Thai street food : Yam Naem Khao tod (fried rice ball salad)

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Nam khao tod is something we discovered in Vientiane, Laos entirely by accident, I ordered out of curiousity, with an “I want what he’s having” kind of mentality. I had no idea what I was about to eat, but drawn in by the arancini like rice balls on the shelf of the street cart.

It’s something I’ve since seen in Laos, and also in the north eastern Thai province of Isaan and made myself a tonne of times because it’s awesome.

The arancini-like rice balls are flavoured with curry paste and deep fried and left to cool before being used to order.

When you order a serve, the lady will take one of the precooked balls, and smash it up, mixing it with raw red onion, fresh chilli, lime juice, fish sauce, green beans, coriander, scallions or spring onions, peanuts and naem – fermented sour pork – in her mixing bowl. In Laos we found it included shredded coconut and mint.

The end product is essentially a cold rice salad, with flecks of crunchy, crispy rice that became golden from the fryer and spicy, sour flavours.

In the Isaan region it’s customary to serve spicy dishes with some raw cabbage and a few herby leaves to help offset the chilli. I like to eat this with a couple of sticks of carmelised barbecued pork sticks known as muu ping. The sweetness works really well with the spicy sour flavours of the rice.

In Laos, nam khao is often eaten as an appetiser, with the rice wrapped up in a lettuce leaf cup.

Useful words

Neung – one
Sawng – two
mai phet – not spicy
phet nit nawy’  – a little bit spicy.
Phet mak – very spicy
Aroy – delicious
Mai Sai Prik Khap/khaa – no chilli (M/F)
Sai tung – take away (put in a bag)
Pai sed – special, as in the large size in at a foodcourt.
Tow rai? – how much. 

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Laos food, a not very complete overview.

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So, our time in Laos has finished. We spent some time in Luang Prabang, and then headed down on the overnight bus to Vientiane. To be honest, Vientiane didn’t hold much for us, apart from the eating. A shout out has to be made to Aarto, the drunken Finnish guy, who fell through the glass door at our hostel and left blood and glass everywhere. That was impressive.

This is Laos food as we ate it.

Larp, rice soup and noodle soup have been covered, have a read.

In Luang Prabang we ate a couple of times in the ‘food alley’ at the market. The food was cheap and excellent quality, it was actually far better than our fancy restaurant meal. Expensively disappointing. Anyway, at the market we had a whole fish, stuffed with lemongrass. It had some amazing teriyaki style glaze on the skin too, which made it sweet and crispy. My mum always says she can’t eat anything with the head looking at her. I beg to differ, as long as the head doesn’t wriggle, and it’s well and truly dead I’m fine with that.

We also had barbecued pork pieces, with a sweet glaze on. like great big bits of extra tasty bacon, and green papaya salad. Quite often known as som tam but the Lao people call it tam mak hoong. The Laos version isn’t really any different, it has all the same ingredients; unripe papaya, lime, peanuts, chilli, palm sugar, fish sauce and a bit of tomato. Sometimes in Laos they will throw in a handful of green beans too. Spicy.

In Vientiane we had another of my favourite things so far. It was very simply described on the menu as rice, egg, vegetable (not fried). I only ordered it because I was watching the woman make it for someone else, and curiosity won.  Basically, it’s a cold rice salad. the rice is balled and fried and left to cool, when the salad is made the ball is broken down with peanuts, vegetables, lime, chilli, sugar, and green herbs. You get bits of crispy rice ball outside and, stodgy middle bits too. I couldn’t work out if coconut was used in the rice ball, or thrown into the salad; but it was definitely involved somewhere. If anyone knows what this is actually called please let me know.

Another trip out to eat involved larp (duck variety this time) and Laos style chicken leg AND thigh. The chicken was marinated, and griddled in a garlic lemongrass mix; and served with a mint and garlic dipping sauce.  Sauce, in Laos is known as jaew (with a suffix depending on the ingredients…) and a pot of sticky rice to mop up the juices.

We have had the obligatory barbecued meats, and spring rolls (generally, raw Vietnamese style but sometimes fried.. You never can tell) but the other thing worth a mention was bamboo stuffed with pork. It was OK, the pork was sort of steamed inside the bamboo but it was deep fried with an egg wash, and a bit too greasy for my liking.

Generally, in the UK; I’m not keen on pork.  I’ve eaten so much here that I’m generally concerned I might turn into some kind of swine hybrid.

On an alcoholic side note Beerlao is good, 5% generic fizzy beer taste. Beerlao dark is better, 6.5% less fizzy more flavour. I never got around to trying Beerlao gold, the dark lager was too nice.

Go to Laos, the food is awesome.

Laos street food : Khao piak khao (Rice soup)

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One of my favourite things about travelling is eating. Breakfast is usually something a bit different, depending on where you are. and  I’ve always grown up with toast or cereal, so I’m quite excited to be eating rice soup for breakfast.

Khao piak khao

Rice soup is really a congee, with a gelatinous meaty texture, with roasted pork meat topped with roasted garlic and fresh herbs.  There’s also all the trimmings to add to personal taste, chilli flakes, lime, Thai basil and mint. Lovely start to another day in Laos.

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Laos street food : Larp, laab, laap, lab or larb? (sour minced meat salad)

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Larp, or any of the other spelling I’ve seen is a spicy meat salad and is considered the national dish of Laos. Now, we’ve spent a little time in Laos and I’m considering myself pretty well schooled in this dish. We’ve eaten fish, pork, beef, and duck larp. As you might guess, it’s pretty nice.

It’s clearly something that doesn’t have a uniform recipe as every time we’ve eaten it the flavours have been different, sometimes more lime, more lemongrass; or, in the fish variety more chilli. A lot more chilli! Personally, I like more lime and find pork is the best meat for the spices.

The main tastes are the flavours of Laos. Chilli, lime, mint, lemongrass, ground rice and fish sauce, mixed with meat and often in our experience green beans. The flavours are so fresh, it has a salsa like quality, it’s citrusy and spicy, whilst having a strong minty flavour. Jess articulated this brilliantly, describing it as a ‘meaty mojito’.

It’s traditionally served with sticky rice and you ball the rice in your hand and dip it into the meat and any sauce. Delicious.

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Laos street food :Khao piak sen (pork rice noodle soup)

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Laos has so far really impressed us in a food sense. It’s such a great country, it’s recent affiliations to France are obvious when you browse menus.

One thing that has surprised me, has been the distinction in flavours from Thai food. Chilli and lime are used with regularity, however, Lemongrass and mint are the stand out flavours in Lao food.

Here (at least in this awesome little canteen in Luang Prabang) you get a delicious broth, with noodles, meatballs and shredded meat too.

The fixins’ include a plate of greens beans, leaves, and fresh mint. Dried chilli paste (spicy), fresh lime, and a little concoction of blended chilli and peanuts, which is strangely sweet, and adds awesome flavour to the soup base. You also have the usual suspects, Fish sauce, sugar and soy.

We ate here twice in three days. So. Good.