Like many in the Oshkosh community, I was affected by the pandemic. It’s the reason why my finance and I moved to Oshkosh in the first place. I know that others affected by the pandemic have not been as lucky, and I’m proud to help out however I can. This month,...
If I had to pick one of my favorite places to go in the Valley based on taste alone, it would have to be Basil Café. Their food is beyond cravable and always exciting. After an interview with their General Manager Larry Chomsisengphet, I have realized there are even more reasons to love and support this amazing establishment. I came into the interview knowing that Basil was passionate about community activism, but hearing it in Larry’s words really resonated with me. The care they put into each and every dish is the same care they put into our community. Check out what Larry from Basil had to say!
What are you most proud of/passionate about with your involvement within the community?
Larry: “As for our involvement and “helping” the community we really don’t feel like we’re special for being inclusive, respectful, and considerate human beings. We just try to do what’s right and that’s: love our community and all those in it, look out for our community especially those who are marginalized, and make sure that those marginalized are represented, taken care of, and have safe spaces. There are so many other establishments, restaurateurs, entrepreneurs, in the Valley that feel the exact same way as us, and also work just as hard to provide these same safe spaces and to be inclusive. Since day one, we’ve always tried to provide a safe and welcoming space for all, regardless of race, class, gender, creed, age, disability, sexual orientation, or religious beliefs. And a lot of this stems from the love we have for this community that has welcomed us and embraced our Lao heritage, our food and culture with open arms. We’re just so grateful for the opportunity to do what we do and share a piece of ourselves with everyone through the vehicle of food. Because food is such a wonderful way to break down barriers and to see the commonality in all of us, we all have to eat. To share a meal with someone is one of the most beautiful and intimate things you can do with another being, and that’s how we eat in Lao, it’s very communal and typically always family style. Food and gatherings and community are an essential part of Lao culture.
And I think we’re passionate about all the issues, whether it be LGBTQ+ and equality rights, Black/Brown/Indigenous Lives and equality rights, Human Rights, Police Brutality and excessive use of force, Housing and Homelessness, Mental Health and Affordable Healthcare Access, Reproductive Rights, Immigration, Poverty and Wage Gap, Domestic Violence, and so many others. They’re intersectional. All of these things are intertwined and we should all care about how we lift each other and our community up. So if it’s from showing our support for LGBTQ+ rights by flying the pride flag, or standing up for marriage equality, and doing our best to create a safe and welcoming space for all; or when our GM won the “Voices Award” from Planned Parenthood on behalf of our staff for using our platform for standing up for reproductive rights and fair and equal access to affordable healthcare; or rallying the community and donations together to feed residents and their families at Harbor House with help from Happy Bellies or to feed, with the help of Whisk & Arrow, the hardworking staff of the Boys and Girls Club who day-in and day-out work so hard putting meals together for hundreds of underserved youth all during the start of the COVID-19 Pandemic; or standing up and using whatever platform and social media presence we have to support Black, Brown, and Indigenous Lives and Rights for equality and equity and to bring awareness to the systemic injustices that they and other BIPOC face; or helping to promote and support other small, locally owned businesses throughout the COVID Pandemic, because small businesses are the true pillars of the local economy; or even choosing to provide curbside pickup and limited delivery only and not have any dine in yet during this entire pandemic, because we care about the health and safety of our community; we’re proud to stand up for these and so many other issues that impact all of us and our collective community, because we’re a part of this community and we want it to be the best that it possibly can be.”
What does the future hold/what is next for Basil Café?
Larry: “As for what’s next and what the future holds or what’s new; we’re not entirely sure. COVID has really put us and other small businesses, but restaurants in particular, into complete survival mode. I think many of us running restaurants and other hospitality establishments are hoping we come out of this situation as minimally scathed as possible while trying to be as responsible as we can to care for the health and wellbeing of our staff and the community. So we’ll keep on doing what we can and to be as responsible as we can while trying to hang in there, and to have a little bit of fun with it by trying to keep people engaged via social media and trying to stay creative by featuring new yet authentic dishes when we can. Again, we’re so grateful to be here and to be doing what we’re doing, providing the Fox Valley with delicious and authentic Southeast Asian cuisine with a welcoming and inclusive philosophy. We just hope to still be here after all of this settles.”
What are some of the must try dishes?
