Alan Somphonephakdy only started Salty Smiles in October 2022, but was hosting pop-ups long before. As a veteran in the culinary industry with experience ranging from food trucks to high end steakhouses – and most recently an ice cream business – his newest endeavor focuses on New Asian street food, and draws heavily from his Thai and Laotian heritage.

Chef Alan’s banoi (grandmother in Vietnamese) owned a restaurant in Laos. When his family immigrated to the United States, she kept cooking for their small Vietnamese community. Her skill and passion for cooking were passed down to Somphonephakdy. 

Chef Alan’s featured dish is Banh Cuon Kabocha with a sweet chili oil soy sauce. Banh Cuon is a rice noodle roll originated from Northern Vietnam. The name translates to “little cakes,” which refers to the outside of the roll crafted from a delicate rice batter.

Traditionally, it is filled with pork and mushrooms and accompanied by a host of sides and fresh toppings. However, Chef Alan opted for kabocha squash to highlight the raw and steamed vegetables always present in traditional Lao meals. The dish also presented an opportunity to embrace vegan cooking and new cooking techniques. The sweet chili oil perfectly compliments the earthiness of the kabocha squash. 

Not surprisingly, Somphonephakdy took inspiration for these rice noodle rolls from his grandmother. “My Banoi always eyeballed her measurements for the batter for these rice rolls,” he says. “It wasn’t until I analyzed what works and what doesn’t and measured everything to the gram before it made sense to me.” 

The dish is an example of Chef Alan embracing the food traditions passed down through his family as part of his creative passion. “I can’t truly describe my motivation, but if I don’t cook I feel like I’m not creating my art. I am constantly cooking, innovating and looking forward to the next dish. Chef Alan says he is his truest self when he’s cooking and creating food for others. 

Punk Foodie offers this weekly column about Punk Food, a moniker for a cuisine without defining or distinctive ingredients, techniques and dishes which is being born out of the increasing infusion of the diverse cultures and experiences that live in our city. Find out where Salty Smiles is popping up next and go deeper via Punk Foodie’s weekly guides and pop-up calendar

Madalyn Nones | Punk Foodie

Although currently working in public health, Madalyn Nones has a passion for baking, farmers' markets, and grassroots food businesses.