In Sanskrit, Bida Manda means "father and mother." For Vansana Nolintha, it was the perfect name for his Laotian restaurant opening Wednesday in downtown Raleigh at the location formerly occupied by Duck and Dumplings.
The menu is filled with items Nolintha's mother used to prepare for him growing up in Laos.
"You don't have to know Laotian food, but you know what home cooked food tastes like," he said.
Laotian cuisine is new to downtown Raleigh and to many areas. The food draws on Laos' French colonial history and combines that with Vietnamese and Thai influences.
Items on the menu include North Carolina catfish with eggplant, garlic and shallots steamed inside banana leaves. Another staple of Laos cuisine on the menu – sticky rice, served in a bamboo basket. It is meant to be rolled into balls and used as a spoon, almost like a pita.
Nolintha said the dishes are all about balance between the flavors – sweet, salty and sour.
In addition to the food, Bida Manda is also crafting unique cocktails. They create their own simple syrups and are making sugar cubes out of fruit and oils. The cubes are a main component to one champagne cocktail, which allows guests to select cubes, like mint, to add a kick of flavor.
In Laos, a meal is more than just food, Nolintha said.
"Laotian food is the center of the experience," he said, "A whole meal is almost a performance, an event."
And the meal doesn't end with dessert. Nolintha wants people to linger, talk and have a special after-dinner cocktail.
The restaurant's decor is meant to create an environment where people want to linger. It is an eclectic mix of images from Laos – his parents' wedding day photo and photos of monks from his hometown – and rustic wood.
"I really want to create an almost meditative place in downtown Raleigh," he said.
The decor also includes wooden sticks attached above the bar and on the walls. More than 50 friends spent more than 750 hours working on the project, Nolintha said.
The restaurant's entrance features a local artist's hand stenciled work, while the tables are made with re-purposed wood from churches and barns.
"Each table has its own story," he said
Nolintha immigrated to the United States at the age of 12 along with his sister. The two used to work in restaurants to pay the bills. Missing their home cuisine, they would get takeout from Thai restaurants and use it as a basis for traditional Laotian dishes.
Nolintha, a graduate of North Carolina State University with degrees in chemistry and art design, said food is truly a passion for he and his sister, which makes opening their own restaurant so important.
"It's rare in life when you can turn your hobbies and passions into a career," he said.
Bida Manda is officially open for dinner starting Wednesday at 5 p.m. The restaurant is open until 10 p.m. and the bar is open until 2 a.m.