Larb – Laos Meat Salad: the delicious traditional dish of Laos
Larb! Larb! Larb!
If you have already traveled to Laos, you will realize that it is one of the highlighted dishes of your trip.
Larb is basically a salad - made out of meat. (So, like, the best KIND of salad, right?). It’s a meat salad from Laos that has made its way into Thailand and other areas of Southeast Asia, as well as many countries in the world.
Like other dishes in Southeast Asian cooking, the dish combines savory flavors with fresh ones - fresh herbs like cilantro, scallions, and mint, and fresh lime juice. The addition of toasted ground rice also adds texture and nuttiness to the final dish.
Like any salad, you can make larb your own. Not enough cilantro or mint? Add more! Not a huge fan of cilantro? Substitute in Thai basil or maybe even more mint. Want more of a kick? Add more chilies. Do not eat pork or chicken? Try any other ground meat! There are also larb dishes that are made with fish or even mushrooms.
This dish is incredibly quick and easy to make. The most time-consuming step is simply dry toasting the rice grains, which takes about 10 minutes. If you make that ahead, you can be in larb-y heaven in 10 minutes or less.
There are also several different ways to serve up a plate of pork larb. You can serve it with some lettuce leaves for crunchy lettuce wraps, or you can serve it with Thai sticky rice, or even just some steamed jasmine rice if you do not want to get too fancy.
The origin of Larb
Larb actually originated in Laos, where it is considered a national dish. It is very popular in Isan, a region that consists of 20 provinces in the Northeast of Thailand, as well as in the North of Thailand.
Some people think that the name of the dish comes from a Laotian and Thai word which means “luck” or “fortune”. However, these words have different etymological roots, as the name of the dish comes from ancient Lanna language (north of Thailand), where the word for luck comes from Sanskrit. Laab may actually come from an older word which means “to chop finely”.
Most salads that are composed of vegetables, or meats and vegetables are called “yum” in Thailand. However, this salad is called “larb”, which is typical of northeastern and northern style as it consists mostly of meat. In those regions, eating larb is actually considered a sign of wealth as meat is a relatively expensive.
What are the variants of Larb
Larb is most popular in Laos and northern Thailand with some variants. Some of which is also the famous dish in other countries such as Bò tái chanh in Vietnam.
Larb is most often made with chicken, beef, duck, fish, pork or mushrooms, flavored with fish sauce, lime juice, padaek, roasted ground rice and fresh herbs. The meat can be either raw or cooked; it is minced and mixed with chili, mint and, optionally, assorted vegetables.
Roughly ground toasted rice (khao khoua) is also a very important component of the dish. The dish is served at room temperature and usually with a serving of sticky rice and raw or fresh vegetables.
Thai Nyuan/Lanna style
The larb from northern Thailand - larb Lanna - is very different from the internationally more well-known Lao style larb. The northern Thai larb of the Thai Nyuan/Khon Muang (Northern Thai people) does not contain fish sauce and is not sour, as neither lime juice nor any other souring agent is used.
Instead, the northern Thai version uses a mix of dried spices as flavoring and seasoning which includes ingredients such as cumin, cloves, long pepper, star anise, prickly ash seeds and cinnamon amongst others, derived from the location of northern Thailand's Lanna Kingdom on one of the spice routes to China, in addition to ground dried chillies, and, in the case of larb made with pork or chicken, the blood of the animal.
The dish can be eaten raw (larb dip), but also after it has been stir-fried for a short time (larb suk). If blood is omitted from the preparation of the stir-fried version, the dish is called larb khua. There is also a kind of larb called larb luat or lu.
This dish is made with minced raw pork or beef, raw blood, kidney, fat and bile, and mixed with spices, crispy fried onions, fresh herbs and other ingredients. Larb and its other variations are served with an assortment of fresh vegetables and herbs, and eaten with glutinous rice.
This version of larb is viewed as having originated in the town of Phrae, in northern Thailand. This style of "larb" can also be found in parts of northern Laos.
Saa is a larb-like dish with the meat sliced thinly, rather than minced. A similar dish exists in Vietnam known as Bò tái chanh.
