Oct. 23, 2007 - Issue #627: Silver Screening
Viphalay is hard to pronounce but easy to enjoy
Four years ago, I travelled through Thailand and Laos and absolutely fell in love with the food. I took three cooking classes which introduced me to more than the typical pad thai and green curry dishes, and helped forge my passion for traditional Thai flavours.
For this dinner, I chose my dining partner carefully: a friend who lived in Asia for two years, has travelled in Thailand and is always eager to find the next hidden culinary gem in the back streets of Edmonton.
Viphalay is a family-run business led by Vipha Mounma, our server’s mother, who is from Laos and has no formal restaurant experience. All of the food is genuine home-cooked meals. Vipha certainly has experience in the kitchen, and the family has created a friendly atmosphere by turning a former garage into a clean and elegant space.
I was pleasantly surprised to find free parking available in front of the restaurant. I expected a sketchy, back-alley venue and found myself surprised again when I opened the door to an immaculate restaurant with white tablecloths contrasted with a red feature wall, and a room designed with classic yet subtle Thai décor. We parked ourselves at a table between the bar and the kitchen, which was a great place to peek at the dishes being carried out to the tables of fellow patrons. A quote on the menu set the mood for the meal and gave us the heads up on how the food would be served: “Laos and Thai cuisine is based on the concept of harmony and balance. The meal is served all at once in order to allow the complementary combination of taste and textures in each dish to be experienced fully.” After reviewing the extensive menu and asking a few questions, we decided on the Gaeng Kah Gai (chicken soup) for $7.99 as our appetizer. With a coconut milk base, lemon grass, mushrooms, tomatoes and fresh herbs, this soup is a mild alternative to the traditional spicy soup. The soup came out in a white, canoe-sized dish large enough for four servings; however, it was so delicious that the two of us had no problem finishing it.
While my friend is a devoted green curry fan, I overruled her with Massamun curry ($8.99), a favourite of mine straight from Thailand that is sometimes left off Thai menus in favour of hotter curries. For those unfamiliar with Massamun, this is a sweet, milder curry with potatoes, roasted peanuts, onions, beef and what I would describe as a nutmeg flavour. We paired it with a large order of coconut rice for $4.99. I can eat coconut rice like candy and I have not been able to master this side dish at home.
While the pad thai looked quite tempting, we decided against it and ordered a stir fry called Gai Himapan, an orange cashew nut chicken for $11.99, but asked to substitute the chicken for shrimp. The restaurant was happy to oblige.
The dish was filled with succulent shrimp sautéed with fresh oranges, cashew nuts, peppers and onions. This was the first time I had ever tried something with small orange peels in it, and the citrus boost was a unique addition to this lovely dish.
The dishes began arriving at the table, and the desire to dig in was overwhelming. My friend tapped her fingers impatiently on the table as I prepared to take pictures and she asked timidly if she could at least smell the soup. My response was, “Fine. But don’t touch it.” Luckily, it didn’t take long for the last dish to arrive.
I have no doubt we both looked slightly crazed. Big smiles were plastered across our faces as every morsel was a pleasant reminder of our journeys to Thailand. The country isn’t known as “the land of smiles” for nothing.
Even though we cleaned our plates (and probably would have licked them clean if it were socially acceptable), we made sure we had room for dessert. Our server informed us the kitchen was trying out a new traditional dessert called Ka Nom Moh Gang, an egg custard with yellow bean, coconut and red onions.
The two of us were excited to try a free sample of the cake-like treat and offered our feedback to the kitchen. The exquisite custard was an alternative to the often very sweet Thai desserts. We gave the thumbs up but recommended they go easy on the caramelized onions.
Overall, I was extremely impressed with my first trip to Viphalay. The food was full of flavour with a feeling of home-cooked goodness, and even the serving plates and my jasmine tea pot were distinctive, adding to the visual presentation of the food.
The portion sizes make Viphalay a great place for sharing a number of traditional Thai and Laos dishes. This restaurant has only been open three months, but I am sure that with the quality of their menu and friendly service, Viphalay will become a popular destination. The plate of pad thai that went by our table had both my dining partner and I gawking and vowing a return.
If you are interested in trying my favourite Thai curry of all time, I suggest Viphalay’s home-cooked Massuman, as it is undoubtedly the best I’ve had in Edmonton. We were seeking out the next authentic Thai treat in the back streets of Edmonton, and at Viphalay we’ve found it. V
Tue - Sun until 9 pm
Viphalay Laos and Thai Restaurant
10724 - 95 Street
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