This Is The Most Delicious Thai Food You’ve Never Heard Of
Imagine a dish that’s spicy, sour, sweet, salty and bitter all at the same time. This exotic Thai dish, that has all of these contrasting flavors magically working together, is called larb. Many people might think of Thai food as one overarching cuisine, but in reality, it’s insanely diverse. There’s Northeastern (Isan), Northern, Central and Southern Thai cuisines. Northern dishes tend to be heavier on the lime juice, like the popular dish som tum — a green papaya salad with dried shrimp, toasted peanuts, fish sauce, lime juice and palm sugar. Southern curries are more on the spicy side with an abundance of herbs, coconut cream, turmeric, lemongrass and kaffir lime leaves.
Chef Andy Ricker (an American-born chef, restaurateur and food writer, known for his expertise in Northern Thai cuisine), has a collection of casual Thai restaurants in Portland and LA. Ricker’s eatery Pok Pok NY educates guests about Isan culinary traditions. Isan is a region of Northeast Thailand that borders Laos and Cambodia and the cuisine is heavily influenced by Laotian ingredients. Larb is said to have originated in Laos and is unofficially dubbed the country’s national dish.
So what is larb? The dish is a type of Laotian meat salad often made with chicken, beef, duck, fish, pork or mushrooms. The meat is flavored with fish sauce, lime juice, roasted ground rice, mint and padaek — a traditional Laotian condiment made from pickled or fermented fish that’s been cured and is way thicker than a regular fish sauce. Larb can be eaten either raw or cooked and the meat is minced and then thoroughly mixed with chili, herbs and vegetables. It’s often served with sticky rice (khao niew), which is a glutinous rice with a higher sugar content than regular rice and it becomes sticky when steamed.
The next time you’re at a Thai restaurant, stray from the usual Pad Thai and go for the larb. Your taste buds with thank you!