Nam tok is a Lao and Thai word meaning 'waterfall'. The name is derived either from the dripping of the meat juices during the grilling or from the juices running out of the medium rare beef as it is sliced. It refers to a popular Lao meat dish in both Laos and Isan, where it is commonly known as ping sin nam tok (Laos) or nuea yang nam tok (Thailand). This dish can be regarded as a variation on the standard larb, and is made from barbecued pork or beef, usually the neck, which is sliced in bite-size pieces.
The meat is then brought to a boil with some stock to create sauce. The heat is turned off, and then sliced shallots, ground roasted rice, chili powder, lime juice, and fish sauce are added, along with shredded coriander leaves, spring onions and mint leaves
Authentic Beef Larb recipe
The below recipe is for the most famous dish, i.e. Laos beef larb. If you prefer pork of chicken, just change beef into those meat. In Laos, you can even find the larb of ant eggs.
First, you can watch the below video for the general idea of how to cook the authentic dish of Laos beef larb before moving forward.
1-1/2 pounds lean beef steak or sirloin
1 teaspoon salt
2 tbs toasted sticky rice powder
8 sprigs of cilantro coarsely chopped
1/4 cup of bean sprouts for garnish
2 green onions finely chopped
8 sprigs mint coarsely chopped (Plus a few leaves for garnish)
5 kaffir limes leaves finely chopped or minced
8 sprigs sprigs of Vietnamese coriander add more cilantro if you can not find this
2 slices of galangal minced
1/2 stalk lemongrass outer peel removed, trimmed, and minced
2 Thai bird chili peppers thinly sliced (Thai chili's are exceptionally hot add according to your heat tolerance)
1 tsp red pepper dried & crushed
2-4 Tbsp fish sauce to taste
1 large lime juiced
Optional ingredients you may add
1-2 Tbsp fermented fish sauce and/or
1/4 cup beef tripe cooked & thinly sliced
Cooking the Beef:
Grill beef for 6-7 minutes on medium heat/flame until cooked to your liking
Thinly slice the beef, making sure you're against the grain
Finely mince the beef and place in a large bowl
Mixing the Larb:
Add in the toasted rice powder, herbs and spices, crushed dried red pepper, fish sauce and lime juice.
Toss the salad . You are going for a balanced flavor of spicy, tangy, salty, adjust seasonings to taste
Garnish with some mint, cilantro, lime and serve with some cucumber slices and of course sticky rice.
My name is Jolie, I am a Vietnamese girl growing up in the countryside of Hai Duong, northern Vietnam. Since a little girl, I was always dreaming of exploring the far-away lands, the unseen beauty spots of the world. My dream has been growing bigger and bigger day after day, and I do not miss a chance to make it real. After graduating from the univesity of language in Hanoi, I started the exploration with a travel agency and learning more about travel, especially responsible travel. I love experiencing the different cultures of the different lands and sharing my dream with the whole world. Hope that you love it too!
The core difference between Thai green papaya salad and Laos green papaya salad is the liquid component of the recipe along with the topping.
Thai papaya salad, referred to as Som Tam, uses mainly fish sauce as the flavoring condiment and is generally topped with crushed roasted peanut.
Laos papaya salad, referred to as Tam Mak Hoong, uses fermented crab dip (nam pu) and padaek as flavoring condiments
The classic green papaya salad is loved throughout southeast Asia in various forms, but the two most popular are the Thai and Lao style papaya salad.
Padaek, sometimes known as padek, or Lao fish sauce or pla-ra in Thailand, is a traditional Lao condiment made from pickled or fermented fish that has been cured. It is thicker and more seasoned than the fish sauce more commonly seen throughout Thailand and Vietnam, often containing chunks of fish. The fermentation takes a long time, giving padaek an aroma similar to cheeses like Époisses.
Unlike other versions of fish sauce in Southeast Asia, padaek is made from freshwater fish, owing to the landlocked nature of the former kingdom of Lan Xang. Padaek is used in many dishes, most notably tam maak hoong, a spicy Lao papaya salad.
In Laos, food is the most important activity throughout the day. In the local language, it is quite common for people to greet each other by immediately asking, “Have you eaten food?” (“Kin khao laeo bor?”). Food is often the topic of many conversations, especially when eating and sharing dishes between friends and family. Additionally, Lao people take great passion in sharing traditional dishes with curious travelers.
