Monthly Archives: January 2010

Tamarind (Luang Prabang, Laos)


In a quiet northeastern section of the old city, near Wat Nong, is Tamarind, a small restaurant that is famous for its Friday night fish feasts and cooking classes. We didn’t manage to make it to either of those events (they were catering a wedding so the weekend cooking classes were cancelled), but we did have a relaxing lunch there yesterday.

Tamarind specializes in Lao food. Though our first Lao restaurant experience was a complete bust, we decided to give Lao food another shot after reading the many raves about Tamarind. We ordered two of Tamarind’s specialties. The first was an assortment of dips, accompanied by an explanation sheet with pictures and descriptions of the dips. From the sheet we learned that the “purpose of the dips is to add flavor to the sticky rice that is the staple of Laos food.” The platter consisted of:

  • Jeow Mak Len – a tomato-based dip that tasted like a chunky salsa without the jalapenos.
  • Jeow Pak Hom – a coriander dip that was my favorite of the bunch. It had some chili-kick, and reminded me of a chunkier form of coriander chutney.
  • Jeow Mak Keua – a smoky eggplant dip that tasted like a good baba ghanoush
  • Jeow Bong – my least favorite, a garlic based dip where “buffalo skin adds texture”; for us the buffalo skin only added an icky flavor.
  • Khai Pene – sold all over the streets of Luang Prabang, Khai Pene is made from a vegetable that grows in the river (known as seaweed, river moss, or Mekong weed), is pounded flat, laid to dry, and topped with garlic, tomato, and sesame seeds. Tamarind’s house-made version was delicious.

Our sheet mentioned that the dips are very spicy when eaten in a private home, though at Tamarind they are unfortunately served tourist spicy. However, it’s in Laos that we have become enamored with sticky rice, and the dips were reasonably tasty and fun to scoop up with the rice.

We also ordered lemongrass stuffed with chicken. This was by far my favorite Lao dish to date. The lemongrass is stuffed with a mixture of herbs and chicken, then the entire ensemble is dipped in egg and pan fried. It would be worth taking Tamarind’s cooking class just to learn how to make this dish.

Tamarind has a cute, cafe-style atmosphere, and friendly staff. While I’m still not a huge fan of Lao food, if you’re in Luang Prabang it’s worth considering a stop at Tamarind to get a taste of the local cuisine. And while you’re there, definitely order the stuffed lemongrass.

Lao dips
Vegetarian dips that we shared with little Vid

Chicken stuffed with lemongrass
Lemongrass stuffed with chicken, kaffir lime, and coriander, with peanut sauce

Ban Wat Nong, Old Town
Luang Prabang, Laos
+856 20 7770484

Daily: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

Somchanh Restaurant (Luang Prabang, Laos)


Sometimes the Lonely Planet steers you wrong, most often in the food department. Today’s lunch was one of those cases. We went to a Laos restaurant on the Mekong river, described as serving “the best choice of vegetarian Laos food in town.” Little did we realize how different “best choice of” is from “best". While there were indeed a lot of dishes without meat, the actual food was terrible. The fried yellow noodles with vegetables were only nominally better than cup o’ soup, and the “panang curry” was just coconut oil, coconut milk, chicken, and salt. No one should ever advertise this disappointing bland, white sauce as curry. I was too disappointed with the curry to even snap a photo. At least the view was nice.

Mekong river view
Lauren and the Mekong

Fried yellow noodles with vegetables
Fried yellow noodles with vegetables

Makphet (Vientiane, Laos)


Yesterday we went looking for Makphet, described by the Lonely Planet as a “small restaurant that trains homeless youth to cook and wait tables” and whose “modern Lao cuisine is both interesting and tasty.” The description reminded us a lot of the good work by FareStart in Seattle, and we were excited to check it out. Unfortunately (as is too often the case) the address in the Lonely Planet is wrong, so we dined elsewhere for lunch and hoped they had moved rather then shut down.

Indeed, Makphet moved a few blocks away in 2008, to a location that we passed on our way home from our bike adventure. The restaurant was cute, and the menu looked delicious, so in we went for dinner.


