|Chicken Larb from Lao kitchen, a Vientiance favourite|
I am a huge fan of a dish called larb (other spellings are larp, laab,laap), which is a minced meat salad with chicken, pork, duck or fish to name a few options. I have had this dish a lot in the Esarn (NE) part of Thailand and over the border in Vientiane Laos. There a few variations, usually with plenty of fresh mint,Thai basil, and possibly lime juice. An interesting “secret” ingredient is ground, burnt rice which I believe is added to thicken the sauce. Be careful when ordering larb because sometimes it is not cooked at all, just ‘lime cooked”. I remember a story from a European Lao person who came back to visit his Lao relatives. They offered him uncooked chicken larb and assured him it would be okay. It was not okay…..he was sick as a dog for about a week.
I was rather intrigued when my Thai friend Nan told me that there is a Chiang Mai style larb which is better than the Esarn version I love. I told her I must have this and she showed me a place on the map where to get it. Let the larb challenge begin!
I easily found the hole in the wall, mom and pop shop just around the corner. I vaguely remember being there about 4 years back and the language barrier was so wide I aborted that mission. Though my Thai language skills are not much better , this time I would not be denied! I ordered firmly “Larb moo (pork)” . The pop seemed pleased and pointed me inside. This place was definitely not your typical hole in the wall. You are expected to take off your shoes if eating inside. Thai homes generally have a no shoe policy inside but I can’t say I remember a diner with this policy. There were many pictures of the King and Buddhist pictures on the wall. They even had a Buddhist movie playing on TV. There were 4 bird cages with pet parakeets hanging almost directly over the food station. I found this a little unnerving but I soldiered on. The pop was preparing the mixture for the mom to cook and he kept asking me something, making a stirring motion and I just firmly repeated “Larb moo”. He gathered all the ingredients and started stirring them in a bowl and I noticed a red sauce in there, which you don’t really see in Thailand. A minute or two later it dawned on me that this actually wasn’t sauce, it was blood. I steeled my nerves and told myself this is gonna be great.
A friendly local diner who spoke a little English guided me to the
|This is the champ, Chiang Mai style larb|
accompaniments; cabbage, tomatoes, more herbs. A few short minutes later and my larb was served along with a little sticky rice. I took a bite, paused and let my taste buds get blown away. To describe the flavour in a word, it is RICH. It gives me the feeling I have met my iron requirements for the next month. There is a nice peppery undertone to it as well and lovely, crunchy bits of deep fried garlic on top. This is the best new dish I have tried in ages. I felt it blew away the Esarn larb but just to prove it I tried larb at the popular Esarn Somtam restaurant the next night and it is confirmed, Chiang Mai larb rules!
|The Esarn larb|