Psst... We're working on the next generation of Chowhound! View >
HOME > Chowhound > San Francisco Bay Area >
Jun 2, 2012 05:46 PM

Chowdown report: Another vacation in Laos - in Santa Rosa!

Chowhounders met again today at the Wat Lao Saysettha, the Laotian Buddhist temple in Santa Rosa. This time for the food sale fundraiser for Boun Prawad - celebrating the lives and form of Buddha. (See for the chowdown report for the Lao New Year festival


We started with marinated grilled chicken wings (crunchy and very tasty), followed by beef Pho with a great depth of flavor and my new found favorite Lao dish nam khao. Nam khao is called rice salad, but it's so much more. I know it contained crisp rice, sliced pork skin, peanuts, herbs and chiles. It was served with fresh herbs (including a beautiful purple shiso) and lettuce to use for a wrap. With it we had a pennywort drink which was very vegetal with a slight bitter aftertaste. It was like adding another herb to what we were eating.

After that my memory gets kind of blurry - I wonder if pennywort is psychotropic :). I bought some sausages and they kindly grilled one so we could try it, full of lemongrass and garlic and other goodness. I also bought a bag of perfectly cooked pork rinds. Others in our party had larb, vietnamese tea, and a wonderful desert that was the texture of bubble tea with lots of additions. I'm sure Melanie will chime in with a fuller description. To end the meal we had a rice cake stuffed with coconut and wrapped in an intricate triangular package of bamboo leaves.

The area was decorated beautifully with scenes from Buddha's life and places to leave offerings for loved ones who are no longer with us. With the music and the chanting I felt far away from my everyday life.

I urge North Bay hounders to come to the next event. Wonderful food and wonderful atmosphere.

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. Thanks jackiecat for the great report -- now I want nam khao for breakfast but I alas I live in a Lao-food-free zone. I love the nam khao from Vientian in Oakland if you are ever looking for an option in the East Bay -- I know there are others too as I've become obsessed with reading about you Bay Area folks eating "my" dish ;-).

    1 Reply
    1. re: grayelf

      I hope that one of your future visits will coincide with a festival day at the temple so that you can try it yourself. Santa Rosa is an hour's drive north of San Francisco.

      Edited to add: This festival is also called Boun Pha Vet, celebrating Buddha's incarnations.

    2. Thanks, jackiecat, for starting the discussion.

      For the Boun Pawad (also spelled Prawad and Pravade) observance, colorful canopied beds lined the patio displaying household goods dedicated to ancestors in the great beyond. The monks continue the nonstop chanting today.

      The temple’s own photos of the event and pictures of the evening procession can be viewed on its facebook page.

      Here’s the menu for Saturday’s food sale fundraiser at Wat Lao Saysettha. In addition, church members bring other dishes and snacks for sale.

      This time instead of frying the chicken wings, they were marinated and then cooked on the grill to make Ping gai (called gai yang in Thai). Silly me, I asked for some sweet chili sauce. But these wings were so well-seasoned, nothing else was needed. Very juicy and flavorful from the brine and smoky/caramelized skin from the grill, stretching out the wings on wooden skewers ensures even cooking. The church ladies did suggest that we eat this with papaya salad next time.

      Fer is the Lao word for "pho" aka boat noodles. Darker and beefier in flavor than a Vietnamese version using skinny cylindrical rice noodles. Very good beef toppings, including meatballs and chunks of tendon, but the stock seemed like it got an assist from a can. The rare steak was very tender from pounding. Super flavorful fatty brisket.

      At the Lao new year's celebration, I had to leave before tasting the sai ooa (Laotian sausage) and was determined to try them this time. Sold frozen at $10 for a pack that felt like about two pounds, and we had one cooked on the grill to eat on the spot.

      Whoever the grill master was, good job on cooking the sai ooa for us. Nice sear marks, and so delicious with sticky rice.

      Here’s the cut Sai Ooa with sticky rice and sweet chili sauce for four of us to share. What wonderful charcuterie, coarse ground pork with chunks of firm fat, brimming with lemongrass, galangal, black pepper, turmeric, lots of garlic, and many other complexities.

      Then another type of Lao sausage, Som Moo, aka sour sausage, made by fermented cure and served raw. A cooler full of frozen, homemade som moo made an appearance to be used for the blessed Nam Khao, rice salad. The church ladies surprised us by adding nam khao to the day's menu. It had not been disclosed on the list on the temple's facebook page. I had asked for it at New Year's when it was not available, so this was quite a thrill to try a homemade version.

      I had a chance to watch most of the nam khao prep. This tray of seasoned rice balls headed for the frying station.

      A wok on a pavement-level gas burner made short work of deep-frying the seasoned rice balls.

      Once cooled enough to handle, the fried rice balls were broken into crispy bits and combined with sour sausage and pork skin.

