Laap, also spelled larb, larp or laab, was my absolute favourite dish during our epic South East Asia adventure. Laap is made with ground meat, ground sticky rice, fish sauce, lime juice, fresh chili and lots of herbs like mint, coriander and spring onion. The locals eat it with their hands and with sticky rice and raw vegetables. I totally fell in love with this fresh, zingy, savoury dish.
Crossing into Laos
On a cold mid January morning, we get up early, have a buffet breakfast at our hotel in Vinh, Vietnam and get on a 6am private bus to Laos. It is cold, grey and misty. We take Ho Chi Minh Trail which is a windy path through the mountains and you can see how it could have been used in war against a foreign enemy. The mist is so thick in places you can’t see across to the other side of the valley. Looking out into the heavy mist it’s easy to think that the mountains are on the edge of the world.
Two and a half hours later, we reach the Laos border. Laos is a completely different story. Instant blue skies and pretty but dusty land. Rice paddies everywhere and lots of roadside villages. People don’t have front lawns here, houses are built right by the road. Animals roam free and there are no cages or fences.
We see cute little girls playing on a bridge. They sing and laugh and call out hello to us in Laotian.
We stop for photos of the Annamite Mountains. Our Laos guide takes our lunch orders and calls ahead to the restuarant. Eating out all over South East Asia is different than in the west. Dishes for a large group come out at different times and you might order first, but you probably won’t get your meal first. It’s just something you have to understand and get used to. By getting in our order early, we were able to eat quickly and get back on the road.
The first river we saw when we reached Laos. The boats are made from old B-52 leftover from the war.
Fish nursery. Young fish are trapped and grown to size for eating. During the dry season, the river is really low, but during the wet season, the river is fast flowing and high.
The Annamite Ranges. Do these plants look like toitoi to you?
About an hour after the ranges, we reach the restaurant. It’s right on the main road and has a roof and some walls. It’s got that open air feel that is refreshing for us bus-bound tourists.
Most of us ordered laap with beef, pork or fish. I almost always order fish. I adore fish! Especially after seeing that they grown fish in the pretty river, fish was my number 1 choice. My fish laap, salad, a basket of sticky rice and a bowl of soup came to 15,000 kip / $2.30NZ / $1.90US each. It was so yummy and really fun to eat with my hands. Filling too without making you feel heavy. I wish could eat this set meal more often.
I ate laap many times throughout Laos and Thailand after this initial discovery, but the first laap set the bar far too high. No laap has come close to the freshness, texture and flavour of this one and don’t think I’ll ever forget it.
Back on the bus after lunch and we arrive in Vientiane, the capital of Laos, after 6pm. Vientiane is right on the Mekong River and is the biggest city in Laos, but with a population of about 750,000, it’s not a big city by world standards. It’s charming and there isn’t the same hustle and bustle as the cities we’ve visited so far. After a quick freshen up, we’re ready for dinner…