By the way — not sure if it’s common knowledge. In Laos they use the sticky rice to eat dishes with their hands. I’m not a big fan of eating with my hands except for Ethiopian. Also, I’m on a diet, so that would be too much sticky rice.
Have been eating at Vientiane GG for years and my recollection is that the family is Hmong from Laos. Lao food, in general, has more of a bitter, herbal, salty, and almost no sweet profile. Perhaps because there’s less sugar cane in the mountainous regions of Laos. Thai leans sweeter with almost no bitter depending on the region and Issan leans more herbal, in general. A good example of Lao Hmong food would be Or Lam stew which they sometimes make at Vientiane. I only wish they used quality proteins and we have dropped better quality meat, homegrown lemongrass and sawtooth coriander a couple days in advance to make a dish or two for us. Sometimes Moua Dream Farms at the farmers market sells organic/ns pea eggplant for Or Lam stew. That coupled with first harvest sticky rice and the food at Vientiane GG is pretty glorious.
My friend makes the very best Khao Poon with jidori chicken which I think she should do as pop-up.
In general, I think San Diego has a better selection of Lao restaurants. There’s also Kim Thai and Kop Jai Lai in LA County.
When I sat down and talked with the Lao chef at the sadly short-lived A&J Kitchen in South El Monte, she pointed out the differences. Most notably Lao basil used instead of the basils in Thai cuisines and different fish sauce and fish paste (made wholly from freshwater fish). But, there were other subtle distinctions as well. Lao larb and papaya salad are different as well.
Exactly, JThur01. Laos is land locked, unlike their Thai and Cambodian neighbors. Freshwater fish and much more pungent umami is found in villages and homes. Maybe a little tamer in Vientiane and Luang Prubang restaurants that cater to a few tourists and NGOs workers.
Isaan is also land locked. Do you think Lao people get their fish paste from Laos (or make it themselves) but Isaan people get it from other parts of Thailand? I really have no idea. I just question whether there is such a stark distinction. You can look across the river in Vientiane and see Isaan.
As far as I know, people from Isan are more closely related to Lao people. Their languages are much more close than either is to Thai. Many people from Isan move to Bangkok for work opportunities and can be discriminated against quite thoroughly because they are “different.” I remember when traveling in Laos that people told me there are more Lao people in Isan than there are in Laos.
I concur that the difference between Isaan and Lao is definitely subtle for the most part, with some obvious overlap. I just passed along what a Lao chef told me. For what it’s worth, they were rather emphatic about it