Actual winter weather has arrived in Vientiane and everyone is feeling it. After 6 months in Laos my body has completely forgotten a Canberra winter and I shiver along with everyone else. At night the temperature falls to 10 degrees and as I lie swathed in blankets with a small child on either side, I listen to the pouring rain outside. I love the rain but not the cold.
It doesn't help that Laos houses are not built for cold weather, they are drafty and devoid of carpets. We have sent our night guard home the last 3 nights; it's just too cold and miserable to be camped outside, and too cold for burglars too, we figure.
It is perfect weather, however, for a bowl of steaming hot soup - pho, homemade veggie soup, or Udon noodle soup. Which is just what I ordered at downtown Japanese restaurant, Otafuku.
Otafuku is part of IV-Japan, an NGO that has run a vocational training program in Laos for over a decade. They train young Laotians in cooking and hospitality, hairdressing, dressmaking and carpentry.
At Otafuku they train chefs, assistant chefs and waitstaff and have produced 1400 graduates in the last 11 years. This restaurant, however, has only been open to the public for a few months. We hear this from owner and chef, Sachiko, who also happens to be a friend of my dining buddy, Lao film director, Mattie Do.
One of the perks of eating out with celebrities is that you get to try special dishes that you probably wouldn't have otherwise. Sachiko was preparing for a private lunch the following day so we got to be guinea pigs for a special consommé and dessert.
While my friends had the lunch sets, I ordered off the a la carte menu.
And just when our tummies couldn't get much fuller, Sachiko brought out a red bean and sticky rice dessert. Red bean desserts are very popular in Asia and this was no exception. Though thick, gelatinous and sweet, it was simple and delicious.
Otafuku is housed in a converted single storey house downtown. Most of the tables are outside under an awning, and frangipani trees grow along the street. Though only one block back from the main street, it felt very peaceful and zen. The only sticking point was that our food took an age to arrive and came out at different times. Perhaps that's just one of the factors of eating at a training restaurant.
Must try: The udon noodle soup, of course.
Tip: Ask for the red bean dessert, it's delicious.
Otafuku is open for lunch everyday except Sunday. It is on the corner of Rue Saigon and Phanompenh near the Lao National Museum.