Laotian Chicken Salad (Lao Larb Gai) is a satisfyingly spicy dish for lunch, dinner, or even as a side dish. With its fragrant blend of herbs and spices, Larb has the perfect balance of salty and sweet. Not to mention it’s a light and healthy way cool off on a hot summer’s day.
Despite its not-so-attractive-sounding name, Larb would have to be our most favourite salad from Southeast Asia. We had our first taste in Chiang Mai (Thailand) then later on a very similar version in the remote countryside of Laos.
In fact, it was in Laos’ sleepy northern village of Nong Khiaw, on the Nam Ou River, that we came across our favourite edition of this dish.
What I remember most about this little town is its massive bridge linking the village on both sides of the river…
… and the specific and oh-so-slightly embarrassing reason why we were 1000% grateful to be eating a salad full of bright, fresh, and HAPPY flavours that quiet, foggy day.
Oh yeah. It had been quite a morning.
Standing on the massive concrete bridge that morning, surrounded by immense mountains so close it felt like we could reach out and grab hold, Sarah suddenly had a bright idea.
You see, she was super keen to try her hand at some river fishing, but instead of opting for the overpriced tour company we decided to try negotiating with a local fisherman to take us out on his boat instead.
What we ended up boarding was a really low, reeeeeally long canoe basically, or at least that’s what it felt like.
Operated with two wooden paddles, it was completely devoid of the long, quirky and bizarrely designed engine that we’d both seen buzzing along the river previously.
And when our fisherman/guide handed me that second paddle instead of Sarah, well, I’m pretty sure the look on my face said it all. 😛
When it was Sarah’s turn to take over, I was much happier swapping paddle for camera and fishing rod. Turns out she was equally as happy with the switch.
But as we pushed off from the creaky wooden dock and started clawing our way against the river’s relentless flow, any irritation I felt drained away instantly.
It was just SO QUIET. The silence of the river and the mountains it caressed was so intense.
As our canoe wriggled its way upstream through the mist and fog, the peaceful silence was broken only by the soft swishing of the two wooden oars.
We were in awe.
And I didn’t even have to paddle anymore. 😀
Our first goal was to set up some traps along the river’s edge. Nosing the boat under the branches of the overhanging trees, it was all I could do to stop myself leaping out of the boat to GET THE HECK AWAY from a massive, spindly, shiver-inducing forest spider.
Urrrrghh cannottype the horrorrrr.
And just as we placed this image, we noticed there were actually two spiders. TWO! *Shudders*
I can see you scrolling back up already. 😛
Extracting ourselves from the reeds, we continued paddling up the river, this time pulling out the more conventional fishing rods and baiting them with poor little wriggly bamboo worms for the fishies.
Casting the poor things out into the middle of the river, we sat in the silence for a while, bathed in wisps of fog, waiting, waiting. Suddenly we both felt a bite, and right at the same time too – oh how exciting!
Reeling and reeling, both lines came to a snapping stop, and realisation dawned.
And when our fisherman-turned-guide dropped first one, THEN THE OTHER fishing rod overboard well, our merry fish chase had most definitely come to an end.
Funny how it was an even quieter trip home, collecting our very, very empty nets along the way, while our spider nemesis looked on and laughed, an evil glint in his eye.
Needless to say, with the morning barely stretching past 9 am and already a spectacular failure, a big bowl of Larb Gai aka Laotian Chicken Salad helped us forget our non-fishy woes and feel a lot better.
Larb is Laos’ National Dish and not far behind when it comes to Thai esteem too.
What sets it apart from a lot of other salads is that it’s made mostly with meat, in this case chicken.
It’s full of HEAPS of fresh flavour, mostly due to the bitey blend of mint and coriander.
Laotian Chicken Salad (Lao Larb Gai)
First up, can we just say, this is a recipe where you definitely want to splurge on fresh herbs. They literally MAKE this salad and are essential its amazingly fresh flavour.
There’s also a new ingredient here which might be unfamiliar to you, which is Toasted Sticky Rice Powder. The good news is you should be able to pick it up (toasted and ground and ready to rumble) from your nearest Asian grocery. We found ours next to the spices section, so try there first.
Or if you’re feeling adventurous you can always make some yourself.
If you’ve got chicken breast or thighs already in your fridge or freezer, don’t feel like you need to rush out specially to buy chicken mince. You can make your own at home by slicing the chicken as thinly as you can then chopping it up into small pieces, just like we did. It’ll be just as good.
Love salads? Can’t get enough? We hear you. Why not try one (or all!) of these awesomely delicious additions to your salad repertoire:
- Greek Mint & Haloumi Summer Salad
- Creamy Japanese Potato Salad
- Thai Beef Salad
- Vietnamese Chicken Noodle Salad
- Place minced chicken in a bowl. Add lime juice and mix to combine. Set aside.
- Heat the oil in a large frying pan or work. Add the chicken and cook quickly, stirring continuously. Once cooked through, transfer to a mixing bowl.
- In a small bowl mix the fish sauce, lime juice, sticky rice powder, chilli powder and sugar. Pour over the cooked chicken and mix well to spread evenly.
- Add the shallot, coriander, spring onion and 1 handful of mint, toss to combine then transfer to serving plates. Garnish with extra mint.
- Can be served hot or cold.
- There’s a new ingredient here which might be unfamiliar to you - Toasted Sticky Rice Powder. The good news is you should be able to pick it up (toasted and ground and ready to rumble) from your nearest Asian grocery. We found ours next to the spices section, so try there first. Or if you’re feeling adventurous you can always make some yourself.
- If you’ve got chicken breast or thighs already in your fridge or freezer, don’t feel like you need to rush out specially to buy chicken mince. You can make your own at home by slicing the chicken as thinly as you can then chopping it up into small pieces, just like we did. It’ll be just as good.