Bida Manda is a beautiful restaurant in downtown Raleigh, right beside the Pour House, that celebrates Lao cuisine. Last week I was delighted to finally book a reservation and sit down and experience a number of delicious Lao creations from the talented chef Lon Bounsanga.
A bit of history before we dive into the amazing food. Laos is a country in Southeast Asia that is surrounded by Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, and China. Inevitably, the cuisine pulls from different regions like Thailand and Vietnam with a nod to French colonial influence.
Family owned by brother and sister Vansana and Vanvisa Nolintha, the restaurant is aptly named Bida Manda, which is Sanskrit for father and mother, to celebrate the siblings parents and their Lao heritage.
Now, let’s get to the food! When we arrived at Bida Manda we were greeted warmly and led to a waiting table, even though we were a bit early for our reservation. The staff was incredibly friendly and knowledgeable. All of our questions were answered thoroughly and everyone there seemed to be excited to share what they knew with us. We started off with pina coladas (virgin, for this Mama), and Luang Prabang Lemongrass Sausage.
The lemongrass sausage was light and refreshing, and the perfect blend of rice, sausage, and herbs. I opted to eat it with the fish rice cakes we were served (think bread service, but delicious crispy chips), and the pickled ginger. It was a great combination with the piña coladas and a perfect way to start the meal.
We were lucky enough to meet the manager and chat about Laos and the menu at length. She was incredibly gracious and sent us each a bowl of the Crispy Pork Belly Soup (Mee Ka Tee) from the chef. The soup had a coconut curry base with pork belly, peanuts, rice noodles, and fresh vegetables like red cabbage. Neither of us were planning on ordering the soup, but I’m so glad we got to try it! It ended up being one of my favorite dishes of the night. The broth was full of flavor without being overwhelming, and the pork belly was cooked to perfection.
After the soup we ordered the Sweet Chili Salmon (Pa Som Wan) and Green Papaya Salad (Thom Mak Houng) with Grilled Soy Glazed Duck Breast and the Trio Plate for dessert (complete with apricot-tamarind cobbler, semi-sweet chocolate creme brulee, and coconut custard crisp).
The Sweet Chili Salmon had just the right ratio of sweet to spicy. It has a nice kick to it, and was not too sugary. The basil pulled the flavors together quite nicely. We opted to have the Green Papaya Salad mildly spiced, with spice on the side. Though we were given the option to have it spicier. While I love spicy food, I enjoyed this lighter version of a papaya salad. I have had other papaya salads that can be too overwhelming with heat, and this lighter version was a pleasant surprise. I also loved that I could make it as spicy as I wanted. We got the duck rare, which was a complimentary pairing with the papaya. The dish came with sticky rice and was lightly glazed with lime sauce and peanuts.
Last, but not least, we got the dessert sampler. I am not usually a cobbler fan unless there is ice cream involved, but the apricot-tamarind cobbler was delicious as a stand alone treat. The chocolate creme brulee was also a hit, but the coconut custard crisp was my favorite. As both an avid fan of all things coconut and all things custard, I ate the whole thing despite being uncomfortably, yet blissfully, full.
If you can snag a reservation, I highly recommend splurging on the delicious food at Bida Manda! You will not be disappointed in the slightest.