Laotian dishes are very similar to Thailand and Vietnam in terms of flavor and ingredients, which often consist of fresh herb, spices, noodles, and rice. Khao niaw (sticky rice) is a staple food among the Laotians. Traditionally steamed in a cone-shaped bamboo basket, the rice is then placed in a covered basket, where it is eaten by hand alongside spicy soup, and meat-based dishes. Eating in Laos is also a communal activity, where dishes are shared by all at the table.
Laos street food is vibrant, colorful, packed with herbs and chilies, and the combinations of ingredients are guaranteed to thrill your taste-buds.
From Luang Prabang to Vientiane, you will not believe how complex, yet refreshing at the same time, the scene of Laos street food can be.
From scrumptious sweets to deliciously charred meat-on-a-stick, each afternoon around dust multitudes of food carts converge to Vientiane’s kerbsides peddling cheap and flavorful eats to the hungry masses.
The street food scene of Luang Prabang will attract you at the first sight once you step into the colorful night market. The smell, the taste, or the various dishes on offers all combine to make it something you cannot deny.
Sticky rice is the staple food of any Laotian meal. It is called “khao niew” and made from glutinous rice. It contains a higher sugar level than normal rice, which gives it its stickiness.
Despite the name (glutinous rice), Laotian sticky rice is gluten free and therefore great for people with celiac. Sticky rice is steamed and traditionally served in small cute bamboo baskets in Laos called “lao aep khao”.
Sticky rice is a traditional Lao and Thai base dish that is served and paired another delicious main meal. You typically do not eat sticky rice on its own unless it’s been transformed into a dessert that is doused in coconut milk or sugar (if you’ve had Lao food, what I’m referring to here is purple rice).
Sticky rice is a transparent and opaque rice that requires soaking overnight for preparations. Once cooked, the rice “sticks” to each other, and you use your hands to eat the rice by forming delicious little balls of rice and putting it into your mouth!
Experiencing all that Lao cuisine has to offer is not an experience for the faint of heart. Laos’ famous fermented fish sauce, padek, has a distinct fragrance. Insects ranging from silkworms to ants and crickets can be found on many menus. Raw and cooked meats from all manner of animals are grilled and served on a stick or sautéed and served with rice.
Ah, while we are learning about Laos traditional dishes, why don't we take a break and take a bite of Laos food history and culture.
In case you want to move directly to the dishes that you prefer, just navigate via the below table of content.
Fresh herbs, hearty soups and powerful, funky fish flavors are just a few of the hallmarks of Laotian food, a cuisine that isn’t widely represented in the world but is showcased at a number of excellent restaurants in some big cities like NYC, Seattle, London, Sydney, or Melbourne.
Papaya salad, beef jerky, sticky rice and laap, or larb, are examples of typical Laotian dishes - there’s a commonality with Northern Thai food that frequently causes the two cuisines to be lumped together. Lao food, though, has unique characteristics that give it a flavor all its own.
Below is our recommended list of restaurants in Laos & some big cities where you can really enjoy the authentic Laos food.
Either are you wondering about best time to visit, visa policy, or how to get the cheapest flight, we have your back! WHAT MORE? Choose the country you plan to visit, then search for your nationality below to see our special travel tips & advice for your country. CONTACT US if you cannot find yours.
Tourist Visa Policy
Tourist Visa Policy
Best Time to Visit
Best Time to Visit
Budget & Currency
Budget & Currency
Getting Flight There
Getting Flight There
Buying & Bargaining
Buying & Bargaining
Internet & Phone
Internet & Phone
Safety & Precautions
Safety & Precautions
CHECK OUT OTHER DESTINATIONS
A land of staggering natural beauty and cultural complexities, of dynamic megacities and hill-tribe villages, Vietnam is both exotic and compelling.
Friendly and food-obsessed, hedonistic and historic, cultured and curious, Thailand tempts visitors with a smile as golden as the country's glittering temples and tropical beaches.
There's a magic about this charming yet confounding kingdom that casts a spell on visitors. In Cambodia, ancient and modern worlds collide to create an authentic adventure.
It's a new era for this extraordinary and complex land, where the landscape is scattered with gilded pagodas and the traditional ways of Asia endure.