Laotian….What ocean?

There’s not much I won’t eat. I was raised in an “eat first, ask questions later” household. To say I have an adventuresome palate is an understatement.

I’m always on the lookout for a cuisine I haven’t tried yet. And I’ve yet to find a cuisine I don’t enjoy. Thanks to Sacramento’s growing food truck scene, I added Laos to my culinary map thanks to the Green Papaya Food Truck, specializing in Hmong┬áThai and Laotian food.

Confused? Check out this video:

Laotian food is characterized primarily by sticky rice eaten with your hands, galangal, lemongrass and padaek or fermented fish sauce. There is also intense heat- hotter than Thai. In Laotian cuisine, papaya is eaten as much as a vegetable as a fruit. Basically, Laotian food is an amazing combination of sweet, hot and sour with a wide variety of contrasting textures.

After my first food truck experience with Laotian food, I was delighted to find a brick and mortar outlet for Laotian food had recently opened near my work. I grabbed my equally adventurous friend Kim and checked out Joi’s Kitchen in Natomas last week.

Angel Wings from Joi's Kitchen

Angel Wings from Joi’s Kitchen

This modest, family run restaurant prepares all its food to go, but there are a handful of seats inside. Like many strip mall gems, Joi’s Kitchen doesn’t have much going on as far as ambiance, but it’s all that and a bag of chips when it comes to flavor.

Since it had been a while since we’d dined at the Laos food truck, Kim and I went with three tried and true favorites and one recommendation from the staff. We were not disappointed.

We started with Thai standard, Angel Wings, since they’re delicious, super hard to make and sometimes even harder to find on a menu.

Take a chicken drummett or wing, pull out the bones and some of the meat inside the skin. Chop up the meat and mix it with a combination of clear Mung Bean Noodles, Lemongrass and other spices, then stuff the mixture back into the drummett skin to reform its original shape.

Then dredge the drummet in eggwash and panko-like breadcrumbs and fry. Slice and enjoy the crunchy, savory and almost slippery texture inside thanks to the noodles. So good!

Laotian Sausage

Laotian Sausage

Our next pick, Laotian Sausage had mixed reviews on Yelp for a strong lemongrass flavor. I wasn’t terribly concerned, since I love lemongrass.

As expected, the pork based sausages were very lemongrass-forward with a savory seasoning and an almost sweet finish. While other versions I’ve had were spicy, these sausages were rather mild.

The accompanying sauce, Tomato Jeaow, was similar to a roasted Mexican salsa, with some interesting flavors I could not identify. The sausages were delicious on their own as well as with this unique sauce.

Thanks to the very generous serving/portion Kim and I had more than enough to share. During our lunch we were able to enjoy our fill with and without salsa and even save some for later.

Papaya salad medium heat

Papaya salad medium heat

Papaya salad was up next. In Laotian cuisine, the outer green skin of the papaya fruit is shredded in a method almost like zesting citrus. These long, crunchy strips are then served with cabbage, basil, tomatoes and lots of super hot peppers in a salad marinated with padaek and lime juice. The result is a spicy, sour, pungent, crunchy adventure.

This particular flavor is not for the meek. I ordered ours a 4/5 out of 10 since apparently heat is hotter in Laos than it is in Thailand. I’m glad I didn’t go hotter.

The green bean looking things in the salad AREN’T green beans. They are super small, sneaky, hot, delicious peppers and this salad was FILLED with them.

My coworkers rolled as they watched my face turn red and perspiration start forming on my upper lip. They couldn’t quite believe it as I kept eating…explaining that I LOVE that kind of heat and flavor. I know. I’m weird. It’s how I roll.

So I kept chowing on the salad, taking a break to drink some milk and have a sausage or two. This was the only dish of the four that Kim and I ate in one sitting. From previous experience, it doesn’t keep well, so we ate around the peppers and had clear sinuses for the rest of the day.

Nam Khao

Nam Khao

Finally, on the owner’s recommendation, we tried the Nam Khao, or Lao fried rice. This dish has so much going on for it. All fried rice should be served crispy, in my humble opinion. Nam Khao features crispy fried jasmine rice, chunks of Nam, or cured Lao pork sausage, mint, cilantro and coconut curry spices.

The nam was different from the other sausage we had- a much more mild flavor…or perhaps it seemed that way because of all the other flavors. While served with chiles, this rice dish was not spicy, The toothsome feel of the fried rice was addicting. Thanks to another generous portion, we had more than enough for lunch and leftovers.

OMG. FLOORED.

My menu selections, especially the Nam Khao, received the seal of approval from my dear Laotian college sister who spotted my initial Facebook post. She needs to come to Sacramento STAT to help me further explore the menu.

While Kim and I were waiting for our food, we chatted with another customer who travels some distance to “stock up” on the food from Joi’s Kitchen.

There aren’t that many Laotian restaurants in Sacramento, so I count myself lucky to have found one so close to my office. It might not be for everyone….come with a sense of adventure, a love of spice, sour and texture and you’ll leave full and happy. At about $37 for all four dishes, it’s not the cheapest place I’ve ever dined, but it fed two of us lunch with leftovers. And it’s not like I’m going to cook any of that for myself.

Sound good? Check out Joi’s Kitchen on Truxel Blvd between Taqueria Rincon Alteno (great for posole) and Sub Express. Open Monday through Saturday. Check out Yelp for the specific hours.

3 responses to “Laotian….What ocean?

    • They offer papaya salad in two versions. I thought it was Lao style and Hmong style, but it could be Lao and Thai. I’ve had and enjoyed both, but it’s been a while.

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