      Nam khao combined crispy rice, scallions, som moo, strips of pig skin, fried red chile peppers, crispy fried shallot bits, cilantro, fish sauce, mint, fried vermicelli, whole peanuts, and likely more. Vibrant lettuce and many fresh herbs (shiso, hot mint, cilantro, mint) accompanied to wrap the rice mix into a packet for eating. I especially loved the aromatic red shiso leaf. The temple’s version was heavier on the sausage and pig skin than what I’ve been served in restaurant’s and came with more greenery. I’m sorry I didn’t buy an extra box of nam khao to take home.

      For dessert, Nam Vam, the Lao version of Indonesia's es cendol. Green squiggly “worms” of tapioca, barley, grass jelly, corn, cantaloupe, coconut jellies, and many chewy things with ice and coconut milk. Very rich.

      And a second dessert, another khao (rice) steamed cake. There was some dispute over what the Lao words should be for these morsels, so I don’t have the complete name. I was fascinated last time watching the ladies seated on the ground preparing them. This go-round, I stuck around long enough for them to be steamed and ready to eat. Ten for $5, a ridiculously low price for something that takes as much labor to create. Starting from the washing, drying, trimming and polishing of the fresh banana leaves,

      To the formation of the mochi balls filled with sugary coconut, gently but swiftly coaxed into triangular pyramids snuggled up in expertly wrapped banana leaves,

      And arranged for steaming.

      The final reveal, unwinding the banana leaf origami to reveal the chewy mass inside.

      A couple bites of these chewy rice cakes had a hard piece of coconut shell in them, making me wonder if the long thin strands came from fresh coconuts. The delicate taste the banana leaves impart to the rice was simply wonderful, and the task of unwrapping leaves the scent behind on your fingers.

      Each of us left additional donations beyond the cost of our food to support the temple. I left this experience about 3pm, or as jackiecat quipped, “after a three-hour tasting menu”.

      More photos of the Boun Pawad fundraiser (click on “slideshow”, then select “show info” to view captions)

      Chowdown Report: Lao New Year Festival @ Wat Lao Saysettha (Santa Rosa)

      1 Reply
      1. re: Melanie Wong

        I'm thoroughly impressed with your adventure! You must have been quite stuffed! I'm glad you have photos to share as well. By the way, I know it's probably just a typo, but just in case you didn't know, the Lao dessert is called "Nam Van" (with an N, not an M), which literally means Sweet Water (Nam = water, Van = sweet). When typing in English, it's also sometimes spelled with a W instead of a V as in Nam Wan.

      2. hi - i am a north bay chowhounder who would like to go to the next do i get in the loop? Many thanks.

        2 Replies
        1. re: lexvegas

          Hi there, this post has links for the four area chowdown mailing lists, including one for the North Bay, where you can sign up.

          You might want to take a look through the archive to see where we've been in the past. If you have ideas for future meet-ups, please shoot an email to the group and get something going.

        2. >>"We started with marinated grilled chicken wings (crunchy and very tasty), followed by beef Pho with a great depth of flavor and my new found favorite Lao dish nam khao."

          Hi jackiecat, I'm glad you mentioned about the soup. In case people don't already know, the Lao noodle soup you had is called "Feu" (or sometimes spelled "Fer" like Melanie mentioned). The name you mentioned, "Pho", is actually a Vietnamese noodle soup and so this name should only be used when talking about Vietnamese cuisine. However, in Lao cuisine, our soup is called "Feu". They sound similar to one another, but with different spellings, because both soups were derived from a French soup.

          The Lao version has a more beefy and vegetable taste to it, whereas the Vietnamese version is lighter. The actual Lao name for our noodle soup is ເພື່ (in the Lao written language), which transliterates into English as "feu". Therefore, when discussing Lao cuisine, the "pho" spelling would be incorrect in this instance because in Lao phonetics, "pho" would be pronounced as po (a soft P sound). For an F sound in the Lao language, you would have to use the English letter F. However, in Vietnamese the F sound is spelled as "Ph".

          The Lao name and spelling, ເພື່, corresponds to the French word "feu" (fire) from the name of the French soup, which is why "feu" is the original French spelling even when typing it in English. The Vietnamese spelling, "phở", is a transliteration of the French "feu" into the Vietnamese written language that is based on the Latin script.

          2 Replies
          1. re: yummyrice

            Thanks yummyrice, I have so much to learn about the delicious cuisine. I can't wait to try more!

            1. re: yummyrice


              Feu is actually spelled ເຝີ in the Lao script so please disregard the typos in my previous post.

              The other Lao font I was using looked so small on the screen that I didn't realize I had used the wrong consonant and vowel.

              P.S. jackiecat, you're very welcome and have fun with your new adventure. :)

            2. The temple is having another food festival on Saturday. From its facebook page:

              "Boun ban fai is this weekend, Jul 14 (food sale) and Jul 15 (Tak baht)."

              Boun ban fai is the rocket festival. I have a conflict and will not be able to attend, but hope to read some posts about the treats.