Part of the TREE Alliance, a group focussed on hands-on training for young people to give them employable skills in the hospitality industry, Makphet Restaurant in Vientiane is hit and miss for vegans but most definitely worth a visit. From what I’ve heard, when it’s on it’s really on.
After much discussion, which I appreciated as it showed staff were genuinely concerned with figuring out what was suitable for me to eat, the menu options were narrowed to three vegan options: a grilled aubergine salad and stir fry from the main menu, and a soup from the daily specials. I ordered the aubergine and stir fry.
The eggplant was outstanding, and the combination of flavours in the relish to meet that bold taste was a genius preparation. Think smoky, tender eggplant meets spicy lemongrass bolognaise. If you go to Makphet, this is the dish to order.
The stir fry was the dish everyone judges from the corner of their eye, thanking their lucky stars they aren’t vegan. I mean it wasn’t bad, just uninspired and underwhelming for the price and capacity of this particular restaurant. It was a dish I would expect at a roadside restaurant frequented by tourists (you know, the ones that exist for tuk tuk and taxi drivers to take tourists for a commission).
So skip that and order the aubergine with some sticky rice. Be sure the person who takes your order understands that you do not want fish sauce and shrimp paste in your meal. Portions are closer to Western size than expected, so don’t order 2-3 dishes per person like you might elsewhere (you do normally, right?).
I got sucked into a conversation at a neighbouring table. My ears started participating in their words since they were talking about food and food interests me. The conversation was absurd and not based on reality, but they knew everything about Lao cuisine, which meant they could finish the conversation in approximately seven seconds before moving on to what sounded like the start of a bad book club (disclaimer: I have never been to a book club). I was primed for the conversation to move onto angels or reiki, but instead they discussed bringing seaweed for psalms. If they hate church that much then maybe it’s time to throw in the towel.
The TREE Alliance runs a few restaurants throughout the region, including Friends in Phnom Penh, and are a wonderful organisation worth supporting. It annoys me that fish sauce is considered vegetarian by the group, but I am not in a position to dictate how another culture applies food terminology to its cuisine. If in doubt, ask. They are more than happy to answer questions and are polite in doing so.
Makphet also sell an excellent cookbook called From Honeybees to Pepperwood. It isn’t vegan by any means, but there are plenty of plant based recipes and many others that can be easily veganised.
P.S. do not do a Google image search for this place if you don’t want to see spiders, both cooked and alive. I’m serious. When you give attention to spiders you are giving power to their collective plan to murder me in my sleep.
P.P.S. After Makphet I went to a Lao massage place that had astroturf in their loo.