One of the first national cuisine hashtags I ever followed on Instagram was #laofood. There’s something special about Lao food; it is brash and bold and totally unafraid of strong smells, funky flavors, and egregious amounts of umami and hot spices. Lao cooking leans into a few specific flavor profiles and goes deep into making the most of what goes into a dish.
The sad fact is, America hasn’t really been ready for Lao food until pretty recently. I have been good friends with many Lao and Hmong people throughout my life, and the ones that have opened restaurants have opened Thai or Chinese restaurants because that is what Americans want. It’s safe, and as the manager of this restaurant told me on the night I visited, “we don’t want to have to reeducate people” because it doesn’t make for good business.
Well, Taurus Ox isn’t here to worry about whether people are ready for Lao food. They are unabashedly Laotian and that’s what you’re gonna get here: food unafraid to be what it is.
Lao food is hand food. You take a scoop of sticky rice. You get some jaew (galanga herb pepper paste) on it. You pick up a piece of Lao beef jerky, and you have a perfect bite. You eat the papaya salad (som tum) with your fingers, or using a lump of sticky rice as a scoop. Everything is rife with sour lime, hot pepper, funky shrimp paste, heavy fish sauce, and bright herbs. It’s a cacophony of textures, flavors, and smells and it’s fucking gorgeous.
They offered two kinds of jaew here: galanga and tomato cilantro. Both were good but the galanga is my favorite.
With my one chance at Lao food I couldn’t pass up traditional comfort food in the form of Khao Soi; think “this is what Mom makes when we’re sick” noodle soup with thick, chewy noodles and hearty broth (though still with those sexy Lao flavor profiles)
I really hope this becomes a trend. The second generation Lao American kids are grownups now, and they’re proud and bold and I think…. I think they’re ready to blow minds. Hopefully Lao food becomes as common and ubiquitous as the Thai places their parents opened years ago.
Taurus Ox is located in the Capitol Hill neighborhood of Seattle.