How to Make Larb Gai – Lahb Gai – Laab Gai – Larp Gai – Laap Gai – Lahb Gai ลาบไก่


larb recipe
There is a good reason why the title reads the way it does. I am aware that when I show my face here, people expect me to talk about food. But if you know me very well, you will know that, as much as I love food and cooking, the majority of my time is spent in the areas not at all culinary in nature. And though I’ve tried to repress that non-culinary part of me when I come here, it sometimes slips into my site here and there.

Take the dish we have before us here for example. While it may be more appropriate to discuss the anatomy of the dish, the linguist in me just couldn’t overcome the urge to discuss the anatomy of its name. After all, there’s not much to talk about in terms of how to make the dish as you will soon see; it’s one of the simplest things to make. This version that you see here (which represents the most common overseas Thai restaurant version) is especially easy. But the name. (Sigh)

I don’t know if the inconsistencies in the way Thai words are transliterated into English ever drive anyone nuts the way they do me. (I guess this is one of those things where not caring is bliss.) Is it Som Tum or Som Tam, Tom Yum Goong or Tom Yam Gung? I could go on for at least 20 pages with my hypothesis as to why that is the case.

Nonetheless, in an attempt to keep the 7-8 readers that I have, I’ll just give you a one-sentence summary: The complete madness that is the romanization stems primarily from the blatant disregard for correctness and the lack of understanding about how language works and secondarily from the lack of agreement as to whether a word should be transliterated to reflect its vernacular pronunciation or its etymology.

larp recipe
Given the fact that the Thai language has been tremendously influenced by Sanskrit with lots of Old Khmer — among other things — thrown in just to make things hopelessly confusing, unless rules are promulgated and enforced, all hope for uniformity is lost. 1

Back to the subject at hand — ลาบ. The issue here does not pertain to etymology, but the English representation of the long A vowel.

I personally prefer the spelling Lap in strict compliance with the standard transliteration rules (lap kai is the RTGS romanization). But I do realize how unpopular this is. Apart from that, Laab (or Laap) is about as far as I’m willing to go. But I don’t prefer that, because — long story short — I don’t like the idea of reduplicating a vowel to signify lengthening. 2

Lahb is not my first choice, but it doesn’t irritate the heck out of me (in some languages the H is one of those consonants that sometimes function in a vowel-like manner). However, the worst transliteration of this Thai word, ironically, happens to be the one with which you’re perhaps most familiar — Larb (or Larp).

I detest it.

larb gai
Now that I got you all bored out of your mind, I guess I might as well confuse you too. In absolute disregard for your sanity, I will alternate between these three transliterations of ลาบ in a completely haphazard manner. The reason for this is very practical. Though the linguist part of me sternly insists on Lap, Laap, Laab or Lahb, the blogger part of me is seeking out a way to compromise and sneak Larb into the post.

What’s the point of writing about something on a website like this if it’s not searchable? And I know all too well that only the nerdiest of linguists will search for “lap.” Those who know enough to transliterate the word that way would most likely do a search in Thai anyway.

So as you can now see, the title reads the way it does for a reason.

Now that the issue regarding the name is out of the way, let’s discuss the making of the dish. This will be brief as Laab Gai, Lahb Gai, Larb Gai, Laap Gai, Larp Gai, Lahp Gai, or ลาบไก่, is nothing but a meat-based salad. And being a salad, all it requires is some minor wrist work in tossing things together in a bowl.

Here are the main components:

larb recipe
Meat of choice: Chicken is used here; hence the “Gai” in Laab Gai. But Lahb can also be made with beef, pork, turkey, or, my favorite, duck. A combination of meat and offal (especially the kidney and gizzard) is also quite common. (The only kind of meat that would be unusual for Larb is fish or seafood.)

You can buy your meat pre-ground or you can grind it yourself in a food processor. Or you can do what I do when I make Laab. You see, I happen to think that, apart from the incomparable duck meat, the thigh meat of the chicken makes the best Lahb. Unfortunately, the thighs don’t usually come pre-ground. So I buy boneless, skinless chicken thighs, slice them up into smaller pieces on a sturdy wooden chopping block and, with a big Chinese cleaver, whack it until it’s finely chopped.

Then I saute the chopped meat in a nonstick skillet without any oil until it’s cooked through. (Use medium heat as you don’t want any caramelization; you only want to get the meat to go from raw to cooked while keeping as much moisture as possible.) The meat will form large chunks; just separate them with the spatula as you go. Once cooked, the meat should release some of its juices; don’t drain off the liquid. Larb should not be completely dry.

Herbs and vegetables: The non-negotiables in Laab include thinly-sliced shallots or red onions, whole fresh cilantro leaves (better yet culantro or sawtooth coriander), and whole fresh mint leaves. No curly or flat-leaf parsley allowed. Any kind of fresh mint can be used, except the dried variety. No dried onions either. Ideally, dry-toasted fresh galangal is also added. But you leave it out.

larb gai
Thickener/binder and perfuming agents: One and only one is needed here — toasted rice powder (Khao Khua). While the galangal is optional, this one is not. This is the ingredient which will cause the juice that comes out of the meat to thicken a bit and loosely bind all the ingredients together.

It’s important to strike a good balance. Too little rice powder will make for a thin, watery Lahb juice. Too much and you end up with slimy meat salad. Khao Khua also helps perfuming the dish. Laab is not Larb (or Lahb) without that familiar “nutty” aroma of the toasted rice. Don’t leave this ingredient out.

