamese waiter's face. He understands some Lao language because his wife, the chef, is Lao. By the way, in the Lao language, farm bought beef is referred to as "Seen Soat" (the final T is unaspirated and the word rhymes with Goat). Anyway, I will warn you that the Beef Larb served at TLK is a very acquired taste. It might be too bland for so-called "gringos"...hehe...but Lao people love that version for its freshness because you get to taste the raw flavor of the fresh beef. By the way, Green Papaya Deli also uses "Seen Soat" on Fridays and Saturdays as well but you'll have to ask to confirm. It's common in the Lao-American communities to buy farm bought beef on Fridays or Saturdays. For some reason, I suspect that most westerners with an adventurous palate would still prefer Green Papaya Deli's beef larb over TLK's beef larb.

                  >>>On the green papaya thread someone said "Lao papaya salad must be eaten with sweet sticky rice to tone down the strong fish taste and spices from the papaya salad. Use your hand to flatten a small chunk of sticky rice and then scoop up the papaya salad with your clump of sticky rice."

                  >>>Is that the reason for sticky rice to accompany most Thai dishes?

                  Well eating sticky rice as a staple is a Lao tradition. Thai people don't use sticky rice to accompany their meals. They eat regular jasmine rice with their Thai dishes. However, the ethnic Lao people in the Issan region of Thailand still eat sticky rice like other Lao people in Laos. The Northern region of Thailand also used to belong to the Lao kingdom, before their identity was changed from "Lao" to "Thai". Therefore, the people in northern Thailand (i.e. Chiang Mai, etc..) also eat sticky rice with their hands like other ethnic Lao people.

                  Sticky rice is eaten with Lao dishes because it complements the flavors of Lao dishes and it's great for soaking up the various Lao dipping sauces and the juices from papaya salad and other various Lao salads. Lao dishes tend to be finger foods. Forks, spoons, and chopsticks are reserved only for Lao noodle dishes, regular steamed rice, curries, and stir-fries. Most salads, steamed items like Mok, fried items, and grilled items are usually eaten with our hands.

                  Anyway, yes, sticky rice helps to tone down the strong flavors of Lao dishes and the hotness as well. If you think a certain dish tastes too salty for you, just scoop up less of it with your sticky rice. "Mok Pa" should also be scooped up with flattened sticky rice balls.

                  1. re: yummyrice

                    Actually sticvky rice is VERY popular and widely eaten in Isan, Northeast Thailand and also around Chiang Mai and Chang Rai, even in Mae Hong Son too. The sticky rice is usually s3erved in small bamboo baskets, and you take a bit and roll into a ball and eat just as in Laos. I steam the sticky rice in a bamboo v hat shaped basket that is placed over boiling water, and covered with a damp clean cloth. 85% of Lao rice production is sticky rice( khao niao)and in N. Thailand including Isan (khao nueng). Khao chi is a favourite of mine and are cakes of sticky rice having the size and shape of a patty and a crunchy crust. In order to prepare them the glutinous rice is laced with salt, often also slightly coated with beaten egg, and grilled over a charcoal fire and sometimes served on a bamboo skewer. Does anyone know where to buyPepperwood ( Piper interruptum Opiz. ໄມ້ ສະຄານ mai sakahn) inb the SF Bay Area? Also the "nut/fruit" that gives the bitter taste in Lao Papaya Salad? They are green oval and green with a big seed. They pound them in the salad for the bitter flavour.

                    1. re: shantihhh

                      Yes, it is popular there because those regions were influenced by Laos when Lao people migrated to those areas and brought Lao culinary traditions with them. There's plenty of websites that provide information about the culinary history of regions like northern Thailand (Lanna) and northeastern Thailand (Isan). Northern Thailand is primarily influenced by both Laos (i.e. sticky rice) and Burma (i.e. curry noodles), whereas Isan is primarily influenced by Laos since the Isan region used to be a territory of the Lao kingdom.

