It’s with a heavy heart that I report on our last Family Night dinner here in Vientiane. As the day approached, we wracked our brains to pick a restaurant worthy of this momentous occasion. Nikki researched a dinner cruise on the Mekong, but most feedback suggested health-and-safety standards were questionable. (After all this time in Asia, I wouldn’t know a health-and-safety standard if it punched me in the face, but I did wonder whether chartering a boat for four people would really be all that fun.)
We finally settled on Mak Phet, a lovely little joint that trains street kids to work in the restaurant industry. We had all been there before and savored several of the delicious Lao dishes. Carol and Nikki arrived at the restaurant first and discovered the menu had changed. Nothing sounded good enough to warrant the unusually high prices, so we held a quick family meeting and moved the party to my favorite restaurant in town: Lao Kitchen.
Lao Kitchen is owned by Noy, a woman who used to work in our school canteen. She and her staff prepare fantastic Lao food bursting with fresh flavors. Some of my favorite dishes include chicken wrapped in pandan leaves (which comes with a to-die-for citrus/chili sauce), curry with tofu, stir-fried morning glory (with an insane amount of garlic), basil stir fry, ginger stir fry and any other stir fry. You almost can’t go wrong. The only thing I didn’t love at Lao Kitchen was the crispy pork (no, it’s nothing like bacon), although I didn’t try the duck bills (been there, done that) or the “chicken knees and elbows.”
Living so far away from home, we often find ourselves craving familiar comfort food like burgers or mashed potatoes or big salads with fancy candied nuts. It’s easy to get bored with the local cuisine; no matter how much you love it, you can only eat so much sticky rice. In Vientiane, we can choose from Italian, Turkish, Chinese, Mediterranean, Indian, Belgian, Thai, German, French, Mexican (well, it’s really more of a brothel), and countless other ethnic culinary options. But I have found myself sipping a cold Beer Lao to wash down that spicy Lao Kitchen curry probably once a week since it opened. That’s a real testament to how fab (and cheap) this place really is.
But I saved the best for last: mango with sticky rice and coconut milk. Possibly the world’s most perfect dessert. It sounds so simple, and yet I have goosebumps of joy as I write this.
Following our final Family Night dinner, we all motored to Walkman Village, a treasure trove of imported knock-off designer crap. We tried on swim caps with Nikki and helped Carol pick out a Prada bag for her teaching assistant.
No, that’s not a meth lab. Tony’s crashed on the mattress in our living room and the girls are drinking out of plastic kegger cups because the movers hauled away all our stuff this week.by