Seasonings: Three things are needed — fresh lime juice, fish sauce, and dried red pepper flakes/powder. Nothing can be left out or substituted, unfortunately. No lemon. No bottled lime juice or, worse, vinegar. No salt. And — heavens forbid — no soy sauce. The good news, though, is that you have complete freedom when it comes to the amounts of these three seasonings. The recipe below serves as a guide for those who have never had or made it. Ultimately, you’re responsible for tasting and adjusting until the dish tastes right for you.

Northeastern-Thai Spicy Duck Salad

Duck laab — of all the meat candidates for laab, duck is my top favorite.
Assembly: Now that you’ve got all your individual components ready, it’s time to toss the Lahb. (Assembly should be done no more than 5-10 minutes before it’s served. Laab, like most tossed salads, tastes best when it’s freshly made. Its taste deteriorates quite quickly. You can store the leftover in the refrigerator, but the reheating will pretty much ruin the taste and texture of this type of Larb.)

Allow the sauteed meat to cool down a little. It should not be fresh-off-the-stove hot, but a bit warmer than room temperature (Larb tastes best at room temperature). Place the meat and its juices in a mixing bowl. Then add to the meat bowl, the shallot or onions and toss. The residual heat from the meat will slightly wilt the raw shallots and tame the raw flavor. Then start seasoning your Laab with the lime juice, fish sauce, and dried red pepper powder. The taste should be predominantly sour and a bit salty. The level of heat is completely up to you. Once the desired taste is achieved, throw in the fresh herbs and toss.

What I’ve just described to you is merely a set of guidelines. Here’s a recipe for those who need it.

Revision

1 If anyone has been to Thailand recently, you’re probably aware of the name of our international airport Suvarnabhumi. This is an example of an etymology-based transliteration. Had the name been transliterated to reflect the vernacular pronunciation, it would have looked entirely different. Just by looking at the spelling, can you even tell that the name is to be properly pronounced, su-wan (rhymes with “sun”)-na-poom? No literate, sane Thai will ever go around calling the airport Soo-var-na-bhoo-mee. Would you be a little confused to find out that the name of our former prime minister, Abhisit Vejjajiva, is properly pronounced, A-pi-sit Wait-cha-chee-wa? It may seem misleading, but you can see the etymology-oriented philosophy behind such a transliteration. The name of another former prime minister, Thaksin Shinawatra (pronounced Tak-sin Chin-na-wat), on the other hand, is a confused hybrid of both etymology-oriented and vernacular-oriented philosophies. It’s both and, yet, it’s neither. I’m sure it works for him.
 
2 The Thai people have an informal way of employing the English letter R to indicate the lengthening of vowels. Each short vowel in the Thai language has its long counterpart; everything comes in pair. So in order to indicate that the vowel in the word ลาบ is a long A as in “fAther,” an R is added to signify the lengthening of the vowel. Though utterly without any linguistic basis, it is a very prevalent practice — so prevalent that it has more or less become the standard.
 
By introducing an extra consonant, i.e. the R, into the mix, it is bound to lead people, especially Americans, to pronounce the word with the rolling R just as they do the word, “garb” when there is no R represented anywhere in the original be it in the spelling or the pronunciation. And this is primarily the reason I don’t like the use of the English R as the marker of long vowels; it brings into the mix an extra consonantal element where there is none. Would a classicist ever dream of using the R to differentiate the English transliterations of the omicron (Ο – short o) from that of the omega (Ω – long o)? Never.

85 Responses to How to Make Larb Gai – Lahb Gai – Laab Gai – Larp Gai – Laap Gai – Lahb Gai ลาบไก่

  1. Rick June 5, 2009 at 2:04 pm #

    Hi Leela, an intriguing read on the transliteration of words.

    Duck in this dish sounds great, I too prefer dark meat. I will have to give this a try. So much food, so little time … sigh

  2. Lydia June 5, 2009 at 2:52 pm #

    Wonderful discussion of the issues of transliteration, Leela! Thanks! Having a keen interest in linguistics myself I often find it amusing/frustrating as well, but also very interesting when considering the bigger picture. Thanks for reminding me of Laab; it is one of my favorite dishes and one of the first Thai dishes I learned to prepare. And I even have ground chicken beckoning me in the fridge.

  3. Kelly June 5, 2009 at 3:11 pm #

    I love galangal! I bought some powdered galangal for a Thai recipe and the flavor is so nice! Your dish looks fantastic !

  4. Emma June 5, 2009 at 4:22 pm #

    Hi, thank you. Maybe I should have mentioned that I wrote in another language (swedish) and not english. :) But next time I try one of your recipies I’ll write it in english. And I have a feeling it won’t be too long, have been looking at those steamed buns for a while now and really want to try them. But I’ll let you know when I do. Have a nice day!

  5. dp June 5, 2009 at 4:29 pm #

    You know, I never realized there were even loose rules on the transliteration of Thai words. I’ve seen words, like laab, spelled so many different ways, I just assumed people choose whichever tickled their fancy. With that said, I never understood why people use larb or som tam. There’s no r sound in laab or a sound in som tom *shrug*

    So here’s a question. How would you spell zaab/zaap/zap/zab? Just curious. There’s a restaurant here called Zaap, but my coworker pronounced it sop. Confusing to her, funny to me.

  6. Mike June 5, 2009 at 5:02 pm #

    However you spell it, Larb is good stuff. Your version looks great – I need to make some!

  7. Leela June 5, 2009 at 5:47 pm #

    Hey Darlene – Actually, that’s precisely the problem. People transliterate Thai words however they see fit. It’s the problem in other languages that don’t use the roman alphabet too. Informal Chinese-English and Russian-English transliterations are also a mess. Understandably, there are limitations to what the English alphabet can do, though. And that partly explains the inconsistency.

