This week’s culinary spotlight is not for the faint of tongue — khao poun jaew khing packs a spicy kick like few noodle dishes!
With a scant selection of Lao food options available in downtown Vientiane, visitors to the capital might get the idea that the local cuisine consists entirely of larb and papaya salad, with the odd bit of grilled meat for variety. However, stepping a bit further afield, one can find a whole new world of flavors and textures to sample.
Let’s step out to Feuang Khao Poun Jaew Khing Restaurant, a quiet spot just a few minutes’ drive from Wat Xieng Khouan, or Buddha Park.
Named after the owner and chef, Ms. Feuang, whose photograph features prominently in testament to her mastery of the restaurant’s namesake dish, the house specialty at Feaung’s restaurant is khao poun jaew khing, or fermented rice vermicelli with spicy ginger sauce.
This countryside treat is a specialty of a few rural riverside restaurants to the east of the city proper, where you can escape the hustle and bustle of downtown Vientiane for bucolic dining with fresh, homemade noodles and sauces.
The complex noodle dish is served in many parts, to be assembled at the table: the main components are khao poun noodles, a simple broth, spicy ginger chili paste, and boiled vegetables, including cabbage and phak kan chong, or moringa tree seed pods, a highly nutritious vegetable which has been much touted as a ‘superfood’.
If only consuming these ingredients, the dish is vegetarian-friendly, as even the broth is simply a steaming hot bowl of the boiling water used to cook the khao poun noodles. However, it is also served with a host of other condiments such as fresh coriander, crispy fried pork skins, sugar, and several varieties of fermented fish sauce, all of which make excellent additions to the broth.
The khao poun noodles come in both vermicelli form, as well as a deliciously chewy teardrop-shaped ball of dough known as khao poun houa kai, or chicken’s head rice noodles—the addictively gummy and snappy texture of this unusual format of noodle is worth the trip.
Typically, diners will assemble their bowl with some mixture of noodles, vegetables, and condiments, then add broth and mix. However, a word of caution—the jaew khing spice paste is the primary flavor component of the dish, and it is both delicious and powerfully spicy, with the smashed ginger rounding out the heat of the chili peppers for a tongue-scalding, sweat-inducing burst of flavor.
Additionally, whether or not pork cracklins are your thing, they should be added to the noodles. Not only do they give a pleasant popping sound when dropped into the soup, but they also add a bit of savory oiliness which really benefits the dish, as the broth is otherwise a bit thin, even if heavily spiced.
While some restaurants include grilled fish or chicken in the khao poun jaew khing, at Ms. Feuang’s they must be ordered separately, if you so desire. The grilled chicken will not disappoint—like everything else here, it is entirely homemade, the chickens having been raised on-site. Even without the delicious chili garlic dipping sauce (also quite spicy) which accompanies it, this chicken is savory and piquant, having been marinated in the house’s special padaek fish sauce prior to grilling. However, a few bites in, one might find it isn’t quite the respite from spice that it seemed, as the marinade has also imparted a hefty spice to the chicken meat… Thankfully, there are ample cans of cold Beerlao on hand to put out the fire.
You can find Feuang’s restaurant here.