Chinese businessmen taking advantage of Laos’ development boom are fueling demand for great, authentic regional cuisine
It’s boom time in Laos. The country’s unprecedented economic growth has inspired the country’s powerful neighbors to rush in for a slice of the pie.
The hungriest of them all is China.
Chinese businessmen arrive in Vientiane and many settle in the Chinese enclave just outside the city, Sanjiang Cheng (Three Rivers City).
Here, they purchase Chinese goods, communicate in Mandarin and, of course, eat traditional Chinese food.
In other countries, Chinese food is heavily influenced by the host country’s native ingredients and preferences. In Laos, however, Chinese ingredients are often easy to acquire.
These factors combine to make Vientiane one of the best places outside of China to sample China’s regional cuisines.
You just have to know where to find it.
The Sanjiang Cheng area offers almost every one of the “Eight Great Traditions of Chinese Cuisine.”
The following four are standouts, but finding authentic food at other restaurants in the little district is easy.
If you ask for the region’s tècài (special dish), the chef is usually happy to oblige.
Chinese Restaurant of Fujian Flavor (福建风味馆)
Never mind its clumsily translated name, this restaurant serves up accurate Fujian cuisine.
Reflecting Fujian’s emphasis on seafood, you can choose from a cornucopia of sea critters kept on ice near the back of the restaurant.
Their razor clams (bàochǎo lǎochēng), a Fujian specialty, are particularly tasty.
The pork dishes, like braised eggplant served with ground pork and chilis (hóngshāo qiézi) and the twice-cooked pork (huíguō ruò), are also very good.
You can find it by looking for the peaked roof with green Lao script and red Chinese script in the northwest corner of the restaurant sector’s small parking lot.
Open daily, early morning-10 p.m.; LAK 20,000-75,000 ($2.53-9.50) per dish
Guangdong Roast Duck (广东烧鸭)
If you don’t have a large group to fill up the spacious Fujian restaurant, the place next door is a better option.
Guǎngdōng shāoyā — Cantonese-style roast duck — is less than $3 for a breast with rice and veggies, and local Guangdong natives swear by its authenticity. You can also get chicken breast in the same style, called shāojī.
Beside the Fujian restaurant. Open daily, 8 a.m.-9 p.m.; LAK 15,000-35,000 ($1.90-4.40) per dish
Hunan Restaurant (湖南风味馆)
Hunan’s native cuisine changes with the season. Despite Vientiane’s more tropical location, the chef still abides by miniscule temperature variations.
Hunan’s most famous dish, the spicy Dong’an chicken, is only available during winter and spring.
In the summer, the Hunan-style xiāngjiàng páigǔ — sweet and spicy braised pork short ribs — is great.
They go perfectly with a can of jiāduōbǎo, a chilled herbal tea popular on the mainland.
Facing Guangdong Roast Duck, Hunan is located about 15 yards to the right, facing south. Open daily, 8 a.m.-10 p.m.; LAK 15,000-60,000 ($1.90-7.60) per dish
Dongbei Dumpling Restaurant (东北饺子馆)
Dumplings are a staple food of Northeast Chinese cuisine and this small restaurant makes them fresh all day long.
A $2.50 plate of guōtiē — fried dumplings — will fill you up for most of the day.
Though the menu is small, the amiable Manchurian owner is happy to make regional specialties like dìsānxiān, a hearty vegetarian dish made from eggplant, bell pepper and potato, if you give him a day’s notice.
He’ll hunt down the ingredients and cook it for you for lunch the next day.
Two doors to the east of Hunan Restaurant. Open daily, 8 a.m.-10 p.m.; dumplings LAK 10,000-20,000 ($1.26-2.53); dishes up to LAK 45,000
There are a few Chinese restaurants dotted around downtown Vientiane, though most of their kitchens churn out half-hearted attempts at decent mainland food.
Of note, though, is the Chinese Liaoning Dumpling Restaurant. The chefs here churn out plates of shuǐjiǎo (boiled dumplings) in a steady stream at lunch and dinner. Pork and chives is the best and most popular filling.
Other dishes are hit or miss.
Two doors to the west of popular nightlife spot Bor Pen Nyang on Quai Fa Ngum. Open daily, 8.30 a.m.-2 p.m. and 4.30-10.30 p.m.; dumplings LAK 16,000-88,000 ($2-11.10), dishes LAK 18,000-98,000
Getting to Sanjiang Chang
Sanjiang Cheng is three kilometers west of downtown on Rue Samsenthai/Souphanouvong Avenue toward the airport.
At the large green sign that says “San Jiang Hotel,” a right turn leads to the nondescript south gate.
The compact restaurant district is at the opposite end of the enclave, near the main entrance to the large indoor mall and to the northwest of the roundabout.
Most tuk-tuk drivers know where it is (Xang Jieng in Lao), and rides cost LAK 20,000-25,000 ($2.53-3.16).
Source: By Adam Hodge, for CNN