                  2. re: rworange

                    rworange

                    Can you please tell me the name of the sort of nut/fruit, oval 1" or so that adds the bitter to Isan and Laos som tom. Sorry I don't remember the Lao name for it. My Thai is far better than my Laos, but I am usually understood in Laos. :-)

                    Also do you know of any place that carries "pepperwood"? Is it called Sakhan? I am also wondering if anyplace carries fresh/frozen, maybe even in a glass jar Mak kak (Thai) name for Prickley Ash? Sorry again I don't know the Laotian name. It is a numbing heat related to Szchewan peppercorns but different IMHO or it is because they were fresh

                    -----
                    My Thai Restaurant
                    1230 4th St, San Rafael, CA 94901

                    1. re: shantihhh

                      I'm new to Laotian food, so all is an unamed mystery to me. There are quite a few Laotian markets in this area of San Pablo, so it might be worth your while to check them out. I gotta leve right now but I'll hunt up the addresses for you if intereated.

                      1. re: shantihhh

                        I think you're asking about Lao hog plum in the Lao papaya salad. In Lao, it's called "Mak kok". In Thai, it's called "Makok Lao".

                  3. re: Melanie Wong

                    >>>Also, would love to know the name of the hot chili paste we bought.

                    I forgot to mention that the hot chili paste you bought was either "Jaew Bong" or "Jaew Mak Len". Jaew Bong is very dry and thick and it usually has sliced buffalo/cow skin, whereas Jaew Mak Len uses tomatoes and green onions and it looks similar to Mexican salsa, but the taste is very different.

                    The picture on the left shows Jaew Bong..."Bong" means Pickled in the Lao language.

                    The one on the right shows Jaew Mak Len..."Jaew" (dipping sauce) is pronounced similar to the English word Jail, but without flipping the tongue. "Mak" (fruit) is pronounced like the American name Mark, but without the letter R. "Mak Len" means Tomato, so "Jaew Mak Len" means Tomato Dipping Sauce.

                     
                     
                    1. re: yummyrice

                      Oh and it is yummy with kaipen

                      http://www.ifood.tv/recipe/kaipen_wit..., humm looks like we ate at the same place or iFood. used your photo as I see above.

                    2. re: Melanie Wong

                      Is this the place you were talking about for the tongue?
                      http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/5642...

                      If that is the case then I'm guessing the version at kaoneow would not be what you are looking for
                      http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/5967...

                      It was pleasant enough, but no explosion of flavors in the mouth.

                      As mentioned in the above thread, some of the dishes on the Laotian menu on the wall include the Mok Pla - fish tamales to me. Kaoneow even has a chicken version.

                      I did a progressive dinner tonight and got the papaya salad at Rose Garden. I have to say that out of the three versions I've had, Lao, Vietnamese and Thai, the Laotian version had the most character ... and I was really, really glad I knew from reading Chowhound how to eat this and there were no surprises about the fish sauce.

                      That being said, I'm guessing I'm just not a papaya salad person. It is fine, but there are so many other tastier dishes to me. Thank you for the rec yummyrice because at least I have a good standard to judge the Laotian version by.
                      http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/6117...

                      This has been not only delicious, but interesting. Thanks to all for the education about Laotian food. I even have a friend worked up about it after sending him this thread. He had writtne off Green Papaya but is going to try some of those other dishes.

                      1. re: rworange

                        You're welcome. I'm glad to know that you're definitely adventurous! Lao papaya salad does have a lot of character, which is why it is the least "Western"-friendly. The fermented fish sauce is a deal breaker for many people. By the way, I should have mentioned that Lao papaya salad has to be made spicy, spicy hot to help mask the fishy taste. If it's not burning your lips and tongue, then it's really not worth even trying Lao papaya salad. In Lao cuisine, papaya salad is usuallly eaten with a meat dish that's either grilled or deep-fried. A good combination is Lao papaya salad with deep-fried chicken wings (non-battered/non-coated).

                        1. re: yummyrice

                          To me in both Thailand/Isan and Laos salads are always the hottest part of a meal! awesome!