    Your question re: “saeb” (meaning “delicious” in the northeastern dialect, I assume)is a case in point. I wouldn’t use the “z” to begin with, because there’s no z (voiced) sound in Thai. The initial consonant used to spell “saeb” is unvoiced just like the English s in the initial position. And I wouldn’t use “p” to represent the ending consonant of this word either. After all, this is the same ending consonant in the word Laab.

    The restaurant probably wanted to use a spelling that looks cool in English and, as a brand name, they can do that.

    The problem with that word is more in the way the vowel is to be represented in English. Thai “saeb” is supposed to rhyme with English “lap” in terms of vocalization, that is. The informal way to transliterate this vowel is “ae,” but then we run into the problem of how we’re going to transliterate the long counterpart of this short vowel. Would that also be transliterated with “ae”? This is when alphabet alone is insufficient and diacritical marks become necessary.

    This page http://www.omniglot.com/writing/thai.htm is a pretty good reference.

    Anyway, informally, saeb is probably the best you could do without resorting to phonetic symbols or diacritical marks that are not found on the standard qwerty keyboard.

    As for Som Tam, I wouldn’t spell it “tom” because it’s a short A vowel – precisely the short counterpart of Laab. Besides, “tom” would lead people to think that it rhymes with the preceding word “som” and that’s not the case. This vowel is in the bottom row of the vowel diacritics table on the page cited above – the 5th one from the left. That’s the same vowel for the word Yam in Tom Yam. In fact, Som Tam and Tom Yam form a perfect rhyming pair both in the vowel sound and the tone! So just as I wouldn’t use the spelling Tom Yom, I wouldn’t use the spelling Som Tom. But you’re right — when you listen to the word, it’s SO hard to discern the difference in the vowel sounds. It’s clearer when you see the word spelled out.

    To say all of this is confusing is truly an understatement. I guess if we all can’t be right, then at least be consistent.

    I need a drink then a nap. How about you? :)

  8. Justin June 5, 2009 at 5:56 pm #

    i didn’t know there was such a thing as galangal powder. i’ll have to search for that.

  9. The Duo Dishes June 5, 2009 at 6:27 pm #

    Never seen galangal in powder formation either! That would be a nice thing to have around every once in a while.

  10. Jenn June 5, 2009 at 7:37 pm #

    Haha…That’s the tricky part about language translations there’s never one say to do it. As as long as the results are near or close. I don’t mind.

    This is the first I’ve heard of galangal powder. I need to cook more thai food at home. That looks really good though.

  11. lisaiscooking June 5, 2009 at 10:42 pm #

    Wow, I make something very similar to this on a regular basis. I’ve never used galangal powder though, and now I want to try it. Interesting language information too!

  12. zoe June 6, 2009 at 12:03 am #

    I like the sound of this. Im gonna give it a try!

  13. doggybloggy June 6, 2009 at 2:08 am #

    well then its time for me to tell you that my moms name is Lila – same difference – it sounds the same but spelled differently …where was I going with this…I lost myself..

  14. Leela June 6, 2009 at 2:11 am #

    doggy – Unbeknownst to most people, Leela is actually pronounced pe-NE-lo-pe.

    Just kidding.

    Feel free to call me mom. :)

  15. The Faux Gourmet June 6, 2009 at 2:55 am #

    I think part of the transliteration problem is the difference between American & British English. Brits see Larb and correctly say “laab,” but Americans want it to rhyme with barb (which I realize a Brit may pronounce: baab!). I have noticed this a lot among the ex-pats in Thailand; Americans so confused as to what that r is always doing there but other English speakers not being troubled.

    But anyway . . . as a native English speaker for whom learning & speaking Thai is one of the great joys of life, I really loved this post. :)

  16. The Faux Gourmet June 6, 2009 at 2:56 am #

    And, at least it is fairly easy to transliterate aroy dee!

  17. 5 Star Foodie June 6, 2009 at 3:06 am #

    This looks delicious, duck is my favorite too!

  18. Leela June 6, 2009 at 3:43 am #

    The Faux Gourmet – You’re absolutely right about the American vs. British pronunciation and how it affects transliteration. British English came to Thailand first, then American much later. And now we’re stuck with many confusing things that we have yet to sort out. Great observation. Thanks. :)

  19. Cucinista June 6, 2009 at 12:49 pm #

    Thanks for both another great recipe and also a very interesting discussion. Languages and linguistics are fascinating, and translation/transliteration is such a minefield. Great to see so many people interested and intrigued by it.

  20. oysterculture June 6, 2009 at 2:00 pm #

    Leela, another incredible post, and I learned so much! I love laab, I still remember the first time I had it, and almost did not want to order anything else as it was so incredible good. I’ve been thinking about making it for some time, but with so many good Thai restaurants nearby it did not seem to be right, as I felt I’d always come up short. Now I am inspired.

    You said fresh or dried galangal, but is there a traditional preference? I have dried on hand myself, but will seek out fresh as required.

  21. Leela June 6, 2009 at 2:17 pm #

    Hi Oyster – The difference between fresh and powder galangal (or galanga) is almost undiscernible. If you already have the powder kind, I would use that. After all, I don’t consider Laab one of the dishes whose quality depends on galangal. Tom Kha (Gai) or Tom Yam, on the other hand, can be easily ruined by the use galangal powder instead of the fresh or frozen kind.

