What’s on the menu at Lao Food Co., a new Lao kitchen in Carleton Village serving Sunday brunch

What’s on the menu at Lao Food Co., a new Lao kitchen in Carleton Village serving Sunday brunch

Motivated by the lack of Lao food in Toronto, Daovy Chanthalansy started a culinary side hustle

Lao brunch at Lao Food Co. in Toronto

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Name: Lao Food Co.
Contact: 1927 Davenport Rd., laofood.ca, @laosupperclub
Neighbourhood: Carleton Village
Chef-owner: Daovy Chanthalansy
Accessibility: Two steps at entry

Growing up in Woodstock, Ontario, Daovy Chanthalansy’s taste of Laos came exclusively from his home kitchen. He and his family had fled Laos in 1980, enduring a harrowing trek that included crossing the Mekong River, incarceration following their escape and two years in a Thai refugee camp. Once in Canada, the Chanthalansy family cultivated a connection to their home country: a vibrant garden brimming with vegetables like cilantro and water spinach, which were scarce in local stores at the time. They prepared traditional dishes at home because Lao restaurants didn’t exist in rural Ontario. “I felt invisible,” says Chanthalansy. “Lao food and Lao culture just wasn’t represented.”

The Chanthalansys were one of only three Lao households in small-town Woodstock, so the absence of a Lao food scene was understandable. But Chanthalansy was bewildered by the lack of Lao cuisine in larger cities with vibrant Lao communities and temples. Upon moving to Toronto in 2008, he found a wealth of Vietnamese and Thai restaurants but a glaring absence of Lao food. Motivated by this gap, he decided to champion the herbaceous, umami-packed cuisine by himself.

Lao Food Co. chef and owner, Daovy Chanthalansy
Lao Food Co. chef and owner Daovy Chanthalansy

Related: Lao Thai, a family-owned restaurant that all started with a high school project

In 2019, Chanthalansy launched a series of pop-up dinners in his condo’s party room, serving cherished recipes passed down from his parents. By day, he was an IT technician; by night, he was an enthusiastic home chef eager to transform his hobby into a career that would allow him to celebrate Lao culture.

Covid threw a wrench in those plans. Chanthalansy changed gears, shifting to a delivery model. He worked his nine-to-five desk job, then went straight to a commercial kitchen he’d rented to start preparing meals he’d deliver himself. It was exhausting. Now, after a brief stint operating out of an ice cream parlour, Chanthalansy finally has his own brick-and-mortar space.

Lao Food Co. is currently operating on a curtailed schedule: brunch on Sundays, pick-up orders on Saturdays and monthly supper-club dinners. As the buzz grows, Chanthalansy plans to expand his operating days. However, bootstrapping his dream means the pace of expansion must be carefully managed—so he can’t give up his day job just yet.

A spread of Lao dishes and drinks at Lao Food Co. in Toronto

The food

Here’s a glimpse at the Sunday brunch offerings, all of which are naturally gluten- and lactose-free. This isn’t by design but rather a happy coincidence due to the nature of Lao cuisine, which doesn’t use much wheat or dairy.

Related: What’s on the menu at Lao Lao Bar, a new restaurant and cocktail lounge from the owners of Sabai Sabai

A plate of sai oua, a sausage made of pork belly, pork skin, garlic and heaps of herbs, and topped with a fried egg
The star of this plate is the sai ua, a sausage Chanthalansy makes using pork belly, pork skin, garlic and heaps of herbs (cilantro, dill, lemongrass). During brunch service, it’s topped with a fried egg and served with jasmine rice and a tangy papaya-carrot salad. $22.95

 

Nam khao, a traditional Lao salad made with hunks of crispy rice and a minced salt-cured pork
This is nam khao, a traditional Lao salad made with hunks of crispy rice and minced salt-cured pork. It’s all tossed with cilantro, green onion, peanuts and toasted chilies, then served with lettuce leaves for DIY wraps. $17.95

 

Sakoo yat sai are steamed, hand-rolled tapioca dumplings filled with peanuts, chicken and radish
Sakoo yat sai are steamed, hand-rolled tapioca dumplings. These ones are filled with peanuts, chicken (though traditionally they’re made with pork) and radish. They’re topped with crispy garlic and chilies and best enjoyed in lettuce wraps. $12.95

 

A chef pours a pot of Lao chicken noodle soup into a bowl
“This is khao piak sen, essentially our take on chicken noodle soup,” says Chanthalansy. The dish begins with an overnight chicken stock simmered with lemongrass and onions. Fresh tapioca noodles, cooked directly in the broth, lend the soup its silky, almost creamy texture

 

Khao piak sen, Lao chicken noodle soup, served with chili sauce and fried bread
The soup is loaded with chicken breast and served with an array of toppings, including house-made chili crisp and fried bread. (The soup menu at Lao Food Co. changes every few weeks to offer new flavours. Next up: a coconut curry noodle creation.) $14.95

 

A stack of coconut-tapioca pancakes comes with fresh fruit and coconut whip cream
This is Chanthalansy’s take on kanom krok, a typical street-food snack. A stack of coconut-tapioca pancakes comes with fresh fruit (whatever looks the tastiest at the market that weekend) and coconut whipped cream. Instead of maple syrup, a sticky coconut sauce hits that sweet, indulgent note. $16.95

 

Mango sticky rice made with a blend of sticky rice and riceberry, and topped with slices of fresh mango, toasted sesame seeds and a house-made coconut cream sauce
This mango sticky rice is made with a blend of sticky rice and riceberry. The sweetened grains are topped with slices of fresh mango, toasted sesame seeds and a house-made coconut cream sauce. $11.95

 

Bottles of Lao chili sauce from Lao Food Co. in Toronto
Chanthalansy makes this traditional Lao condiment using bird’s eye chilies, garlic, cane sugar, fresh-pressed lime juice and fish sauce. “It smacks you in the face,” he says. To keep the tang intact, he makes only a few dozen bottles of the stuff each week, so it’s always fresh. $12

 

The drinks

Lao Food Co. doesn’t have a liquor licence, but Chanthalansy isn’t much of a drinker, so alcohol isn’t a priority. He’s more focused on coming up with alcohol-free cocktails and adding to his selection of fruity refreshers. (Guests can expect more tropical juices come summer.)

A glass of fresh-squeezed limeade topped with a rotating fruit skewer
Fresh-squeezed limeade topped with a rotating fruit skewer. $5.50

 

A glass of sweetened soy milk with cubes of grass jelly
Sweetened soy milk with cubes of grass jelly. $5.50

 

A glass of coconut water with hunks of fresh young coconut
Coconut water with hunks of fresh young coconut. $5.50

 

The space

The small, four-table space gets reconfigured for the supper club, when all the tables are pushed together to make one long communal dining space, which seats 16. The three-course supper-club meal (starting at $60 per person) features more celebratory Lao fare, like beef or duck laab and fish khao poon (coconut curry), followed by a parade of desserts—Chanthalansy’s favourite course to prepare.

The small, four-table dining room of Lao Food Co., a Lao restaurant in Toronto's Carleton Village