                        2. re: rworange

                          Yep, that would be it, though it's my understanding that the restaurant has moved. The sauce makes a difference, sounds like yours wasn't that interesting.

                      2. I'm finding your posts very interesting indeed! Can you tell me how to find the fermented fish sauce you mention.?

                        3 Replies
                        1. re: janeburton

                          Any Asian market worth its salt should have a few brands.
                          Fish sauce, "nam pla" in Thailand, "nuoc mam" in Vietnam, "patis" in the Philippines.
                          http://www.thaifoodandtravel.com/feat...

                          1. re: janeburton

                            Thanks!

                            I'm sorry for the confusion, but I wasn't referring to regular fish sauce (i.e. "Nam Pa" (Lao) / "Nam Pla" (Thai) / "Nuoc Nam" (Vietnamese). I do realize that those are "fermented" as well, but whenever Lao people mention "fermented" fish sauce, we're referring to "Padaek" (Lao name for chunky fermented fish sauce), which is darker in color and very pungent, but not as pungent as shrimp paste (Kapi).

                            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Padaek

                            You cannot substitute regular fish sauce for "Padaek". Both types of fish sauce are used to make Lao papaya salad. Padaek is usually made at home with herbs added to it. There are factory-made padaek sold by Vietnamese, Thai, and Filipino companies. Whichever one you buy, just don't buy the kind that's made from pineapples. I believe it was a Vietnamese brand and the smell was way too strong for me. I prefer homemade Lao padaek because it's usually seasoned with herbs and spices to make it more aromatic and not so intensely pungent. I mean it still smells fishy, but kind of in a good way. I believe Lao papaya salads served at Lao restaurants in the U.S. are made with store-bought padaek, which doesn't have a nice aroma.

                            I don't think Lao padaek is available in stores outside of Laos.

                          2. I'm completely new to the blog world and obviously don't quite know how to do this. i thought my post was in reply to an earlier post from yummyrice about high quality fish sauce ( "nicely aromatic ") versus low-quality fish sauce. I've been buying nam pla and nuoc mam for years not realizing that some were better than others. So I wanted to find out from yummyrice about the high quality stuff. Also I'd be interested in yummyrice's recommendations with regard to Keow Neow in San Pablo.

                            6 Replies
                            1. re: janeburton

                              Hopefully yummyrice will chime in with what Laotians are looking for in their fish sauce.
                              The impression I got from my travels was that it was very...robust.

                              All fish sauces here are imported from Thailand and different ethnic groups tend to have strong opinions about that fact as well as the various brands. For example, the Vietnamese seem to prefer a lighter more delicate flavor profile than the Thai stuff, but have to make do with what is available here. After years of relatives harping about how the "fish sauce in Vietnam is unimaginably better" I discovered on a recent trip to Saigon that it was kind of true. I was tempted to bring back a couple of bottles for my mom, but decided it would be too dangerous for my luggage.

                              For what it is worth, this is what my Chinese-Vietnamese family taught me, which may be very different from what a Thai or Laotian person is looking for. When shopping, buy the most expensive bottle-preferably in glass. It costs more to bottle in glass and ship in glass, so people aren't going to bother with bottling dreck in glass. It should also be light colored (orangey, amber) and clear in the bottle. I buy Three Crabs brand at the moment.

                              1. re: sfbing

                                Three Crabs is chemically made. I prefer Golden Boy. Here is my long time friend Kasma's take on fish sauce. Oh and there is an interesting type in the south of Thailand using pineapple fermented with the fish.

                                http://www.thaifoodandtravel.com/feat...

                                BTW we took Kasma's cooking class in her kitchen back like 25 years ago before our first trip to Thailand when we took our kids there. WOW what a life changing expierence for them and us to trekk to a mountain top and spend Christmas with an Akha Hill tribe. We brought in warm clothes and shoes for the kids-yes it is very cold on the mountain tops (Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai) We have since returned with doc friends. Nope don't do dog.

