A beginner’s guide to Lao cuisine

Doraville newbie Snackboxe Bistro brings the flavor and the funk

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Photo credit: Courtesy Snackboxe Bistro
UMAMI BOMB: Nam khao, featuring crispy rice balls with a pork lettuce wrap, is a must-order at Snackboxe Bistro.

In Atlanta, it’s easy to find Southeast Asian dishes from Thailand or Vietnam, but sniffing out Lao cuisine has long been a struggle. That is, until this past February, when husband and wife team Vanh Sengaphone and Thip Athakhanh opened Snackboxe Bistro in a humble Doraville strip mall beside the Super H Mart. 

Regional proximity creates culinary closeness between the three aforementioned Southeast Asian countries, with dishes that are simultaneously sour, salty, sweet, and spicy. With Lao dishes, the balance tips more towards the sour and spice. Read on for a beginner’s guide to some of Snackboxe’s must-try dishes.

Sticky fingers

Sticky rice, also known as glutinous rice, is the national staple in Laos. It’s consumed at every meal, often formed into little balls perfect for dipping into sauces. At Snackboxe, it comes in packets, ideal for pairing with laap, a zesty salad of minced meat, lime juice, galangal root, and herbs like kaffir lime leaves and cilantro. 

Funky fresh

Nam khao is a dish made of fried sticky rice balls mixed with coconut, broken up and tossed with crushed peanuts, herbs, onion, and fermented pork. But it’s so much more than the crackily crunch of textures. The irresistible tang, blasts of heat, and the wee bit of funk from umami-laden padaek (fermented fish sauce) produce boundless fork shoveling — or maybe hand shoveling if you want to really embrace the moment. 

Street smarts

Everything at Snackboxe Bistro rings in under $10, and both the cuisine and the décor mimic a traditional Lao street food experience. Strings of lights overhead illuminate bundles of mok pa, a classic street snack. Unwrap banana leaves to an aromatic blast of fish steamed with lemongrass, kaffir lime, green onion, and fish sauce. 

Hot hot heat

Without a doubt, the number-one dish here is the green papaya salad, which features strands of unripe papaya, garlic, chilies, shrimp paste, lime, fish sauce, and oodles of herbs. The heat can get you here, so if you’re not sure you can handle it, ask for less spicy, or get ready to feel your face melt. 

Snackboxe Bistro. 6035 Peachtree Rd., Ste. C114, Doraville. 770-417-8082. www.snackboxebistro.com.

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