The menu has many illustrations, trivia about the restaurant, and an extensive set of enticing options from appetizers to entrees to desserts. A few things we learned:

  • Makphet means chili in Lao
  • All of the produce used is local to Vientiane
  • Half sizes of many of the menu items are available, so we can try more!
  • 100% of the profits go back into Peuan Mit’s projects for marginalized children in Lao PDR
  • Desserts looked awesome, so we better save room

First up, Laap Tao Hou, a banana flower, tofu, and mushroom salad with galangal and soy dressing. Very fresh, a modern twist on classic Lao laap that I enjoyed much more.

Banana flower salad
The opener: banana flower salad

For our main course, we chose one from the curry page and one item from the stir fry page. The Curry Gai (Chicken Curry with Pumpkin and Mushrooms) tasted similar to the better Massaman Thai curries I’ve had, and worked really well with pumpkin.

The stir fry was my favorite. Kua Pa Sei Pit Ei On (Mekong fish and green peppercorn in Lao rice wine) was stir fried to perfection. The fish was nicely glazed in the rice wine, giving it a slightly sweet taste to offset the powerful green peppercorns. All served on crisp fresh vegetables.

Main course
Stir fried fish and green peppercorns (left) and chicken curry (right)

As promised, we had saved room for dessert. But what to choose? Pandan leaf scented sago with mango and coconut milk? Coconut and lime cake with hibiscus flower syrup? Pineapple in palm sugar caramel with coconut gelato and chili? In the end we decided to go off-menu with the daily special: sweet mango cake with coconut ice cream. In a word, awesome. The cake was moist and the ice cream fresh and creamy. Our waiter told us we’ll have to try the coconut and lime cake next time. If only we were in Vientiane for one more day!

mango cake
No half portions for dessert. Full-sized tasty mango cake.

Overall, fantastic food and your money is going to a great cause. I could not believe that all of the wait staff had been recently living or working on the street; if I hadn’t known it would have simply felt like a nice meal out with top-notch friendly service. There’s also a small handicrafts shop in the back where most of the products are made of recycled materials by local craftswomen.

Behind Wat Ong Teu, parallel to Sethathirat Road and the river front
Vientiane, Laos
+856 020 260587

Daily: Lunch, Dinner

Thai Is-San (Ko Lanta, Thailand)


On our first night after moving to Khlong Dao, we decided to forgo the touristy-looking beachfront restaurants in search of something more authentic. We cased the main road, and came upon a cute little family-run restaurant named Thai Is-San. I’m not sure whether it was the menu with a Winnie the Pooh cover, the plastic chair seating, or the smiles from the family that caused us to choose Thai Is-San for dinner, but I’m glad we did.

Dinner consisted of a spicy mango salad and stir fried fish with vegetables in spicy sauce. The mango salad was fresh, crunchy, and spicy (not Sumalee spicy, though a very enjoyable 4-star spice). The fish was breaded and stir fried with garlic, tomatoes, chilies, vegetables, coriander, and a soy-chili sauce. I think the fish is one of their best sellers, as I saw it on about 60% of the tables around us.

We were hooked. The next night we came back for more and enjoyed an even tastier meal, this time with the camera in tow. We had to get another mango salad, one of our current addictions. This time we paired it with green curry. Outside of Thailand I’m not really a green curry fan, though I’ve heard in Thailand it’s how you can determine the good cooks from the great ones. Thai Is-San’s green curry is possibly the tastiest green curry I’ve ever had. It had a depth of flavor with kaffir lime leaves, coriander, shallots, and other spices that weren’t dominated by coconut milk. Add in crunchy green beans, gobi cauliflower, and a healthy dose of fresh island prawns and you can see why we licked the bowl clean. If we weren’t headed to Laos, we’d be back again tonight!

Spicy Mango Salad
Spicy mango salad

Green Curry with prawns
Green curry prawns

The happy family
The happy family at work together

Thai Is-san

Thai Is-san
Khlong Dao Beach
Ko Lanta, Thailand

Daily: Lunch, Dinner

Sumalee Seafood (Phuket, Thailand)


We had arguably the best Thai food I’ve ever had on Nai Yang beach in Phuket. Among the crowd of beachfront restaurants is a gem of a place: Sumalee Seafood. The owner and chef, Sumalee, is a very sweet lady who turns out amazing curries, salads, and other Thai fare. And when you order “spicy!”, it can knock you out of your seat. Our first meal there was a lunch of spicy mango salad and massaman curry. The mango salad was fresh, crunchy and very spicy. Lauren and I rated it “6 star” spicy as it was spicier than any Thai food we’ve had. We chatted with Sumalee after lunch and she told us she used 3 chilies, and for herself she normally uses 1. The massaman curry was quite tasty, similar to the one served at Jamjuree.