                              2. re: janeburton

                                Sorry I misunderstood. With your short posting history I assumed (never assume) you were a fish sauce neophyte. Now we can start a best fish sauce category with individual preferences similar to the burrito, pizza, hot dog, etc threads.

                                1. re: janeburton

                                  I'm not familiar with "Keow Neow". Is that a type of dish or are you referring to Kaoneow restaurant in San Pablo?

                                  In the Lao language, "Keow" means green and "Neow" means sticky...so I have no idea what you meant by "sticky green". Did you mean to say "Khao Neow", since "Khao" means rice, so "Khao Neow" means sticky rice? Kaoneow restaurant in San Pablo means "sticky rice" restaurant. There are many ways to spell Lao words using the English alphabet. =)

                                  1. re: yummyrice

                                    Have you tried the just opened DeDe in Richmond?

                                    Richmond: DeDe Thai Noodle will make any Laotion dish on request
                                    http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/617901

                                    I had my first pork blood. It e wasn't bad. I can see the appeal. I may go for the boat noodle soup which may have cow's blood. I'm not sure if that is just Tha or Laotian.

                                    Haven't tried the Lao papaya salad though. I'll leave that up to others to determine how good it is. If it is better than Rose, I'd give it a shot.

                                    1. re: rworange

                                      No, I haven't. Thanks for introducing it to me. I rarely go to noodle restaurants with the exception of Vietnamese Pho places.

                                      I've already mentioned this in another thread, but the best cooked pork blood cubes are served at Vientian Cafe in Oakland. Their Lao chicken noodle soup called "Khao Piak Sen" has some of those cooked pork blood cubes.

                                2. Here's an update. I no longer recommend the Tum Maak Thua (long green bean salad) at GPD. It used to be one of my favorite Lao dishes at that restaurant, but now I think it's just mediocre ever since the male chef guy left the business. However, their Lao sausage is even more delicious now than ever.

                                  And oh, ever since they stopped using farm beef at TLK, their raw beef larb loses a point from me. But I realize that that wasn't their fault because the food inspector wouldn't allow them to continue serving farm beef. So now they have to use store-bought beef.

                                  2 Replies
                                  1. re: yummyrice

                                    Thanks for the update. I haven't been reading the SF boards as much and there are a number of posts of yours I need to catch up on. The Lao New Year's festival sounded good. I hope they have it next year when I get back to the Bay Area.

                                    Any idea if the chef who left GPD has gone elsewhere?

                                    1. re: rworange

                                      You're welcome and I have no idea where he went. But he definitely took his recipes with him. He was the one responsible for GPD's delicious salads. Hopefully he'll make his presence known again somewhere else.

                                  2. Don't forget fairly new Black & Silver Laos Food & Burger around 20th Ave & International Blvd in the San Antonio district of Oakland. We went there for the first time a month ago and thought the food was just as good and just a tad cheaper than Vientian Cafe and Green Papaya Deli. I really hope this business survives. The best thing to order is the chicken feet salad. But I'd call in advance to check that they are open and that they have chicken feet in stock.

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                                    Vientian Cafe
                                    3801 Allendale Ave, Oakland, CA 94619

                                    Green Papaya Deli
                                    207 International Blvd (at 2nd ave, Oakland, CA

                                    2 Replies
                                    1. re: esiotrot

                                      I agree with you about their chicken feet salad. Eating chicken feet salad with Lao sticky rice is really yummy.

                                      1. re: yummyrice

                                        I noticed chicken feet salad on the menu at the newish Cambodian Noodle House (1604 International) - didn't get a chance to try it. The dishes I did get (a noodle soup and a chicken curry) weren't great but I was going to give them another shot. The menu looked more Lao-Thai than Cambodian to me.

                                    2. Finally was in the neighborhood of one of the restaurants on this wonderful list and had a duck larb for lunch at Rose Garden in San Pablo. It was perfect. Need to go back and try some other places in this Lao area-- e.g. That Luang.

                                      Owner was very nice. He is from Luang Prabang (a favorite place of mine).

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