I recently had the opportunity to travel to Vientiane, Laos. Looking for recommendations for places to eat, my good friend Roy from Thaizer strongly encouraged me to visit Doi Ka Noi (official Facebook page). He claimed it was the best Laotian food in Vientiane. After visiting Doi Ka Noi I can say from my own personal experience that it’s the best Laotian food I’ve had in Laos.
Their daily changing menu showcases traditional Laos dishes that are rarely found on restaurant menus. Each dish is made using ingredients fresh from each morning’s purchase from the local market or plucked from their onsite garden. The prices are very fair considering the large portion sizes, and quality of the ingredients. It’s why Doi Ka Noi is a favorite dining spot amongst expats living in Vientiane who appreciate authenticity and quality.
But let me show you what I mean…
A word about Doi Ka Noi’s menu…
Every morning at 5:00 am Mrs. Noi (pictured above) hits the nearby local outdoor market to scour for fresh seasonal ingredients that will pair well with what is growing and ready to harvest from her garden. The day’s menu is driven by what she finds. As examples, during hed saet (a chanterelle like mushroom) season you might see on the menu kua hed saet sai sin moo, a dish consisting of stir-fried foraged chanterelle mushrooms with pork. If the dok buab (sponge gourd flowers) are flourishing you may find sup nor kah sai hed let dok mak buab, a dish of galangal shoots with mushrooms, sponge gourd flowers, shallots, chili, sesame seeds, ginger, garlic and chili on the day’s menu.
If you want to know what they’re serving before you go, you need to check out their Facebook page. The menus are published daily around 8:30 am. But if you just show up I’m confident you’ll find something on the menu that will impress you.
One special note, the dishes are made according to family recipes. This is not a restaurant that makes substitutions or omissions to the ingredients. The food is meant to be enjoyed as it is meant to be cooked.
Let me show you the dishes I enjoyed during my visit so you can see what makes this place special.
My friend that I was traveling with had been craving naem khao all the way to Vientiane. It was his must-have dish for our visit. So he was pretty stoked when we saw it at the bottom of Dok Ka Noi’s daily menu. This Naem Khao (50,000 kip) dish is made with crispy fried balls of rice mixed with salad greens, herbs, and toasted peanuts.
I’d never had the dish before but my buddy swears it’s the best he’s ever had. I believe him. I really enjoyed the crunchy/chewy rice balls and the freshness from all the herbs. If you’re a fan of naem khao, I think Doi Ka Noi will impress you.
River Weed (Khai Phen)
This particular dish is one of the items that are nearly always featured on their menu. This Khai Phen with Jaew Mak Len (40,000 kip) is a popular dish in the Luang Prabang area, and one of my personal favorite appetizers with an ice cold Beer Lao. The dish is made by deep frying thin strips of river weed which grows widely in the Mekong River around Luang Prabang.
The river weed has a texture and flavor that is similar to Japanese nori seaweed–maybe a little thicker. Coated in toasted sesame seeds this appetizer is enjoyed by dipping it into Jaew Mak Len, a sauce made with grilled tomatoes and spicy chillies. This is a must try authentic Laotian appetizer.
A clothing friendly dish…
I’m not a clumsy man. My gal, on the other hand, grew up with the nickname “Jammy” on account of her habit of wearing more food than she ate. I believe I somehow incurred a karmic debt from all my jokes to her about her foodie mishaps. This dish repaid that debt. Big time.
For the life of me I still don’t understand how it happened. In one second I’m reaching for the dish to bring it closer, in the next second the dish is upside down in my lap. My friend believes it’s because I was wearing pink shorts. I think it’s a karmic debt thing. The jury is out. But one thing for certain, after a soak and a wash my shorts survived unstained. That makes this a “clothing safe” dish. Jammy would love it!
It’s also a delicious dish. The Mak Eua Pow Yam Sai Sin Moo (60,000 kip) is a salad made with charcoal roasted aubergine, leafy greens and herbs, minced pork, and topped with crispy shallots. I highly recommend this dish. It’s so good you may feel compelled to wear it!
A totally different laab…
The Xiangkhouang Province of Laos is well known for its Plain of Jars. They’re also famous for their unique food dishes. This Laab Pa Xieng Khouang (60,000 kip) is completely different than Thai style laab dishes. For one thing, it’s a “wet” laab (you don’t want this in your lap!).