The next day we had panang curry and phad see iw for dinner. The panang was reminiscent of the one we made in our Chiang Mai cooking class last year -  a full-flavored, medium dry curry with overtones of lemongrass. It’s always a good sign when panang is a darker brown/yellow color. This curry was so good we came back for another helping today for our final meal in Phuket (this time with vegetables) .

After each meal Sumalee would bring us a few fresh fruits as a complimentary dessert. I think this tradition started because she was swamped on our first visit and the food took a long time to arrive. Nonetheless, we continued to be treated to mangos, watermelon, bananas, and rambutan on future visits. 🙂

spicy mango salad
Super spicy mango salad, fresh and delicious

Sumalee and Lauren

panang prawns
Panang Goong, as good as it gets

Kenny enjoying a pineapple and coconut shake
Enjoying a tasty and refreshing coconut+pineapple fruit shake

Sumalee and her son
Alas, we eventually had to take our leave of Nai Yang beach and Sumalee Seafood

Sumalee Seafood
Nai Yang Beach
Phuket, Thailand

Daily: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

Poon Restaurant (Phuket, Thailand)


On our first day in Phuket, we were approached by a very friendly man on Nai Yang beach. His name is “Mr. Poon” and he is the man behind Poon Restaurant. He is also a full service beach entrepreneur. He provides beach chairs, beer and other drinks delivered to you in your lounger, and will hook you up with a massage or any other service you need. He runs a tab for you until the end of your vacation. You also get Mr. Poon’s humor thrown in for free. We had two lunches at Poon Restaurant, and they were both quite enjoyable.

The first day we had garlic pepper chicken and prawns in Thai sauce. The garlic pepper chicken was fine, though nothing special (in general garlic+pepper sauce has been a bit of a let down on all but one occasion in my Thailand experiences, but that one time was amazing). The prawns in Thai sauce were phenomenal. Spiced at ~4 stars, it was garlicky, of medium thick consistency, and had a greater depth than most soy/oyster-based sauces. It was somewhat reminiscent of Thai Tom’s “#4”. He also showed us how to carve a pineapple.

The second time, we had a repeat of the prawns in Thai sauce and chicken with cashew nuts. We even got a cooking lesson, so now we can make Poon chicken with cashew nuts at home! It was a tasty mix of garlic, chili sauce, oyster sauce, sweet soy sauce, onions, chilies, and more.

Mr. Poon’s friendliness, reasonable prices, and big personality have earned him a loyal following. We saw many of the same people hanging out at Poon’s section of the beach day after day. Lauren dubbed this crowd the “Poonatics.”

He told us that next time when we come back, maybe he’ll have a second story where people can hang out and have a view of the ocean. We’ll find out when we return. 🙂

Me and Mr. Poon
Hanging with Mr. Poon

prawns in thai sauce
Prawns in Thai sauce

chicken with cashew nuts
Chicken with cashew nuts

fruit plate on the beach
Fruit plate (mangos, pineapple, watermelon) served beachside

Poon Restaurant
Nai Yang Beach
Phuket, Thailand

Daily: Lunch, Dinner

China Town (Bangkok, Thailand)


During our long connection in BKK, we got hungry (shocking, I know). It was 5AM and the food area on floor 3 was hopping. The most exciting-looking Thai food was at a Chinese/Thai restaurant: China Town. We ordered tom yum goong (spicy soup with noodles and shrimp) and phad thai gai, along with a fresh young coconut. It was delicious, and would hold its own against most Thai food in Seattle. I’m glad to be back in Thailand!

Kenny and a young coconut
Kenny enjoying a fresh young coconut

Lauren with Tom Yum Goong
Lauren savoring a breakfast of tom yum goong

China Town
Floor 3, Main Terminal
Bangkok International Suvarnabhumi Airport
Bangkok, Thailand

24 hours/day