It all began as a pop-up. Donny Sirisavath had been making delicately constructed noodle bowls with direct and soulful Laotian flavors that mingled with an infinitely-layered broth. For several years, his hand-made boat noodles have evoked wonder in the ephemeral pop-up world, where underrepresented Asian flavors have been finding footholds. Khao Noodle became a permanent fixture late last winter, when Sirisavath and his team rooted down in East Dallas, near Jimmy’s Food Store and Mai’s. Immediately, he became an ambassador for Laotian food’s exquisite harmonies and thrilling funk. This month, D Magazine features a profile I wrote on Sirisavath, having spent hours in his kitchen. It speaks of his mother’s story, which inspired his culinary quest. It speaks of the labor of making the perfect rice noodle. The piece is online today.
One thing I was not able to do was include a proper introduction to each dish, given the space and the fact that I wasn’t writing a review. So, here’s a primer. When you arrive, you’ll find a place at a communal table. Chopsticks and spoons are at the end. Bowls and snacks give you punches of flavor, woven into a tapestry with the Laotian fundamentals of sticky rice and the condiment jeow (see below). Each bowl and bite is beautifully layered, with an aesthetic pop and height that would be unusual in any traditional context. Read the profile here. And then eat the food. Take the plunge into a cuisine we haven’t had.
Boat noodles—the original and signature noodle bowl, with a dark broth made rich with pork blood and aromatic with pandan leaf, ginger, galangal, lemongrass, and keffir lime.
Khao poon—a bowl of fermented vermicelli noodles in a light beef broth with roasted vegetable earthiness. Blood cake and hunks of beef that are meltingly tender join a garnish of cabbage, crispy rice, herbs, and chili oil. Fish sauce and lime add brightness.
Khao soi—a rice noodle bowl, topped with a mixture of ground pork that is delicious and funky with fermented soy bean paste cooked down with shallots and tomatoes.
Mee katee—tart, sweet, and fragrant, this dish presents rice noodles in a coconut curry with peanuts and egg and the aromas of keffir lime and chiles.
Sukiyaki—slippery glass noodles in a fermented soy bean, sesame, and coconut cream sauce.
Khao piak sen—a Lao version of chicken-noodle soup.
Moutsayhang (the name means “one bite of everything”)—essentially layered like musubi, it’s a Sirisavath invention, with a fermented pork patty, egg, sticky rice, and jeow wrapped in river seaweed harvested from the Luong Prabang region of Laos.
Shrimp bites—blistered bites of cured shrimp with aromas of keffir lime.
Sakoo—painstakingly rolled tapioca-pearl dumplings, like translucent orbs with a sweet-savory filling of peanut, sweet radish, shallot, palm sugar, and garlic.
Lao sausage—remarkably herbaceous cured pork sausage with aromas of lemongrass and keffir lime (and a back note of Thai chili heat).
Som moo—cured pork patty made with a mixture of lemongrass, keffir lime, and shallot, and cured with a mixture of toasty jasmine rice and koji spores.
Pickled greens—(seasonal) ginger, garlic, and red Thai chiles give these rice-cured greens a crazy addictive flavor, enhanced with the floral sophistication of keffir lime.
Jerky basket—(heavenly and smashed) eye round beef, marinated, dehydrated, fried, and either coated with sesame seeds or pounded. This was a Sirisavath childhood snack, along with sticky rice and jeow.
Beef skewers—the marinade includes beer and reminds Sirisavath of his uncles’ barbecues. They’re grilled over a hibachi.
Jeow—three versions of the ubiquitous condiment type that’s packed with flavor and showcases the Laotian trinity.