    But if you can find fresh or frozen galangal easily, as I suspect you would considering your location, by all means, use fresh. For this portion, a tiny piece (1/2-inch cube) would be enough — any more than this would be overwhelming. Dry-toast it a little (2-3 minutes?) in a skillet and either chop it up *really* fine or grind it in a coffee grinder.

  22. Zita June 7, 2009 at 12:01 am #

    I hope after years of following your blog, one day I could understand a liitle bit of Thai. Sanskrit is one of the oldest ancient language, so must be very interesting to learn Thai. Ah… too many things to learn, too little time…

    No salt? Why? I always have frozen “fresh” galangal in my freezer so this sounds like a must try :)

  23. Leela June 7, 2009 at 12:24 am #

    Zita – The use of fish sauce in Laab is similar to the use of it i other dishes wherein the sour and salty flavors are prominent, e.g. Tom Yam, Tom Kha Gai. The idea of using salt in these dishes seems foreign to the Thai people. If asked what the difference is between salt and fish sauce, I would say fish sauce has more complex flavor – sweet and salty. Good fish sauce is not fishy but actually quite fragrant. But then I’m speaking as a Thai; fish sauce is in my blood.

    As for learning Thai, it’s probably useful if you live there, plan to live there, or your way of life is heavily involved with the Thai culture and people. It’s a language that is spoken by a rather small group of people. It’s difficult to learn. The alphabet and vowel systems are complex. The grammar is simple, but the writing is quite difficult.

  24. Tangled Noodle June 7, 2009 at 2:00 am #

    A truly fascinating post! I didn’t realize what went into transliteration. I consider myself better educated, thanks to you.

    As for this dish, it sounds wonderful! I picked up a container of dried galangal on a whim, recognizing the rhizome but not knowing what I’d use it in. I appreciate the fact that you don’t hesitate to let us know when deviation from the recipe is not acceptable! And just for the record, this most definitely would be served with sticky rice; that’s non-negotiable for me! 8-D

  25. Kevin June 8, 2009 at 1:35 pm #

    That larb looks tasty! I like all of the fresh herbs on top!

  26. Marc @ NoRecipes June 10, 2009 at 3:11 am #

    Love the tour through the etymology and transliteration of the name of this dish. It’s little side journeies like this that keeps me coming back for more.

    Coming from an online marketing background I can certainly appreciate the need to help people “find” your posts. I even go as far as to type in every spelling of a name I can think of into the Google Keyword tool to figure out which one gets the most volume.

    I’m such a geek, I know…

    Back to the recipe though, thanks! I just bought some fresh galangal the other day, so now all I need is some chicken.

  27. Rockhopper June 22, 2009 at 4:18 pm #

    So is it Larb or Lahb?

    Put down that cleaver. I’m kidding, I’m kidding.

    Even without transliteration ambiguities you will see misspellings of almost anything.

    So, are these correct? lasagna, fettucini, cannolis?

    Or these: lasagne, fettucine, cannoli?

    Well even though you see both all the time the second set is correct. (cannoli is alreay plural)

    Fettucine is the feminine plural diminutive of Fettucia – a ribbon. Spelling it Fettucini sews on a pair of, well, guess.

    So don’t take it personally.

  28. Leela June 22, 2009 at 5:34 pm #

    (Putting down the cleaver)
    Great perspective, Rockhopper. (And perspective is not something I have much of, obviously). Thanks.

    As much as possible, I try to say, “I’ll have a panino, please, wait, make it two panini,” or refrain from saying “seraphimS,” etc. But you’re right. There are other things far more important to agonize over. :)

  29. Sassy Critic October 10, 2009 at 6:31 am #

    Thrilled to find you. I have been searching for a decent laab, larb, laaaaaaaaaaab, recipe for some time now.

  30. Anonymous November 2, 2009 at 2:46 am #

    I tried this today and it’s definitely a recipe i’ll keep using, can you tell me if crab or shrimp paste would ever be used by thai people to give extra flavour?

  31. Leela November 2, 2009 at 3:03 am #

    Anonymous – Thanks for the feedback. :) Not sure what you mean by crab paste, but shrimp paste (Gapi) isn’t usually added to Laab. Some people dry-roast fresh galangal, shallots, fresh peppers, and garlic either in a dry skillet over medium high heat or over open flame. This is to get the skins of those things to char and the insides to soften. They get pounded to a paste in a mortar and added to the salad in lieu of the galangal powder and dried chilli flakes. This introduces the smoky flavor to the dish. You may want to try that.

  32. The Duo Dishes June 3, 2010 at 10:52 pm #

    AWESOME! Just left you a question on a previous post, but it was very obvious that only a quick search would lead to the answer on your site. We’re making this over the weekend. Excited to do our own version!

  33. Chris July 25, 2010 at 3:33 pm #

    I had Chicken Laap :) in Laos as much as i could and i am fairly sure there were lots of bits of the chicken that i couldn’t bring myself to eat if i had known what they were! If i wanted to add liver/kidney would the recipe change at all? anything i would need to watch out for? Thanks! I love this blog, my new favourite.

    • Anonymous February 8, 2013 at 4:03 am #

      Laap is a minced salad in Laos that is typically made of meat (so using innards is optional). Therefore, you can just use plain chicken without any innards. You can make laap with fish or tofu too.

  34. Leela July 25, 2010 at 3:44 pm #

    Chris – Though my version of laab is non-Thai friendly, the procedure applies to more daring versions. I wouldn’t use chicken liver in it, as personally I think it adds to the dish a bitter flavor. But I do enjoy chopped up (quite finely) bits of chicken gizzard and heart in my laab quite a bit. They provide some interesting textural contrast. :)

    If you want your laab to be more similar to what you had in Laos, you may want to make it drier (drain out more juices) and add a bit of finely chopped pan-toasted fresh galangal. Using fresh culantro would also be a good idea.

