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What is Laos Larb? A Flavorful and Savory Minced Meat Salad

Here’s everything you need to know about the national dish of Laos, Larb.

If you’ve never experienced larb, I’m going to share with you in this post what you can expect the next time you are served this delicious dish. If you have tasted this dish and are wondering what exactly you ate, this post is definitely for you!

Even the best pictures of this delectable authentic Lao dish do not do it justice. In this post, I’m going to talk about the flavors of Larb, how you eat larb, where it was originated from (and where it can be found in the states today), the average calorie count, the various ways larb is called, and a little bit of history.

In another post, I plan on sharing my absolute FAVORITE way to prepare a delicious larb recipe that even the pickiest of eaters will want to try (and will absolutely love.)

What is Laos Larb?

Larb originates from Lao cuisine, and it’s the general name to describe an entree of Lao minced meat that is mixed in a salad with herbs, lime juice, fish sauce, shallots, padaek and toasted ground sticky rice. The most common meats that are added include fish, chicken, beef, and pork.

There are a few variations of Lao larb. The two most common are Lao/Isan style and nam tok.

  • Lao/Isan style larb is commonly made of the ingredients mentioned previously. It is served with sticky rice and raw vegetables as an accompaniment.
  • Nam tok is a variation where the meat juices are running out of the meat from medium rare beef as it’s sliced into with a knife. Nam tok means waterfall in Lao, so it literally means a waterfall of meat juice.

What does Larb taste like?

This is an flavorful entree that deliciously blends spicy, sour, sweet, bitter, and salty in one exotic, delicious combination in your mouth. It is a light meal, but is rich in flavors and varying contrasts.

The toasted rice provides that bit of crunch and nuttiness, the lime brings out the zing, the spearmint brings out the fresh herbs, and the meat honestly isn’t the star of the show (even though it appears that it is). It’s the flavors that surround the meat that bring the dish to life.

The wonderful seasonings as well as minced fresh herbs bring the flavor combinations together into a beautiful entree.

Is larb spicy?

Authentic larb recipes include Thai chiles, which make it spicy. However,there is not much of a flavor difference if you need to remove the heat. The Thai chiles can often be left out for those that can’t handle the heat.

laos larb with sticky rice

How do you eat larb?

Larb is normally served alongside sticky rice along with fresh herbs and vegetables like string beans.

In the states in Lao communities, larb is the perfect dish for hot spring and summer weather! However, you can definitely eat this dish year round!

To eat larb authentically, you’ll need to take a small roll of sticky rice. Use your thumb and forefinger to take the rice and dip it into the minced meat. Grab a portion of the larb along with the rice and put it on your mouth.

laos larb with hands grabbing portion

What are the ingredients in Laos larb?

Authentic larb recipes consists of a cooked meat like beef, chicken, pork, fish, or duck. It is then surrounded with lime, cilantro, spearmint (which is different than regular mint), toasted rice powder, padaek, fish sauce, and Thai chiles.

Other variations may include mushroom, chili powder, and shallots.

laos larb

What ingredients are required to make Laos larb authentic?

Toasted rice powder and padaek are the two key ingredients to make authentic Lao larb. This will most likely require you to visit your local asian grocer.

While you can easily make your own toasted rice powder (often referred to as khao khua), these can often be purchased in small packages. Padaek is a Laotioan fish sauce that is thicker in consistency than traditional fish sauce. Check out the post to read about my most preferred sauce (and also to prepare you for the grocery aisle before you hit the padaek section).

laos larb

Where can I find larb in restaurants?

There aren’t as many Lao restaurants as there are Thai restaurants in the states. However, it’s not to say you can’t find it! Larb can be found under the guise of many Thai restaurants. Various names that it can be under include:

  • Laab
  • Lahb
  • Larp
  • Laap
  • Lahp
  • Minced Meat salad

How do you pronounce larb and what does it mean?

While the English translation adds the letter “b” in it’s name, it actually sounds more like a “p”. To explain it in English terms, it rhymes with the word “lop” as in “lop off a section”.

Larb in the Laotian language actually means to chop and cut up into little pieces. So, you are essentially cutting up meat into little pieces.

Another way larb is mentioned in Lao is sarad (in Lao: ສະຫຼັດ).

What is the origin of larb?

Larb originates from Laos, but came to America via the introduction of Thai restaurants.

It’s a meat salad in Laos that has been adapted in some northern Thai and Hmong cuisines as well as been adopted in other areas of Southeast Asian cuisines.

What other dishes is larb served with?

Larb is traditionally served with warm sticky rice (known as Khao Niew), or raw vegetables, including cabbage. It is often paired with papaya salad!

In the States, you may find that larb is served with lettuce wraps. However, this is not the authentic way larb is served in Laos.

laos larb

How many calories are in larb?

In one ounce of ground chicken larb, there are about 400 calories.

Laos Larb Summary

And there you have it, a summary of what this dish is all about! My hope is that you are able to try this magical dish of savory, contrasting flavors the next time you stop into a restaurant that serves larb!

Larb is a great dish to try the next time you want to give your taste buds a treat outside the usual Basil fried rice! Just remember: This dish was originally a Lao dish that has grown in popularity among foodies looking to expand their palettes. Pin this image below and add it to your “Foods to Try” board!

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Thai and Lao larb dish

Thai and Lao larb dish

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