tofu laap (or laab, larb, larp, etc.)

Twice a year a group of government officials from Southeast Asia come to Wellington to study English for about 3 months with an NZAID/VUW scholarship.  I have gotten involved in the programme as a “conversation buddy” to several students.  I really enjoy meeting all the students, but of course, I have a special place in my heart for the ones from Laos!

The programme administrator normally organises about 4 or 5 different functions during each study term for the students and their conversation buddies.  This includes 2 potluck dinners.  The most recent potluck I attended I brought a large container of tofu laap and sticky rice.  They were both gone within minutes. The Lao people were amazed and surprised that I had made the laap.  Several of them said to me “You made this?!  I thought it was a Lao person!”.

Most of the Lao people had never had tofu laap before.  Usually laap is made with pork, chicken, or fish.  Sometimes it’s made with raw water buffalo meat.  However, some restaurants in Vientiane, mostly catering to tourists, do have tofu laap on their menus.   So, that is where my inspiration for this dish came.

You need:

  • 2 blocks of firm tofu
  • 4 tbs of oil
  • 2 tbs of fish sauce
  • 1 cup fresh basil
  • 1 cup fresh cilantro/coriander
  • 2 cups fresh mint leaves
  • 1 stalk of lemongrass, minced
  • 3 cms of ginger, grated
  • 1 fresh Thai chili, minced
  • 1 tbs sticky rice powder
  • the juice of 1 lemon

Cut up your tofu into very small cubes, about 1 or 2 cms in length.  Heat your 4 tbs of oil and then gently fry the tofu.  You want to cook it only lightly.  Then, set it aside to cool.

Coarsely chop up your herbs, and mix them together with your fish sauce, lemon juice, chili, sticky rice powder, and ginger.  Add the tofu and toss gently.  Taste it and adjust the seasonings, adding more lemon juice,or fish sauce if needed. Serve right away or the herbs will start to wilt.

This dish is excellent with sticky rice, and should be served at room temperature.

cooking in laos – fish laap (or larb), traditional lao salad recipe with pictures!

I’ve been spending a lot of time in the kitchen lately!

Lunch at Mr. Somephone's House, A Traditional Lao Meal
Lunch at Mr. Somephone's House, A Traditional Lao Meal
here i am slicing beef for "lao steak"
here i am slicing beef for "lao steak"

Here’s some Lao Recipes:
Fish Laap

1 lb finely chopped pieces of boiled fish (I like tilapia) – let it cool before you try to make laap.
1 stalk of lemon grass, finely sliced
1 bunch of green onions, finely sliced
1 clove garlic, crushed

Combine in a large bowl.

special thanks to mrs. amasavath and the other lady from the cataloguing department
special thanks to mrs. ampasavath and the other lady from the cataloguing department

2 tsp salt
Juice of 1 lime
1 tsp padec (Lao fermented fish paste… or substitute with 2 tbs Thai fish sauce)

essential for lao cooking
essential for lao cooking

2 Red Thai Chilies, finely sliced (or more/less, depending on your tolerance)
You can also add extra, “chili hang (strong)” if you want.  That would be dried chili flakes.

the strong stuff
the strong stuff

1/2 cup Sweet Thai Basil, fresh, whole leaves or coarsely chopped
1/2 cup cilantro/corriander, fresh, whole leaves or coarsely chopped

1 cup fresh mint leaves, whole or coarsely chopped.

fish laap
fish laap

2 tbs of sticky rice powder

How to make sticky rice powder:
On medium heat, grill uncooked sticky rice grains until brown in a dry (no oil, water, etc.) pan.  Let it cool.  Pulverize in food processor and put through a sieve to get rid of the larger pieces that didn’t get ground finely enough.  Grilled sticky rice powder can be stored in a jar for a few months.


Laap should be eaten right away, and served at room temperature.  Don’t let it sit around too long or it will be “bor sep” (not delicious).  Enjoy your meal with sticky rice… sep lai!

Fish Laap is definitely my favorite traditional dish from Laos… though I love papaya salad as well.  You can substitute tofu or beef or chicken or anything you like for the fish.

Oh, and I went bowling with my students too.


I scored a 101, not bad considering I hadn’t picked up a bowling ball in over 2 years.  That was almost the highest score, beat only by Dao, on my right, who scored a 110.  Most of the rest of the class were around 50 pt area… but we had fun and that’s the point!  I taught them key English vocabulary including “strike”, “spare”, and “turkey”.