  35. Anonymous September 19, 2010 at 12:37 pm #

    Larb/Laab is actually a Laotian dish. Thais adopted Larb from Laos. By the way, “Larb” means luck in the Laotian language.

  36. Leela September 19, 2010 at 3:08 pm #

    Anon – Thanks. I’m actually thinking of writing a full post on the history of Laab. But for now, here are my main points of argument that pertain to your comment:

    1. Laab is not a “name” of a dish as such; it is a method of preparation which has later become a proper name. Laab is an ancient Lanna verb meaning “to chop up (finely)” which is exactly how the meat is prepared for this dish.

    2. According to records as early as 18th century, laab originated in the area under the influence of the Lanna Kingdom that flourished from 13th to 18th centuries. The majority of the area formerly known as Lanna is presently Northern Thailand.

    3. Etymologically, the verb “to laab” (mentioned above) has nothing whatsoever to do with the Laotian word “lab” which is cognate with the Thai word “lab/labh” meaning “fortune, good luck.” The verb laab comes from the native Lanna language whereas the noun lab (good luck) has entered both the Laotian and Thai languages by way of Sanskrit लभ (labha) meaning gain, profit.

    The word lab (good luck) and the dish name are homonymic and the meaning of the former has caused the latter to be regarded as denoting auspiciousness. But that’s a human/cultural invention that has nothing to do with etymology.

    • Anonymous February 8, 2013 at 3:58 am #

      Laab was not invented in northern Thailand. It was brought to Lanna (northern Thailand) by the Lao who came from the area that is presently Laos. Lanna was a Lao kingdom that was created by a Lao king.

  37. dhanes September 24, 2010 at 7:40 pm #

    yum vs. yam was going to be my next question! thank you!

  38. Traci S. November 3, 2010 at 6:23 pm #

    Hi Leela,

    I’ve been planning to make this for weeks and finally made a batch today — was really, really yummy! (Arroy mak mak na ka!)

    Here’s what I wanted to get your take on: I was at wit’s end with the toasted rice powder. I tried twice to find it at the Asian market — and either they didn’t have it, or I just wasn’t thorough enough. Then I decided to make my own, but my mini chopper just wasn’t up to the task (well, OK, it’s not supposed to be a spice grinder — I was just *hoping* it would do the job).

    Finally, I took some sticky rice flour, and browned it in a pan, and it seemed to actually smell right and function right. So I’m curious whether you think this is a passable workaround! (You can be honest!) I just don’t have enough experience with that ingredient to be a good judge.

    Loving your blog by the way! Many thanks!

  39. Leela November 3, 2010 at 6:36 pm #

    Traci – Thanks! I personally would use the homemade toasted rice powder made in your mini chopper instead of the toasted rice flour for two reasons:

    1. Toasted rice powder isn’t supposed to be super-fine anyway. If you can get it to be as fine as, say, brown sugar, with the mini-chopper, that’s perfect to use. If what comes out of the chopper is way, way too coarse, then put the rice in a plastic bag and brutally whack it with a rolling pin.

    2. With toasted sticky rice flour, you may have the fragrance of toasted sticky rice, but you also run a risk of turning your laab gummy and gooey. The flour is too fine, in my opinion, for the task. Having said that, you may be able to avoid this if you use very, very little toasted flour and add it to the laab mixture after the meat has completely cooled down.

    Hope this helps. :)

  40. Anonymous January 30, 2011 at 3:11 pm #

    Great post! I recently discovered your blog when looking for a recipe for English muffins. (Gonna try that recipe in the next few days.) Then I saw all your drool inducing Thai recipes. I love Thai food but it’s really difficult to find authentic recipes. Your posts & recipes are very informative and not too intimidating for a beginner. I’m making laab gai and pad thai for dinner tonight. I’m so excited!
    –Debbie

  41. Tana March 4, 2011 at 6:48 am #

    I had to chuckle at your diatribe on the pronunciation of “laab”. As a Thai person, it is maddening to see it as “larb” on Thai menus, and even more maddening to hear people order it as such.

    What’s equalling maddening is the pronunciation of pad thai (or maybe I should be annoyed with the spelling?) When I’ve made the mistake of ordering it in a restaurant (because it’s always crap), I, as a Thai, of course pronounce it correctly, only to have it repeated back by the falong waittress as pad (ryhmes with had) Thai. Ugh.

  42. Anonymous October 9, 2011 at 3:59 am #

    Hi! would you ever add kaffir lime leaves, or thai basil to your lap? i have seen some other recipes online that do. however, i would like to stick to making the most authentic lap i can.
    thanks!

  43. Admin October 9, 2011 at 7:59 am #

    Anon – Lap is one of those dishes that come in many variations depending on what part of the country you’re from. Some dishes can be defined quite clearly; this is not one of them. Lap made in the northern tradition is different from that made the northeastern tradition. Lap in the northern and northeastern traditions is different than what you find in the central part. And THEN we have the kind of lap that is served in Thai restaurant overseas that has become almost a definitive version for those outside Thailand who seek to recreate the dish.

    In light of this, authenticity is elusive and irrelevant, in my opinion. It all comes down to which version you want to replicate.

    I’d say this version represents the most common version of lap you’d find in the central part where I’m from which apparently is the prototype of what is served at Thai restaurants overseas.

    Having said that, the presence of kaffir lime leaves in this dish seems more common than basil leaves (which are sometimes served as a garnish). You can add some to the dish, if you like it. But the question of whether or not doing so will create a “more authentic” lap takes us back to the issue of what “authentic” lap looks like and what existing versions come the closest to that. It’s all too philosphical.

