Chowdown Report: Lao New Year Festival at Wat Lao Saysettha (Santa Rosa) (2013)
Chowhounds and friends gathered on April 20 at the New Year Festival, the first food fundraiser of 2013 at Wat Lao Saysettha. The menu was too extensive to try everything (picture of the menu
from Melanie's April 19 post on Bay Area Food Festivals), but we did our best!
Many of the selections we've described before (see links below).
Because it was a New Year celebration the decor was festive, the music was good and loud, and people were dancing.
I immediately ordered Nam Kao (rice salad), always my favorite and yay, fresh herb season is back! It makes such a difference when added to the Lao dishes. New to me was rau ram (Vietnamese Coriander).
One of us ordered the papaya salad HOT! and it was HOT! To hot for us, even with the cooling provided by sticky rice and Thai iced tea. Next time we'll order it with 4 chiles instead of 8.
Raw beef laab was a bit too bitter for our tastes. If I remember correctly cooked laab didn't have as much bitter taste.
New to me were chicken wings stuffed with meat and then fried, very delicious. We also ordered angel wings which we got grilled, but they were serving most of them fried (grilled is better).
We also ordered grilled Lao sausage. I was told it was good, I was too full for even a bite.
They have expanded the dessert menu. You can get fried taro and sweet potatoes as well as fried bananas. My favorite is still ka nom kok (fried coconutty balls of dough, the texture is amazing).
They have a new more efficient system of ordering, so if you just want to run in and get some food to go it will be easy to do.
I'm sure I'm forgetting something. For the others that were there please chime in.
Now that the festival season has started again there will probably be more gatherings every month or two. If you are interested in joining us next time at Wat Lao Saysettha make sure you sign up for the North Bay chowdown distribution list at http://groups.yahoo.com/group/nbchowdown.
Apologies for my lateness in reporting in . . . a few photos of the event.
I stopped by Friday afternoon before the festival to see what was up. The temple has expanded the paved area since our last visit. Dozens of people we busy preparing food, and several volunteers told me that they’d taken a day or two off of work to help get ready. Always hospitable, they offered me a bite to eat, shown here, fried chicken wing, sticky rice, and green papaya salad. While the salad we had on Saturday was hotter than I’ve had at any of our chowdowns, this one that they make for themselves was hotter yet.
Speaking of fresh herbs, much of the greenery is grown in the temple’s garden or at the homes of volunteers. Here’s a huge colander full of scallions ready for wash and prep grown by one temple member.
Each time I’ve returned, the logistics get more streamlined, fortunately, because the number of customers continues to grow. Reusable tickets (with photos of the dish purchased) were sold at one station, then the customer redeems it at the food pick-up windows.
On Saturday, the plan was to serve fried chicken wings (after marinating them overnight in lemongrass and other herbs). While grilled is better, I was told that frying takes less time and attention to feed a big crowd. However, we lucked out. The cook in charge of chicken wings didn’t get the memo, and his first batch was done on the grill. We were able to snag those before the routine reverted to frying, as shown here.
We also tried angel wings. These were stuffed with pork forcemeat, vermicelli and bitter greens, then fried crisp. They were my favorite item the savory round.
Once again, I ordered the raw beef laab. Made with frozen, defrosted flank steak and poached book tripe, the raw version is seasoned with bile to introduce bitterness to counterbalance the sweetness of the raw meat. Though I’ve asked for less bile, I’ve come to the conclusion that any amount is too bitter for me, and I’m going to give up on this one.
While I’ve enjoyed the Lao sausage many times here, the batch for the festival was the best yet. I continue to believe that this style ranks among the great sausages of the world.
Local restaurants had also donated food for sale. We tried the dried fruit rolls made by Hue Restaurant in Eureka. The tropical flavors tasted like mango and papaya to us, and the small black seeds that tasted a little minty turned out to be basil seeds.
For dessert, fried taro and bananas,
And the kanom kok (my favorite bite of the day) were better than ever.
A very successful food day for the chowhounds and a great fundraiser for the temple bringing in $7,575!