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Jul 3, 2009 12:51 PM

Cafe Orchid...Lao-Thai cuisine

I went to a Lao market yesterday and noticed a new Lao-Thai restaurant that was across the street. Besides the Lao salads that Robert ordered (i.e. sliced beef salad, papaya salad, etc...), has anyone tried any of their other dishes? Do they have any dishes that aren't typically served at Lao or Thai restaurants here in the bay area?

I'm still looking for a Lao restaurant in the bay area that offers a tangy and spicy Lao soup called Tom Sua Gai (shredded chicken), but no luck so far.

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  1. Have you asked any restaurants if they will make Tom Sua Gai for you? You could always test out DeDe Thai in Richmond. They said they would make any Lao dish on request.

    16 Replies
    1. re: rworange

      Thanks for that suggestion. Do you know if the chef at DeDe is a Lao chef or at least someone who is very familiar with Lao cuisine? So far, Lao dishes at Thai restaurants tend to be too sweet for my taste buds. I prefer Lao dishes made by someone who is familiar with the Lao palate (i.e. anti-sweet).

      I didn't want to experiment at Cafe Orchid because I haven't heard a single Lao person mention anything about that restaurant, but then again it's still a new place. =)

      Tom Sua Gai requires an herb that I believe is not used in Thai cuisine (at least not in the U.S., but I'm not 100% positive). I'm afraid that DeDe Thai might westernize the Tom Sua Gai dish because of their lack of authentic Lao ingredients, since DeDe Thai is a Thai restaurant that serves only a couple of Lao dishes. Now if it were called DeDe Lao-Thai restaurant, then I'd be more optimistic...hehe.

      One day, I'll head over to That Luang Kitchen and ask them if they could make Tom Sua Gai a special soup of the day....perhaps every Friday or something since Tom Sua Gai takes a little bit longer to prepare.

      p.s. I had asked Vientian Cafe a long time ago if they had Tom Sua Gai, but I've never asked them if they would make the soup as a special order.

      1. re: yummyrice

        The family is from Laos. The mom or aunt is the cook. Tell them exactly what you want. I think they have the Thai as primary on the menu because that seems to be an easier sell to a wider customer base. If you chat it up with them, you might be able to get what you are looking for. A nice young couple seem to be part owners.

        1. re: rworange

          Adding link (at least I hope this is the right one)

          Cafe Orchid
          1604 International Blvd, Oakland, CA 94606

          1. re: rworange

            Thanks for that info. I wonder if they are from northern, central, or southern Laos as different regions have their own preferences. I guess I'd have to chat with them to find out. =)

            Anyway, Tom Sua Gai is a soup made from stewing chicken or Asian rooster meat (tough, but very flavorful meat) that has to be simmered for an hour or so to soften the meat and then shredded by hand. I believe the soup consists of lemongrass, galanga, tomatoes, chilies, lime juice, and other basic seasonings. I believe it is then topped with a small amount of glass noodles, sliced red onions, cilantro, mint, and most importantly sliced pak paew leaves and crushed, toasted sticky rice (Khao Khua), which gives the soup a unique herby flavor, a subtle crunch, and a nice roasted flavor.

          2. re: yummyrice

            Which herb is that?

            Lao Market has a large selection of herbs and is right across the street from Orchid.

            1. re: Robert Lauriston

              Oh, I was referring to DeDe Thai in Richmond. The Lao herb I was referring to is called something like "Pak Paew" (soft P). I'm not sure if it's used in other SE Asian countries...well it's probably also a Vietnamese herb, but I haven't seen it used in any of the Thai dishes in the U.S. so I highly doubt that they would have this herb in house at DeDe Thai.

              To Grayelf, yes that is the correct link. Thanks for adding something that I had overlooked myself. =)

              1. re: yummyrice

                From what I find online, pak paew = polygonum = Vietnamese rau ram. Pointy dark green leaves with pinkish stems? That's readily available around here and common at better Vietnamese places. I think I've had it in dishes at Green Papaya (Laotian).

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

                1. re: Robert Lauriston

                  Thanks for researching that for me. So Pak Paew (Lao) and Rau Ram (Vietnamese) are the same exact herb? That's nice to know. I'll have to try the Vietnamese herb just to see if it is exactly the same as the Lao herb I was referring to. And oh, I believe the stems are least the kind that I've seen used in Lao cooking, but again I'm not 100% positive. Based on the pictures online, those two herbs do kind of look the same. The ones used in Lao cooking have very slender leaves. Some of the Rau Ram images show fat leaves like basil leaves.

                  Anyway, I wonder if it's also used in Thai or Cambodian cuisine as I've never seen it used in either cuisine.

                  1. re: yummyrice

                    I've read that it's used in Thai and Cambodian cuisine but around here I've seen it for sure only in Vietnamese restaurants. I think the Thais also call it pak paew.

                    1. re: Robert Lauriston

                      It doesn't appear to be a typical herb that is used in the usual Thai (aka Central Thai) cooking, which is probably why I've never seen it used at any of the standard Thai restaurants here in the U.S. However, I wouldn't be surprised if it's only used in the Issan region and the northern Lanna region of Thailand due to their relations with Lao people and cuisine.

                      I'm not an expert on Cambodian cuisine, so I'll ask a few of my Cambodian friends how this herb is used in their cuisine. Thanks.

                2. re: yummyrice


                  This new story in the LA Times discusses several Vietnamese herbs, but I didn't see that one, unless it's perilla perhaps?

                  1. re: Constant Velocity

                    It is mentioned in that article-- rau ram is kind of a Vietnamese cilantro, with what I think of as a more floral note. Extremely offputting to those who hate cilantro, BTW. There is usually a dark pointy pattern on the leaves which are narrow (longer than they are wide) and the color of the stem can vary from green to pink-red. Perilla has very large, wide leaves.

                    In my family, it is required for the consumption of fertilized duck eggs, or balut. I also tend to put it in chicken-cabbage salad and bun rieu, but I'm not sure if that is standard.

                    Also, it is very easy to grow from cuttings. So if you buy a bag, put a couple sprigs in a jar of water on your window sill.

                    1. re: sfbing

                      So it's official. That herb is the same herb used in Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia, Malaysia, Singapore, etc...

                      Laos = Pak Paew
                      Vietnam = Rau Ram
                      Singapore = Daun Kesom?
                      Malaysia = Daun Laksa?
                      Thailand = Pak Pai? (according to a wiki source)
                      Cambodia = ?

                      1. re: yummyrice

                        It's not actually related to coriander (cilantro).

                    2. re: Constant Velocity

                      That article says, "Cilantro lovers will revel in spear-shaped Vietnamese coriander (rau ram, Polygonum odoratum), which lends its peppery cilantro backbite to Vietnamese soups and salads ..." Personally I don't find it anything like cilantro, though ngo gai (aka culentro, shadon beni) definitely has a similar aroma.

                      1. re: Robert Lauriston

                        I'm going to have to agree with you. I don't think it's all that similar to cilantro, but according to the sources online, they think it's similar to "cilantro"/"coriander". Oh well.