Spring has finally sprung in the Triangle! As buds flourish and pages of the calendar turn, I’m reminded that so many exciting celebrations are quickly approaching. On the horizon: Mother’s Day and Father’s Day. Whenever I think of my parents, I’m flooded with memories of eating delicious food gathered around friends and family. Like many families, celebrations in my house were often focused around the home cooked meals.
Don’t you love hearing about family recipes when you’re a guest at someone’s house? In so many ways, our family recipes are our way of connecting to loved ones. For brother and sister team Vansana and Vanvisa Nolintha, food serves as the ultimate connection to their family in Laos, and was the inspiration for their Raleigh-based restaurant Bida Manda. Appropriately named as an ode to their parents, “Bida Manda” is the Sanskrit ceremonial term for father and mother. Here, you don’t have to come from Laos to feel like a member of the family, but you can certainly appreciate the affection being poured into the food. A word of caution: eating here will forever make you wish you had a long-lost Laotian relative.
A tall portrait of the owners’ mother and father welcome you as you walk in. As further homage to Laos, the walls are covered in earthy wooden accents and Laotian artwork. A cement partition with window cutouts divide the dining space, and a long bar can be found along the left side of the room.
While the restaurant’s appearances may feel like the perfect façade, you can’t fake Laotian flavor. It takes time and meticulous technique to layer the taste you’ll find in dishes like these. If you enjoy a little spice, the Roasted Anaheim Pepper certainly delivers on zing and flavor. The smoked pepper, served divided in half, is stuffed with pork, lemongrass, dill, lime leaf, and is plated alongside a tomato jeow (sort of a spicy tomato salsa). This appetizer ($9.90) was the opening act to a truly satiating meal.
If you’re unfamiliar with traditional Lao food, don’t hesitate to ask the very knowledgeable staff for suggestions. The Crispy Pork Belly Soup (Mee Ka Tee) came highly recommended by Fletcher, our server. She mentioned that this soup alone was roughly 30 percent of their business. That was enough incentive for me to give it a try. The pork belly is positioned nicely atop a curry coconut broth, and provides a pleasant chew in contrast to the other textures in the dish. Rice noodles, fresh herbs, and julienned vegetables round out the entree. The soup ($19.90) is a heaping portion! I recommend sharing, or do as I did and bring home a doggy bowl for the next day. Fletcher suggested throwing in a runny egg. I can now enthusiastically validate her recommendation!
Pad Thai, a classic favorite, can also be found on the menu. The version we devoured (Kua Mee) is sweeter than expected as gestured by the sweet tamarind and paprika sauce. The traditional stir-fried noodles are tossed with eggs, tofu, peanuts, veggies, and herbs for $18.90. If you need an excuse for a little extra protein, shrimp or chicken can accompany the dish.
Three dessert options are presented on the menu, which is given verbally; if you want a sneak peek (like I often do), check out the offerings online beforehand. We chose The Duo – two house-made macaroons. The pair of light, chewy cookies sandwiching sweet filling were a delightfully sweet change from the robust, savory flavors frequently found in the rest of the meal. Tiramisu and a leafy-infused green coconut filling were the two seasonal flavors available, but I’m sure, based on the overall experience, that the other varied flavors are never turned away.
At the conclusion of the meal, we were pleasantly surprised when a shot glass of pineapple digestif was served with our check. The sipper shot was a great way to settle any lingering tastes and sweeten the finale. Pineapple, we were told, also supports digestion.
Bida Manda has been consistently raved about since their opening in 2012. If you feel like you’re late to the party, you can redeem yourself by visiting their new sister restaurant, Brewery Bhavana (formerly Tir Na Nog), which opened in early April, and has been extremely well received. While this is the perfect spot for a date night or any family celebration, based on the roots of the restaurant, Bida Manda is an idyllic place to celebrate a parent. If you can’t open a restaurant in honor of them, at least treat your parents to a meal they won’t soon forget.
Lindsey Watson has been a North Carolina resident since 2012. She has quickly become a fluent NC foodie by living in Raleigh, working in Chapel Hill, and regularly dining out in Durham. When her belly is full, she can be found exploring parks with her husband and two spoiled rescue dogs. Follow her on Instagram @919foodie for more local eats.