“It’s a kind of mint,” a vendor at the market said to me as I inquired about the herb on the table between us—the herb I’d never seen before. He seemed unsure about its identity but said he believed it was a type of mountain mint that had just been foraged. He didn’t seem confident about how to use it either. “You can use it in, you know, whatever you usually make that has mint in it, I guess.” He then shrugged and distorted his face. “Ice cream?.”
Rational, cautious people would have walked away. Not me. Curiosity—the kind that historically must have killed several cats—made me hand him the money and bring this herb home. I had no idea what would happen to me, but I knew lap* would be happening in my kitchen that afternoon.
lap in the style of northeastern Thailand is usually made with marsh mint (mentha aquatica) which is the most common type of mint used in Thai kitchens, not just in Isan, but across the country. And though I hardly think there’s any room for improvement when it comes to the way lap is traditionally made, I thought it would be fun to try making it with this mountain mint. So I bought a pack of ground bison as well as the other ingredients from the same market and took them all home in order to make lap.**
Some friends were in my kitchen that day to try out this bison lap with mountain mint, and the sentiments varied quite greatly. Here are some of the comments:
“It’s, um, interesting. Lemme have another bite. (pause) It’s good. Yeah. It’s good.”
“Oooh, I love this. It’s got … it’s got this, this … I don’t know what it is but I like it.”
“Dude, no. Just no.”
“Bison and this mint go together very well.”
“It’s a different kind of mintiness—the Wrigley’s kind.”
“The bites that don’t have these mint leaves in them taste good.”
“It’s got a nice fresh scent to it. I like it!”
“It makes the lap taste toothpaste-y. I don’t know if I should eat it or brush my teeth with it.”
“What are you guys talking about? This tastes just like regular lap to me.”
If you can find this type of mint (or other types that aren’t traditionally used to make lap), why don’t you give this spicy warm bison salad with mountain mint, Isan-Style, a try (you can use any type of meat, but I recommend red meat with this type of mint)? You may love it; you may not. There’s only one way to find out.
*Long a as in father. From time to time, you’ll see me write this long a with a macron or a circumflex on it. See this post on why I
don’t like detest the anglicized larb.