Thailand’s Isaan cuisine | Larb Moo

When it comes to Thai cuisine, the Americanized standard is to add peanuts, citrus and/or chili. Thailand, in fact has several regions known for differences in cuisine. Just like Americans differentiate pizza based on region, Thai regional cuisine is a reflection of the local palette. Isaan, the region from which Mom hails, is located in the Northeast part of the country. Its cuisine is similar to the nearby Lao regions that favor extreme spiciness and sourness. (In contrast, Central Thai cuisine is known for a sweeter, milder flavor.)

The region itself is known for its history in farming and agriculture, despite its flat elevation and inconsistent, and often overwhelming, rainfalls that create less-than-ideal farmlands.1 Glutinous sticky rice and fermented fish sauces are, quite literally, the bread and butter of the Isaan diet.

Isaan’s long history as Thailand’s poorest region may explain why variations of rice have linear comparisons to different Thai ethnicities, cultures and their practices. Today, long-grain rice, such as the aromatic jasmine variety (Khao hom mali), is traditionally eaten with a spoon, aided with a fork to help load rice onto the spoon. However, short-grain sticky rice (Khao niao) is eaten by rolling the rice into a ball and creating an indent, which is usually filled with an accompanying vegetable, protein or both. 2

One of the region’s most well-known dishes, Larb (ลาบ, pronounced “lap, lahp or lahb”), not only works perfectly to eat with sticky rice, but also includes powdered rice as a thickening agent. Don’t confuse rice flour for rice powder – see my instructions for the latter here.

Recipes handed down through generations often lose a piece of information with each passing. I asked Mom how she makes larb, specifically larb moo (or pork larb) but removed the side of sticky rice (for my friends in Weight Watchers) and added lettuce to wrap. It wouldn’t really be a recipe from Mom without writing exactly what she told me, as well as what it means.

Larb Moo

Makes 6 servings
For my Weight Watchers friends: 1 serving equals 7 Smart Points.

Ingredients

Photo of ingredients for larb moo.
Ingredients for larb moo.
  • 1 pound cooked 84% lean/16% fat ground pork
  • 2 Tbsp toasted rice powder
  • 1 Tbsp minced garlic
  • 1 Tbsp ginger root, grated
  • 1⁄8 cup fish sauce (reserve extra for tableside)
  • 1 Tbsp fresh lime juice
  • 4 stalks of uncooked scallions, chopped
  • 1 head lettuce, washed, leaves separated (I used butter lettuce for the smaller size)
  • 1⁄4 tsp sugar
  • 1 Tbsp crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1 bunch cilantro
  • 1 large cucumber, sliced

Instructions

“First you cook rice, but don’t make cook rice. Cook rice in pan.”

This is mom’s instructions for making toasted rice powder. Find my full instructions here.

“Cook the pork. Make sure you tuk, tuk, tuk, tuk, tuk!”

Over medium-high heat, cook pork in a medium-sized skillet. Break down any large chunks of meat. Drain any grease.

Photo: squeezing lime juice into larb moo
Fresh lime juice adds sourness to the dish.

“Cook pork all done. Then put in rice.”

Reduce heat to medium. After pork is fully cooked and drained, add a few tablespoons of water into the pan, along with pepper flakes, sugar, fish sauce, lime juice and rice powder. Mix thoroughly.

“Put all in bowl and put in green onion.”

Remove from heat and transfer to a mixing bowl. Add scallions and mix. Divide meat into six servings. Serve with lettuce (for wrapping) cilantro and cucumber.

 

References

  1. Sakurai, Y. (November 1996). “Dry Areas in History of Southeast Asia.” Kyoto University Research Information Repository, 30: 19-28. Retrived fromhttp://repository.kulib.kyoto-u.ac.jp/dspace/bitstream/2433/187679/1/ias_030_019.pdf
  2. Lefferts, Leedom. (September 2005). “Sticky Rice, Fermented Fish, and the Course of a Kingdom: The Politics of Food in Northeast Thailand.” Asian Studies Review, 29: 247-258. Retrieved from http://web.b.ebscohost.com/ehost/pdfviewer/pdfviewer?vid=9&sid=b9f909a7-26ae-4007-b16a-2a8882ef84b5%40sessionmgr112&hid=107
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