Something new to love (includes slideshow)

A storybook rich in flavour and culture, Viphalay Laos and Thai Restaurant will take you on a journey into the heart of South-East Asia. I think I have fallen in love with a new culinary cuisine.

Tender portions of chicken in a spicy curry broth with bamboo

Tender portions of chicken in a spicy curry broth with bamboo

A storybook rich in flavour and culture, Viphalay Laos and Thai Restaurant will take you on a journey into the heart of South-East Asia. I think I have fallen in love with a new culinary cuisine.

On a recent Edible Alberta trip hosted by travel Alberta, I had lunch at an authentic Thai restaurant in Edmonton called Viphalay Laos and Thai Restaurant. The menu features Thai foods that were aromatic, mouth-watering, zesty, and spicy. The vibrant colours of the food combined with some unique presentations and all I could think to describe the moment was… WOW!

And to top it off, the restaurant had a story of its own, a tale beginning with how a family came together to express the passion and pride they have for their food, culture, and traditions, and ending with Edmonton having a real gastronomic gem.

The restaurant came to be because of a woman’s passion for food. Vipha Mounma has lived in Canada for 30 years and mostly learned to cook after she was married. She took great pleasure in cooking for her family and friends. Anyone who tasted her creations begged her to open a restaurant. After years and years of persuasion, and with the help of her three kids and husband, she did just that.

“Everyone in our family has been involved in helping the restaurant grow and succeed since Day One,” tells Susan, Vipha’s daugher. “The restaurant space was actually a former auto detailing garage so everything was built from scratch,” said Susan. While their father put together the interior of the restaurant, “my mom and I even got in on the construction, we learned how to lay tile and put up drywall,” remembers Susan.

When the restaurant first opened, Susan’s brother and sister, Lily and David took care of the customers while her parents managed the kitchen. Susan remembers the hard work and the long hours. “Even my Dad learned how to cook and helped out in the kitchen while holding down two full time jobs”, proudly recalls Susan. But now that they are used to things, they let Dad take a break from the restaurant.

Vipha also doesn’t do the cooking anymore at the restaurant because it was getting to be too much. But their customers would not know the difference; the hired chefs from Thailand, strictly follow Vipha’s tried-and-true kitchen recipes.

All dishes are prepared fresh to order and follow Thai tradition. Authentic Thai taste is defined by the use of all five flavours: spicy, sweet, salty, bitter and sour . Their menu items have hot and spicy elements that are combined with soothing earthy flavours of lime, coconut, peanuts, lemongrass and bamboo shoots contrasted with curry, chilli, ginger and cilantro.

Thai cuisine is based on the concept of harmony and balance. Instead of serving dishes in courses (ex. appetizer, main course, dessert) our lunch was served all at once. This is done to allow the complimentary combinations of taste and textures in each dish to be experienced fully.

The Vipha’s governing gastronomic principal is to use only fresh ingredients. Everything is handpicked and quality approved by her They tried having their produce shipped to the restaurant “but we weren’t happy with the quality so now we go out and select it ourselves,” explains Susan.

In fact the responsibility of buying produce has been handed down to Susan. This is great she says because, “I learned what goes into the dishes and how to pick out the best ingredients.”

While most would use greens for garnishing Viphalay uses carved vegetables to embellish some of their signature dishes. They employ Chef Varawuth Rajchakom who has been carving vegetables for many years. “(He)mostly carves beets, carrots, and daikon radishes but every once in awhile he’ll do bigger, special ones ,” explains Susan. As our visit was special, our table was presented with a flowered carved watermelon. It was just too beautiful to eat.

Because my Edible Alberta tour did not end at this restaurant, I didn’t ask for any of the leftover food to be packed. But I did bring back pictures that may entice you to go on a road trip and recipes which will take me back to where I fell in love with this cuisine.

Viphalay Laos and Thai Restaurant

10724 – 95 St. Edmonton

Coconut Galangal Soup

Galangal is Chinese ginger. It is hard to find in Red Deer, but very abundant in Asian markets in Calgary and Edmonton. Fresh ginger is a close substitute for galangal.

2 cups chicken stock

3-4 tbsp coconut milk

2 Slices Galangal

2 Kaffir Lime Leaves

1 Roma tomato cut into 4 pieces

4 Medium sized mushrooms cut in half

1 ½ tsp sugar

1 tsp chicken bouillon

2 tbsp lemon juice

½ green onion stalk chopped into small pieces

tbsp chopped cilantro

Mix chicken stock, coconut milk, galangal, lime leaves, sugar, and chicken bouillon together in a pot and bring to a boil. Add the tomatoes and mushrooms. Add lemon juice just before serving and top with the green onion and cilantro to garnish. (Add sliced chicken breast for a more savoury soup.)

Orange Cashew Nut Chicken

1 tsp chopped garlic

2 tbsp vegetable oil

1 slice orange cut into small pieces

2/3 cup cashews

½ cup yellow onion

½ cup sliced bell peppers

1 ½ cups sliced chicken breast

1 ½ tsp sugar

1 tsp chicken bouillon

2 tsp soya sauce

Pour oil into a frying pan or small wok and add garlic and onions until they start to brown. Add the chicken until it starts to brown. Throw in the bell peppers and stir in the sugar, chicken bouillon, and soya sauce until everything is cooked.

Madhu Badoni is a Red Deer-based freelance food writer. She can be reached at madhubadoni@gmail.com

Watch for Madhu’s Masala-Mix blog on bprda.wpengine.com. This week: Frank Spinelli; the man who arrived in Edmonton during the 1950s and built up the city’s Italian community around him.

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