Feb 23, 2019
SOME 300 YEARS ago, Laos was partitioned into the competing Kingdoms of Luang Prabang, Vientiane and Champasak. They were all ruled by descendants of the same king, and through eras of war, annexation, encroachment and colonization by the Siamese, Vietnamese, Chinese and French, their lines endured such that in the two stormy decades after the country’s 1953 independence, the heir to one house, Prince Souvanna Phouma, held the title Prime Minister frequently, trading for a time with the heir to another, his cousin Prince Boun Oum. The chairman of the Pathet Lao, Prince Souphanouvong, was Phouma’s half-brother, and, in a way, thank goodness for that because when the communists took over and he became president, he ensured safe passage out of the country for many of his royal relatives… And that, class, is an important reason why today the Bangkok nightlife scene is so awesome.
Sanya Souvannaphouma, Phouma’s grandson, is one of the city’s winningest impresarios (see: Maggie Choo’s, Sing Sing Theater) and last year, he and his cousin Saya Na Champasak, grandson of Boun Oum (you knew where this was going, right?), opened an homage to their shared heritage, Funky Lam Kitchen, a Laotian- and Isan-cuisine specialist that’s heavy on the heat, the spices, and the attitude. In what is a motorcycle-themed café by day, they serve a menu that reflects Sanya’s father’s insistence that “Laotian food has its own integrity. In fact, Thai food is based on it.”
Those might be fighting words, but my hit list will prove uncontroversial to any fire-addicted carnivore. Get the spiral of house-made Isan sausage that comes with a doll-sized mini-cleaver; the spicy, lemongrass-y clam broth with meatballs and charred tomatoes that I wish someone would deliver me every Sunday afternoon; and the magical, herbacious fishcake made of trout and pounded prawns.
These delights were derived from the cookbook of court chef and master of ceremonies Phia Sing, who is credited with being the first to write down Laotian recipes. “All food comes from Phia Sing,” says Sanya. The creative cocktails and the old- and new-world wine list turned out by the sultry, crimson-hued bar, however, are more the work of him and Saya. Royals have to keep relevant, after all.
fb.com/funkylamkitchen; mains Bt350–980.