Teens warm up to Laotian homecooking

by: OUTLOOK PHOTO: JIM CLARK - (Left) Derrick Tomlinson, 14, and Max Kuchuryan,14, (right), help Nang Dunn (center) make the Lao chicken noodle soup.Local teens learned how to make a traditional Lao soup using homemade noodles during a recent Wednesday evening at Troutdale Library.

Nang Dunn, a Laos native who lives with her family in Beaverton, said Lao cuisine, similar to Thai, is becoming more known as native Lao chefs bring authentic dishes to the mainstream, distinguishing it from its relative cuisines.

Dunn teaches free cooking classes at Multnomah County libraries, a passion she has come to embrace as a wife and mother of three.

Raised in a family with 11 siblings in Oakland, Calif., Dunn started cooking as a young girl. While her eight brothers got to go play at their after school activities, her mother expected her to help in the kitchen.

by: OUTLOOK PHOTO: JIM CLARK - Nang Dunn teaching a free cooking class at Troutdale Library.“I hated it. I hated cooking for the longest time until I got married and I couldn’t thank her enough,” Dunn said. “It’s one of those skills, when you have a family, it becomes very helpful.”

Today, Dunn has her own cooking website,, a Lao and Thai fusion of traditional and modern cuisines, where she lists recipes from how to make summer rolls to pad Thai.

At the Troutdale Library, young teens filled the activity room to learn how to make Khao Piak, a dish similar to chicken noodle soup, made with flavors infused from daikon radish, carrots, yellow onions, ginger, and topped with fresh garlic, green onions and cilantro.

“It’s one of those hardy soups served at breakfast, lunch and dinner,” Dunn said.

Go into any food market in Laos and you will find Khao Piak selling for $1 or $2 a bowl, she said.

Lao cuisine is influenced by “all these beautiful countries surrounding our country,” said Dunn, China, Cambodia, Thailand, Vietnam and Burma.

by: OUTLOOK PHOTO: JIM CLARK - Rice noodles sliced and made fresh.Dunn recently returned home from a trip to Laos in late October, where she hosted a 209 kilometer run for her nonprofit organization, the VillageRun Foundation.

Dunn, who also is a marathon runner, started the foundation in 2011 to help poor children in Laos. VillageRun hosts runs to raise money for projects like building schools and supplying text books.

Dunn said her family was one of the last waves of refugees to immigrate from Laos to California in 1988. She is one of three in her family to move away from their tight-knit community in the bay area.

Dunn said, “Lao food to me is like running an ultra-marathon. It is very rare. It’s hard to find.”

One of her favorites is Laotian street food, where merchants sell exotic delicacies, like grasshoppers.

by: OUTLOOK PHOTO: JIM CLARK - Khao Piak is a traditonal meal in Laos.One ingredient unfamiliar to most, but found in nearly every Laos household, is a stinky fermented fish sauce, padek. Most people don’t like the smell, she said, so it’s kind of a cultural keepsake.

From chicken feet to the heart and liver, Dunn said, “We don’t let anything go to waste in Laos.”

Many ingredients in Lao cuisine, like the rice flour and tapioca starch she uses to make the soup noodles, can only be found in specialty Asian markets like Fubonn on Southeast 82nd Avenue.

In Laos, food is home cooked with fresh greens, spices and herbs, many of which we don’t have names for in English.

“It’s slowing getting out there,” Dunn said.

Dunn said her middle daughter likes to help out in the kitchen. She helps shake the powder off the freshly sliced noodles.

Unlike her Lao parents’ household, Dunn said she doesn’t want to impose cooking on her kids.

“I want them to find that passion themselves,” she said.

To the young teens in the class, who may be unfamiliar with asian ingredients, Dunn encourages experimentation. “Just be adventurous, with food especially.”

To view the recipe for Khao Piak, visit

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