It is made with finely minced fish and roasted veggies, and fiery chillies. It’s also accompanied with leafy herbs and is excellent over sticky rice. Doi Ka Noi sources their rice from small local farmers (sometimes as little as only 2 kg of rice per farm). You can’t go wrong ordering any kind of rice they have on their menu. Each grain is special.
Mushrooms are known flavor enhancers. How do you enhance the flavor of a flavor enhancer? Stir fry it with chili and garlic, of course! That’s exactly what Doi Ka Noi did with this Kua Hed Luam (50,000 kip) dish. During the wet season, Laos has an abundance of various mushrooms. Mrs. Noi doesn’t miss a chance to forage from nature’s fungal bounty and make sure it’s represented on the menu.
A chat with the owner…
Mrs. Noi grew up in a small rural farming community located in the Khammouane Province of Laos. At a very early age she tended the kitchen with her grandmother. It was her grandmother who instilled in her the importance of fresh, quality ingredients in cooking. Doi Ka Noi’s recipes were passed down by Noi’s grandmother. Each dish that is prepared today is an homage to her grandmother. Each dish represents a tangible memory she has with her grandmother. It’s why the recipes are not altered to suit different taste preferences.
Noi started Doi Ka Noi in 2015 with her husband, Mick. Mick takes care of the social media, printing the daily menus, and is a gifted food photographer. Noi does all the ingredient shopping, comes up with the menu ideas, and of course, the cooking. Though she has an excellent staff, nothing leaves that kitchen without her making sure it’s “right”.
To say Noi is passionate about food is an understatement. Noi was the very first member from Laos to join the Slow Food movement, a global organization which envisions a world in which all people can access and enjoy food that is good for them, that is good for the farmers who grow it, and good for sustaining the environment. She also successfully lobbied to have the river weed khai phen included in Slow Food’s “Ark of Taste” catalogue of endangered heritage foods.
Good, Clean, and Fair
Noi was drawn to the Slow Food movement mainly because its philosophy so closely aligned with her own for how she lives and cooks. The philosophy is based on three interconnected principles: good, clean, and fair. Good in that food should be high quality, flavorsome, and healthy. Clean relates to the production of the food and that it doesn’t negatively impact the environment. Fair means that the food is priced so that it’s accessible to consumers and that those involved in its production work with fair conditions and pay for their labors.
Working within this principled framework, Noi cooks with no MSG, no foam packaging, and purchases ingredients fresh daily from local farmers she has developed relationships with who grow organically. Additionally, as she is passionate about sourcing only the freshest ingredients, many of the herbs, greens, and vegetables are grown in her garden plot at the restaurant.
It would be a real challenge to find a restaurant that equally measures up to the quality, authenticity, and value that you’ll find at Doi Ka Noi!
I’m hungry. Where is it?
Doi Ka Noi has currently been operating from their new location for 2 years. Not far from the Japanese Embassy, if arriving by taxi or tuk tuk it’s best to show your driver the below map. I recommend you save it to your phone in case you don’t have a Laos SIM card. It certainly would have saved me and my friend a lot of driving around had I done that!
Doi Ka Noi is only open for lunch from 10:00 am to 2:30 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday. They have extended hours Friday through Sunday from 10:00 am to 9:00 pm, and are closed on Mondays.
In or out?
They have seating available inside with air conditioning. The walls are decorated with Mick’s photography of the local market scene and Doi Ka Noi dishes. You’ll discover some unique furniture, such as chairs from an old Indian movie theater once you enter. If you’re a born shopper they also sell local handicraft.
If I could go back in time I would have have done two things differently. I wouldn’t have emptied a plate of aubergine and pork on my lap, and I would have saved some room for their homemade ice cream. During our visit I observed most of the diner’s finishing off their meals with bowls of homemade ice cream. I wish I had, too!
For folks who want to sit outside there is also plenty of seating available. During the day it might be a little hot, but I suspect in the evening this would be a great place to relax with ice cold Beer Lao.
If you care about eating good food, no visit to Vientiane would be complete without dining at Doi Ka Noi. Don’t forget to check out their Facebook page to see their menu!
I want to hear from you!
Should you decide to visit Doi Ka Noi I’d love to hear your feedback in the comment section below, directly to me, or via message on either the Chow Traveller Facebook page or Chow Traveller Instagram. However you choose, I’d love to hear from you!