2 suggestions in Vientiane, Laos
We're just back from a trip to S/E Asia in late September.
In Vientiane, two restaurants from opposite ends of the scale were note worthy.
Without question, the best meal we had in our 10-days in Laos was at Makphet Restaurant. The restaurant is sponsored by the Peuan Mit Street Children's Project, a program run by Friend’s International that provides vocational training to street children in Laos. The charitable aspect was one of the reasons we decided to eat there…the first time. But we were so blown away by the food and service that we decided to go back for a 2nd visit on our last night in country and that meal was equally as good.
While the restaurant is staffed by students and instructors, there is at least one person back in the kitchen who knows exactly what they are doing. The food was not only well pre-pared; the menu was inspired. A refined hand has been applied to local ingredients and recipes to produce a menu full of what is best about the fusion of eastern and western cuisines.
And the service was terrific. Our table was served by a group of at least 2 and sometimes more very eager (to please) students and at least 1 instructor at all times.
We were a group of 5 and over the course of the 2 meals we sampled and shared a good portion of the menu and everything we ate was better than just “good.” The consensus of our group was that 2 vegetable dishes were the favorites of the table:
-Grilled eggplant with tomatoes, galangal, lemongrass and peanuts
-Banana flower salad with mushrooms and galangal
Other entrées we enjoyed were:
-Chicken curry with pumpkin and mushrooms
-A salad with pan seared beef marinated in Lao whiskey
-Spiced (grilled) Lao pork sausage
-Steamed Mekong River fish fillet
These were accompanied by the ever present basket of sticky rice.
At most meals in Laos, we passed up dessert but the menu at Makphet sounded so good, we gave in to temptation. And the desserts were equal to the entrées. There are quite a few others offered but on both nights we shared:
-Steamed pumpkin cake with palm sugar syrup
-Coconut - pineapple cake
-Grilled pineapple with caramelized palm sugar syrup
-Red Hibiscus & Passion fruit sorbet with meringue stars
The total bill including a round of beer or cocktails was about $12 USD per person, which is expensive for Laos. But back home, we would happily pay 5 times that for a similar meal.
And this was one of the few restaurants in Laos that we were sure did not use MSG in their recipes.
Phone : 020 78 21 949
Address: Vientiane, Laos - On a no-name street parallel to Settathirath Road and one block off the water front. The Hare and Hound Pub is on one end of the street and Simply Me Cafe is on the other.
Email : email@example.com
Website : http://www.friends-international.org
Hours : 12:00 to to 20:00
Bounmala is very much a local’s type of place that’s kind of bright and noisy but in its own way, a really good experience. The attraction here is barbecue chicken and cheap beer. We ordered the chicken along with grilled duck, green papaya salad and sticky rice. And large bottles of Beer Lao for 9000 kip (or just over $1 USD). Beer is also available by the pitcher as well as in a table top dispenser with an ice filled plastic cylinder in the middle.
All we got was really good food at an inexpensive price and friendly service.
Address: Kouvieng Road, Vientiane, Laos
Phone: +856 21 31 3249
Thanks for taking the time to write out your Vientiane recs. Makphet sounds like great food for a great cause - can't wait to try it when we are there in a few weeks!
You might be interested in a local slant form someone who has lived in Laos for some years now.
Makpphet is not popular with locals, and is really aimed at tourists. The food, while good, is not traditional Lao food, but rather a watered down version, specifically ndesigned for western palates. That is not necessarily a bad thing, but just be aware that you are not gettig real lao food..
Interesting perception. Now I'm curious to ask you the following question. Are you getting "country" cooking mixed up with "city" cooking? The people living in cities don't necessarily eat like the ones living in villages.
A photo taken at Makphet:
^ That looks pretty delicious and spicy to me. What makes you think it's not traditional Lao food?
Now I understand why you're very particular about padaek. Savannakhet cuisine is aggressively seasoned compared to Luang Prabang cuisine. Each city/region in Laos has its own preferences as far as seasonings and ingredients are concerned. Even Gaeng Nor Mai is prepared differently depending on the region/city.
Great picture that you had taken, As Luang Prabang version which I viewed at your photo. We called "saar " it normally made with minced Pork and herb with Bananan flower, We also boil Pork skin and cutted in thinkly piece to mix with. This kind of dish will be served at Ork Kam Duan ( New born Baby ceremony ).
Thanks for your point of view. We did understand (as you point out) that the meals we enjoyed at Makphet were not prepared in the traditional Lao style. By the way, we did enjoy many traditional Lao meals during our trip...most in places where we were the only westerners eating there. What was so exciting to us was the way in which the chef at Makphet made use of local ingrediants and used local recipes as a jumping off point to create dishes that were so appealing to our western palate.
Attached is a photo of the servers for our table at Makphet.
I second both of mediakzar's suggestions. I just ate at Makphet for the 2nd time last night, and it was again delicious. Ron, I think you are just being dismissive.
I have studied the food of Thailand, Isan (NE Thailand), and Lao for 2 years, lived here for 6 months, eaten fancy meals as well as the khao niao, khao lam, kuay tiaw, and insects on the side of the road, all delicious. The yum hua plee (banana blossom salad) and yum mak khuea (grilled eggplant salad) that mediakzar describes are both traditional dishes. I've had both of them at Makphet and they are both delicious and prepared in a traditional way. Their presentation may not be traditional, but the ingredients are. They will also make it spicy if you ask for it, especially in Lao, which is easy to remember since it's just the name of the restaurant, 'mak phet" = "(I) like (it) spicy"
If you are going to dismiss this restaurant, at least offer an alternative.
Thanks for the tip on how to ask for spicy. I'm sure I can remember that one. Found your blog posting on Chiang Mai and read with interest as we are off to there in a couple months. Any suggestions on restaurants in the Northeast Thailand provinces would also be appreciated.
Yes, banana blossom salad and grilled eggplant salad are both traditional Lao dishes. I think Ron's confusion is due to him not realizing that Lao cuisine cannot be based on just one region's cooking preferences. Savannakhet is located in south central Laos. The style of cooking in that part of Laos is not necessarily the same as that of Northern Laos and Central Laos.
That strong Lao fermented fish sauce called padaek is more heavily used in southern Lao cuisine, whereas the Lao of the northern region don't use it as much. Since Ron is more familiar with south central Lao cuisine in Savannakhet, he would be surprised to know that relatively speaking, the Lao of the north prefer their foods on the plain side unlike Savannakhet where the food is saltier and more aggressively seasoned...i.e. padaek is more pronounced in dishes as you head towards the south.
Anyway, "mak phet" is the correct transliteration, but for English speakers it's easier to remember that "mak phet" is pronounced more like "muck phet" (aspirated P, not F).
Makphet is absolutely delicious! Thanks for posting the rec.
We enjoyed our meal so much we ate here 2 nights in a row. The food is excellently prepared and arrives at your table well presented. The staff of young kids are so friendly and seem to really appreciate the learning experience.
On our first night we tried the pan seared Lao beef and curried fish with rice noodles. The second night we ordered half entrees of the banana blossom salad with grilled pork, chicken and mushroom yellow curry, and red curry with pork and eggplant. All of the meats were cooked perfectly and the seasoning of the dishes was spot on. We really liked the half entree option since it's usually just my wife an I eating. This way we get to try more dishes :)
The attached picture is of the banana blossom salad.