“Pad Kee Mao – Wide flat rice noodles, smoked and charred in our wok. Stir-fried in with bell peppers, onions, carrots, house sauce, homemade chili oil, and your choice of protein or mixed veggies. The smoke and char on the thick noodles plus the spice is really what makes the dish.
Luang Prabang Khao Soi – This is a Noodle Soup from Northern Lao. Wide thick hand-cut rice noodles in a bone broth (vegan version available as well) with a Bolognese (ground pork, fermented soy beans, diced tomatoes, garlic, fresh chilis) that gets put on top of the soup. Served with requisite sides of bean sprouts, mint, Thai basil, lime wedge, and green onion & cilantro. Mix the Bolognese all the way through. I love squeezing the lime, and adding the cilantro and green onions, mint, and basil. The aromas are amazing, and the flavors! The citrus brings out a hint of sweetness in the broth, but there’s a slight spice, acidity/tang, savory-richness from the Bolognese whether the pork or the vegan version which is made with tofu and a vegan broth. This noodle soup is getting me through this winter for sure.
Our Phó and all of our broths for noodle soups are slow simmered for over 10+ hours before we serve it. Our broths are beautiful, layered, complex, and a full range of flavors.
Kow Boon – Lao Chicken Curry Rice Noodle Soup – Coconut curried broth with lemongrass and makrut lime leaves, and fall off the bone chicken breast, served with rice vermicelli noodles and requisite sides of beansprouts, lime wedge, shredded lettuce, mint, cilantro. Such a rich, hearty, slightly spicy, and wonderful savory noodle soup. Perfect for the winter.
Sai Oua – Lao Pork Sausage – All natural casing, with ground pork, lemongrass, fresh chili peppers, shallots. We cut them up into little links and then fry them so you get these crispy end bits that are full of flavor, but they help seal in the juicy sausage link. Served with some sticky rice and a choice of “Jeow” which is Lao salsa; we have Jeow Mak Len (roasted tomato) which is mild to medium in spice, and Jeow Bong (Galangal) which is very spicy and intense but so amazingly delicious and flavorful. Traditionally you dip the rice into the salsa, but whichever or however way you eat it, it’ll be a burst of flavors and an experience for your mouth.
Khao Thom Moo – This is Lao Tamale basically. Sticky Rice, Pork Belly, Mung Beans, Salt & Pepper, wrapped into a banana leaf and then steamed. Starchy, savory, rich. It’s the perfect breakfast/brunch item that you can eat on the go. This is something new that we featured when we came back from our Summer break.
Nam Khao – Lao Crispy Fried Rice. Jasmine rice, freshly grated coconut, curry seasoning, lemongrass, shallots, packed into a ball and then fried, then cooled and broken apart and mixed with freshly roasted peanuts, cilantro, green onions, freshly squeezed lime juice, and a pickled Lao sausage, or vegan – with or without tofu. Served with lettuce mint, cilantro, lime wedge and eaten like a lettuce wrap. Bright, savory, acidic, herbaceous and fresh, crispy bits of rice with soft chunks of fluffy seasoned rice. It’s one of the most unique and amazing dishes. Something that reminds us of our childhood.
If you really like spice and really want to get out of your comfort zone and enjoy a really traditional Lao dish, would be the Lao Papaya Salad (“Thum Mak Huong”). It’s fresh unripened shredded green papaya, mashed in a mortar with a pestle with peanuts, fresh Thai Bird’s Eye chilies (as many as you’d like), freshly roasted peanuts, fresh squeezed lime juice, and traditional papaya salad sauce-served 1 of 3 different ways either: a) authentic – the fermented fish sauce, b) regular – regular fish sauce, c) vegan – vegan soy sauce. Served with some shredded lettuce and rice vermicelli noodles and a side of Kiep Moo (Lao Pork Crackling)-unless vegan. Spicy, tangy, refreshing, full flavors of umami.”
With all of these amazing must try options it was hard to just try one (soooo I didn’t). I made it a Saturday night family affair and created an entire tasting buffet on my kitchen table. Now I can’t wait for the day that we can safely dine in at Basil again, but this was the next best thing! Stay tuned for part two of Q&A With Basil Café to see what we all tried. Let me tell you it did not disappoint!
Check out my review of Basil Café here.