For fans of Southeast Asian cooking, Laos is foodie heaven. Nestled between Vietnam and Thailand, it mixes those flavors and adds its own love affair with fresh mint, lemongrass and delicately spiced meats.
There’s a little bit of Laos these days in the old textile town of Kings Mountain, just west of Gastonia. The family-run Pho 98 restaurant is named for the signature soup of Vietnam, and there are also familiar Thai curries and noodle dishes on the menu.
But be sure to try the home-style Laotian specialties, says Ary Siphanthone, who helps run the restaurant with her sister and brother-in-law Betty and Bobby Kosol.
• Sausage lovers will like Laotian sai oua – sausages of chopped pork mixed with lemongrass, ginger leaf, lime leaf and shallots.
• Larb is the Laotian national dish – diced beef and tripe tossed with peppermint leaves and other fresh herbs, served with sticky rice.
• Adventuresome eaters should sample green papaya salad – a savory, spicy concoction of fresh fruit, shrimp and crab paste, fish sauce, lime, garlic and chilies pounded together with a mortar-and-pestle.
Ary and Betty’s father came from Laos in 1986, finding factory work in Kings Mountain. “My sister loves to cook,” smiles Ary. That love led the family to build the small modern eatery on a side street near downtown Kings Mountain.
There are now about 200 Laotian families in the Gastonia/Shelby area, Ary estimates – enough to start Wat Lao, a Buddhist worship center in the countryside between Kings Mountain and neighboring Grover.
Tom Hanchett is staff historian at Levine Museum of the New South: firstname.lastname@example.org. Don’t miss the Food from Home section of the museum’s “Cotton Fields to Skyscrapers” exhibit.
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