  44. Anonymous October 9, 2011 at 10:16 pm #

    Thanks for your prompt reply! You are awesome! i really appreciate it. xx

  45. Laura November 6, 2011 at 2:43 am #

    One of the great things about your blog (which I clearly have been reading extensively lately–my husband is out of town at a conference so I am perusing at my leisure) is you always give all the possible options with no judgment. It would never have occurred to me to make lap ___? with beef (not gai obviously), so as a result I have only made it a few times. But I always have ground beef in the freezer. Thanks! And PS count me as one of those Americans who was hopelessly confused by how I was sposed to pronounce things in Thailand.

  46. Admin November 6, 2011 at 3:38 am #

    Laura – Lap Nuea (beef laap) is actually more common than Laap Gai in the Northeast. This is actually a light-weight, Centralized version of what you’d find in the North and Northeast where beef is more common and things are literally more bloody.

    • Laura April 17, 2013 at 12:31 am #

      Was just coming back to see if you gave the word for this, because after making this dish a billion times (it is one of the most opened pages on my phone lol), I FINALLY remembered to take what are, I hope, decent photos of it for my blog. Just out of curiosity, if I was being strictly literal with my dish title, what would the name be for Lap Nuea (turkey)? I like to mix ground beef (for flavor) with ground turkey (to convince myself it is health food). :D

      • Leela April 17, 2013 at 10:14 am #

        Laura – Haha. Okay, here’s the list:
        duck lap = lap pet
        beef lap = lap nuea
        chicken lap = lap gai/kai
        turkey lap = lap gai/kai nguang
        fish lap = lap pla
        buffalo lap (hey, I made this many times) = lap kwai

        • Laura April 17, 2013 at 11:06 pm #

          You rock, Leela! :D

  47. AMH@muohio.edu January 3, 2012 at 8:02 pm #

    Many thanks for a wonderful recipe…I came to it via TheSpicedLife.com, where Laura enthusiastically recommended your blog.

    I have a question though re pronunciation… MANY years ago (55+…) I went to school with Suvanna Mahattanakul (if I remember the spelling correctly…) and we pronounced her name as Sue-warna…

    Am heading for the store to get the powdered galangal right away!!! AND the boneless chicken thighs ☺

  48. Admin January 3, 2012 at 8:56 pm #

    AMH – Thank you kindly. :)

    Since there’s no V sound in the Thai language, all occurrences of the V (mostly found in names of people or places) are pronounced as W. Your former classmate’s name is spelled with a V only because of its Sanskrit etymology. Her name is exactly the same word as the first three syllables of the airport’s name with the only exception of the final vowel (the “na” in her name is long; the “na” in the airport’s name is short).

  49. AMH@muohio.edu January 11, 2012 at 11:25 am #

    Thank you for the explanation… BTW, I have not yet cooked the laab (although I have everything in place to do so…) but yesterday I did your GFB’s Burro bananas and Thai-fried Sweet Potatoes – OUTSTANDING!!!! I found the Burro bananas (at Jungle Jim’s in Fairfield, OH) – and they were not even twice the price of JJ’s always inexpensive Cavendishes ☺ And I fried them in grape seed oil… Again, THANK YOU for this blog!!!!!

  50. Admin January 11, 2012 at 12:30 pm #

    AMH – So, so glad to hear. Thanks for the report.

  51. Susan January 11, 2012 at 8:25 pm #

    I’ve made this twice now; once with a mix of duck hearts and ground pork (it’s just what I had that day), and once with ground turkey. Fantastic either way. So easy. The sawtooth is a must for me. I did use the galanga powder both times but next time I think I’ll go with fresh (I have both, but am lazy).

  52. Admin January 11, 2012 at 10:14 pm #

    Susan – Duck hearts! A restauranteur friend of mine just made laab with duck tongues. I’ve got to get on the duck part wagon; it sounds delicious.

  53. Eric May 8, 2012 at 5:43 pm #

    What are your thoughts on the best way to serve this? I know a lot of places serve it with lettuce to be eaten like lettuce wraps…is that standard?

    Thanks,
    Eric

  54. Admin May 8, 2012 at 6:38 pm #

    Eric – Not really (in Thailand, that is), but it can certainly be done. The most common way to serve this is on a plate with a side of warm, steamed sticky rice and some raw vegetables (wedges of cabbage, lettuce leaves, etc.) to eat between bites.

  55. Abby May 17, 2012 at 3:59 pm #

    I recently discovered your blog, and the two meals I’ve prepared so far using your recipes were huge hits with my husband and myself. I’ve had a Thai cookbook for years, but I almost never cook from it because the author is so insistent on using traditional techniques and impossible-to-find ingredients that following her recipes is usually too overwhelming to contemplate.

    I love that you use some modern shortcuts – I never would’ve made sticky rice if I hadn’t read your splatter-screen method – and allow for the limitations of what ingredients can be found in the U.S. Your blog makes Thai cooking accessible.

  56. JayCobb1045 June 11, 2012 at 11:28 pm #

    I found your website looking for info about toasted rice powder – a recipe for this dish I found called for 2/3 cup of it for 2 lbs of chicken and the end result was not pleasant at all, turns out it was just too much!

