July update - The Veggie Buffet restaurant has now closed :(
My friend Jen had been telling me for ages that I must have lunch at the Veggie Buffet with its processed vegetable products. With such an enticing description, how could I refuse? And I'm very glad I didn't refuse because it turned out that processed vegetarian products are quite delicious, particularly in Lao curries.
Vegetarian 103, also known as the Veggie Buffet, is (unsurprisingly) on 103 Road (see the map at the bottom of this post). It's open everyday for lunch and attract a regular crowd of mostly Lao office workers with the odd falang.
There's a host of different curries, red and white steamed rice, soup, banh xeo (Vietnamese pancake) and even sushi.
The owner of the Veggie Buffet is Mrs Keoboualapha. Her husband works next door at the university. Apparently there's an agreement in Laos that family members of university workers are allowed to set up nearby businesses, so as to allow the family another viable income stream. So, Mrs K started this restaurant, this year after Pi Mai.
She says that she's been a vegetarian for 5 years. I remarked that vegetarianism in Lao is a bit unusual (Laotians just love their meat) and Mrs K said that it all started because of her health. Her doctor said she needed to eat less meat. So she tried that but it didn't really help so she sought guidance from "the temple in the jungle".
This temple is a bit north of Vientiane on the way to Vang Vieng. It is common for Lao people to go to "sit" in a temple, which means to stay there (or nearby) for several days, meditating and reflecting on life. When she was there, Mrs K found that her health improved, which she attributed to the temple's vegetarian diet.
So, she became a vegetarian and hasn't looked back.
Alongside the buffet, Mrs K also sells the aforementioned processed veggie products, piles and piles of them, as well as sauces, oils and condiments.
Jen says they're very tasty in everything from lasagne to nachos. Particularly if you don't tell anyone it's not meat.
Try it for yourself.
Vegetarian 103 is on the other side of the road from Hospital 103, near the university.