Vientiane Kitchen is a popular Laotian restaurant on Sukhumvit Soi 36 in Bangkok. Its popularity is well-deserved. It is the “go-to” restaurant for the farewell feasts for Kasma’s small-group-trips to Thailand: we go for the food and for the entertainment.
We have often been disappointed by restaurants that the popular English guidebooks recommend – often the food disappoints. Vientiane Kitchen is (usually) one of the exceptions: the food is quite good, most of the time. In addition to the food, they have a lively show every night consisting of a northeastern Thai band with a very talented lead singer. In addition to the northeastern music, with the occasional American or Japanese song, there are also Thai dancers, and a woman singer as well. They’ve been quite good for the past 4 years.
(Click images to see larger version.)
The restaurant is popular with tourists, both western and Japanese, and can get quite crowded. Also, when the entertainment is on, do not expect to have intimate, quiet conversations – it can get very raucous and noisy. Still, it’s good fun if you’re in the right mood.
We’ve mostly had good luck with the food – we have a number of favorite dishes. The caveat here is that the quality can vary somewhat (different cooks?). Mostly the food is very good; on occasion, we’ve found it a bit off – still acceptable, though. They do a number of dishes really, really well. Here’s another caveat: I’ve only gone with Kasma, who can order in Thai and impress upon them that we want the same food that the staff would eat – real Thai food. I don’t know if the experience would be different for westerners who can’t speak Thai.
These dishes were all photographed at the final feast for various of Kasma’s small-group tours to Thailand. Typically, she would order 6 or 7 dishes at a time, so she wouldn’t order all of these at one meal.
These are a couple dishes that Kasma often orders to get us started. Above left is Miang Pla – Tidbits with Fish Wrapped in a Leaf. There are a large number of miang – dishes with tidbits – in Thai cuisine; undoubtedly Miang Kam (Tasty Leaf-wrapped Tidbits) is the best known. Miang Pla is sort of like Miang Kam with the addition of fried fish. A wild pepper leaf (bai cha plu) is the leaf of choice; you take a bit of the fish, a little bit of each of the other ingredients, add a dab of sauce and pop the whole thing into your mouth for an explosion of flavors.
To the above right is Grilled Pork with a delicious, fiery dipping sauce. Both of them do a very good job of getting the appetite going.
Above are two of my very favorite dishes. I could very happily make an entire meal of either of these dishes. To the upper left is Fried Pork Leg – Ka Moo Tod; the pork leg, with skin on, is stewed with spices until tender, then smoked and then crispy fried so that the fat caramelizes. It’s served with a dipping sauce and with pickled ginger. So good.
To the above right is a definite northeastern specialty – Pla Som (Sour Fish). To make this, fish is mixed with garlic, rice and salt and then left to ferment for a few days until nicely sour. It’s then deep-fried and served with crispy-fried garlic. It’s a very tasty dish and must be fried so: they usually do a good job at Vientiane Kitchen. (Check out Kasma’s blog: In Search of the Best Sour Fish (Pla Som).)
Kasma always orders the Eggplant Salad (Yum Makeua Yao) shown above left. The eggplant is fried (much like tempura) as a base for the salad – it’s an interesting and delicious variation on the more standard version
To the right is the best-known of the northeastern salads – Green Papaya Salad (Som Tam); it’s hard NOT to order Som Tam at a northeastern restaurant. When I was traveling with Kasma in Isaan (northeastern Thailand), I learned not to order som tam made spicy: in Isan they have a much hotter spice scale than I’m used to and their standard “less-spicy” som tam was still incendiary enough for me!
Above left is a spicy hot Hot-and-Sour Soup made with pork ribs. Very tasty. To the right we see “Red-Flamed” Morning Glory (Pak Boong Fai Daeng), one of the most popular Thai vegetable dishes.
Here are another two good dishes. To the above left is Fried Chicken (Gai Tod) and to the left is a northeastern salad – Crispy Rice and Sour Sausage Salad (Yum Naem Kao Tod).
We do enjoy the entertainment at Vientiane Kitchen, which starts at 7:30 p.m. and is usually over around 10:00 p.m.: they put on a good show. For the last several years there’s been a very talented musician (shown above left playing a xylophone-like Thai instrument) who is also the lead singer of the house band; he’s been backed by a number of other musicians with various instruments, including a guitar-like instrument with 4 strings, probably indigenous to the northeast, and also a bamboo flute that resembles circular Pan pipes. In addition to the traditional northeastern music, they’ll branch out into western and Japanese songs at the audience’s request. There’s also a woman singer, shown above right between two of the dancers.
Here are two pictures of the dancers. In the course of an evening they’ll do several dances, including the bamboo pole dance pictured at the very top of the page. Some of the entertainment is participatory – audience members are invited up on the stage to dance along.
- Video of house band, 2010 posted by one of Kasma’s trip members.
- Vientiane Kitchen dancers posted by one of Kasma’s trip members.
Written by Michael Babcock, February 2014