    But now I have a few more questions! While most versions of this dish are hot and sour, the best version I’ve ever tasted had much more depth to the flavors – it was sour and hot, but also slightly sweet, tangy, and tart. It almost tasted like it had tamarind in it. Is that unique flavor the result of using fermented fish sauce? I’ve read that this type of fish sauce is common in Isaan dishes, and while you said your version is more central Thai, the flavor profile I’m searching for is more like what I’ve tasted in Isaan cuisine. If I can accomplish this by using a different type of fish sauce, I’m all for it!

    Next question: you suggest ground red pepper instead of fresh Thai chiles. How come? Is this just a matter of preference, or is there a more specific reason? I love the flavor the fresh chiles impart, in addition to the firey kick.

    Finally, this is one that might get me kicked in the teeth, is ginger – ground or fresh – an acceptable substitute for galangal for this dish and/or in general?

    I will anxiously await your response.

  57. Admin June 12, 2012 at 1:56 pm #

    JayCobb1045 – I have to admit I don’t understand your comment very well — not that it’s your fault. But let me try.

    This part threw me off a bit. –> “While most versions of this dish are hot and sour, the best version I’ve ever tasted had much more depth to the flavors – it was sour and hot, but also slightly sweet, tangy, and tart.

    Given that “sour,” “tart,” and “tangy” are almost synonymous, I’m assuming that the only discernible difference in taste between most versions and the one you like is that the latter is not just hot and sour, but also sweet.

    So I was thinking, okay, maybe the question is could the sweet and tart flavor come from tamarind as opposed to lime?

    But then this confused me: “It almost tasted like it had tamarind in it. Is that unique flavor the result of using fermented fish sauce?

    Are we looking to identify the source of acidity or the source of salinity? Are we trying the solve the problem of how to achieve the sweet and tart flavor profile by identifying which type of fish sauce to use?

    Not trying to be a pain in the butt, but I really want to help. I think I know what you’re asking for which is, unless I’m mistaken, how to recreate the flavor profile of the Isan type of laap which you prefer over the Central one.

    The simple answer (which I’m afraid might not scratch where it itches, because I’m not sure where the itch is) is that it’s possible that the version you like is made differently (laap khua is done in a wok, more herbal, and has more depth of flavor). You can try replacing lime juice with prepared tamarind pulp to see whether that does the trick. You can also replace fish sauce with Isan fermented fish, pla ra, to see if that works too.

    This is just a good start. But, really, it’s going to take more than that to achieve the flavor of northern or northeastern laap. More hard-to-find herbs and spices go into it. Sometimes, even blood and bile, even though you can’t see that from looking at it.

    Regarding dried red pepper versus fresh, from my experience, the majority of both Central or regional versions of laap are made with dried chilies. So if tradition means anything, it seems to suggest that people prefer dried chilies over fresh. I also happen to like the smokiness of the dried chilies against the tang of lime. But this doesn’t mean you can’t use fresh, if that’s what you like personally. I can see how that might be good for this Central version. But if I read you correctly, your preference leans towards regional laap, and, for what it’s worth, they tend to use dried chilies in the North and Northeast.

    Lastly, about using ginger in lieu of galangal. No kicking in the teeth. But I wouldn’t. If I don’t have galangal, I’d just leave it out. You’d be fine without it.

  58. Mike July 13, 2012 at 1:39 pm #

    Hi from New Zealand,

    I tried this recipe tonight and it was fantastic!

    I couldn’t find Toasted Rice Powder anywhere, even from the local Asian Mart that seems to have everything, including galangal powder and sawtooth coriander. So I took your advice about no substitutes and made my own – following your instructions elsewhere on the site. I am so very glad that I did.

    I have to admit that the flavour wasn’t exactly the same as I’m used to from my favourite local Thai places. But you know what? I think it was even better!

    Surprisingly simple to make, once you have all the ingredients, pretty easy going on the old wallet AND incredibly tasty.

    What a wonderful world it is when we can just reach out into the internet and find amazing things like your recipe to make our lives better. Thank you for all your effort in putting your knowledge out here for all of us.

    Arohanui (great-love in my native language),

    Mike

  59. Admin July 13, 2012 at 4:48 pm #

    Mike – You’ve made my day. Thanks so much for the report.

  60. Kat October 29, 2012 at 7:54 am #

    This was delicious! I can’t find good Thai food in my area so I’m learning to make it myself. This recipe is superb, as good as any I’ve had in a restaurant. I’ll make it again and again and again. Thank you.

  61. Ginny December 7, 2012 at 1:02 pm #

    I’m just delighted to find your website – I love your writings – such fun. I can’t
    wait to start using your wonderful recipes. I love Larb anyway you spell it.

  62. vicki January 22, 2013 at 1:31 am #

    I am allergic to seafood and soy (among other things) and stopped eating in thai restaurants long ago since the fish sauce makes my stomach hurt badly, and the shellfish pastes and sauces are potentially deadly – but I do love laab gai. I wondered if you can make any substitution for fish sauce which although not traditional would still give a similar taste? some things i have considered trying are coconut secret aminos, and tamarind paste. problem is – i dont know the flavor of fish sauce well enough to approximate it with any kind of accuracy (if its even possible)

    • Leela January 22, 2013 at 6:50 am #

      Vicki, when it comes to Thai dishes wherein lime is used in conjunction with fish sauce (laab is one of them), the best fish substitute, in my opinion, is salt. I have never used coconut secret aminos (but thank you for bringing it up, because I’ve been wanting to test it in Thai food), so I don’t know how it performs as a fish sauce sub. However, if it tastes anything like Bragg’s liquid aminos, I’d stick with salt. Salt is by far more traditional in Thai cooking than soy sauce or anything that tastes like soy.

