Tag Archives: laos

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