  63. Ani January 31, 2013 at 2:16 pm #

    Okay, so this is like, what 4 years late, but hey, the linguistic urge is strong. I have one and a half degrees in functional and cognitive linguistics and I’d like to add my say to this:

    There is no such thing as a “linguistic basis” in transliteration. Real linguists run and hide from people who try to transliterate. They use the IPA or the APA (of course, neither of those are set really, so that presents a whole new set of problems).

    Often, a lot of problems in transliteration stem from a non-linguist looking at a phonetic or phonological transcription of a word and then thinking to themselves that they can happily look through an IPA/APA handbook and transform that into something that everyone will totally and understand! Unless of course, it’s written in the IPA and they look through an APA handbook (hello pinyin!) or vice versa. Or they aren’t trained in subtle differences between vowel lengths. Or no one told them about tones. Or they don’t realize that some languages can’t differentiate between certain voiced and voiceless stops (ie [b] and [p]) (this is usually the case of someone who speaks the language that is being transliterated and doesn’t realize fully the difference between those stops), or god knows what other problem.

    As a functionalist and cognitive linguist, it is my job to simply look at what people do and categorize things accordingly. I had the rather fun job in my undergrad years to go through a haphazard collection of data on a language spoken in the Amazon and create a phonological key that every linguist would then use afterwards for writing that language. It was published. Two years later, I found something on that language, went to read it, and someone else had created their own key, because mine was “wrong” (in fact, they wrote an entirely new key because they didn’t like my assumption of affrication on one specific consonant, and then they changed it to APA so that it looked like they truly changed it). What I’m saying, is don’t sweat it! You’ll never have it right :) No one will!

    And the inclusion of “r” as a transliteration is rather cunning, since I assume it’s intended to be read by British English speakers, for whom “r” is in fact, a vowel.

  64. Lisa February 10, 2013 at 10:56 pm #

    You nerd out on linguistics and you make laap? I double love you! Thanks for the discussion and the recipe.

  65. bvv April 22, 2013 at 5:19 am #

    I changed the way I spelled larb in my article because of you. Laab it is.

  66. Aimee June 22, 2013 at 2:25 pm #

    I made this today and it was delicious! Thank you so much for the recipe. It reminds of my days living in Thailand. I was about to ask you if you would do a แกงส้ม recipe and thought I should search your site to see if you already had posted one or not. I was soooo happy to see one had been posted. Yay! I shall try that recipe next and “relive” my happy memories of Thailand through taste! I love this site :)

  67. Sammy June 30, 2013 at 10:06 am #

    Hi Leela,

    Great post! Especially interesting to read about language stuff. I have lived in Thailand and I believe the transliterations are the main cause of farangs being misunderstood by Thais. Naturally, the lack of tone usage is a close second.

    Curious though… Why does it irk you to use double vowels to designate a long vowel? There’s no other way to designate it. I really don’t like the currently used systems because they are ambiguous. E.g. ‘a’ could be อั, อะ, อา, แอ. How is anyone foreign going to know the correct pronunciation?

    So, I have my own system, though I don’t use it often because I know Thai language. It’s been devised to never be ambiguous and, once a person knows the sound of a combination, very easy for anyone to get the right pronunciation (minus tones of course). Here are a few examples:

    ป = bp
    พ,ผ = p
    ก = g
    ข,ค = k
    ต = dt
    ด = d
    แ-ะ = ae
    แ- = aae
    เ-็ = e
    เ- = ee
    -ิ = i
    -ี = ii
    -ึ = ue
    -ื = uue
    เ-ียะ = ia
    เ-ีย = iia
    เ-ือ = uuea
    -ว- = uua
    เ-ิ = ooe
    อ = ohh
    โ- = oo

    These transliterations are based on Latin pronunciations when the sound exists in Latin. For sounds that don’t exist, like dt, they are written as they sound. Quite simple and ugly yet accurate.

    • NancyM November 20, 2013 at 6:58 pm #

      @Sammy, I’m a veteran field linguist who knows Thai and a couple other Southeast Asian dialects and I can tell that you don’t know the first thing about orthography, phonetics, or the basics of any sub-fields of linguistics. Your “system” is all over the place and just as ambiguous as any Romanization system currently in use.

  68. Todd August 5, 2013 at 4:42 am #

    Made this last night- followed the recipe to letter & it was FANTASTIQUE!!!! Its been so warm here in Geneve we wanted something cooling & spicy & this was perfect!!!!! The TBS of red pepper was perfect- didnt burn the palate & was just right. Even managed to find toasted rice powder here & I think it may be my new favorite thing- it adds another layer of flavor :) Thanks for another one I am printing & putting in the favorites file :)

  69. Jennifer August 15, 2013 at 11:44 pm #

    Hey, I just got back from a family visit to Pitchet and Nakhon sawan. My husbands aunt made us a paste consisting of fire roasted lemon grass, galangal and shallots that was then used as a base for laab moo. I had never made it that way but it was so good. My son said he could eat it everyday with cabbage leaves and be happy. The R in larb has always bothered me. My husbands last name is Phaengklom,translated many years ago. There extra consonants always confuse people. I write it phonetically pang klom. Is the an official. Thai to English translation system?

    • Leela August 16, 2013 at 10:17 am #

      Jennifer – The issue with the R in “larb” is not at all related with the presence of the H that follows the P. And the problem with the R in “larb” is not necessary because it is superfluous or misleading.

      When it comes to people’s names, there are no rules. But if you’re curious about how your last name is romanized according to the RTGS, I’ll need to see how it’s written in Thai.

  70. Khamsay November 20, 2013 at 6:47 am #

    I wrote a similar recipe and yours is very well written. I love the story behind the recipe.

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