I have a secret ingredient I’ve been using a lot recently. To understand it at all, you first need to know about larb.
The Wikipedia article about larb is really comprehensive, and you should just probably read it sometime: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Larb
- larb has many spellings
- it’s a spicy meat salad from Laos
- the meat is either warm or raw
- it has mint and chilli plus other veg
- it’s seasoned with fish sauce and lime
- it contains “toasted rice powder”, which must not be omitted
I have made larb completely from scratch, including making toasted rice powder, and it was very good. I used a recipe from Hot, Sour, Salty, Sweet, which is a fantastic book. If you ask me, I can send you a photo of the larb recipe from it.
If you want to try a pretty stellar version before making it yourself, go to Papaya on Kantstr. Order the chicken or beef larb, and a couple other items from the “Isaan Snacks” part of the menu, and a portion of sticky rice per person. I always order a rosewater lassi to combat the spice. Oh, and take me with you. I love that place.
Another good place for larb in Berlin is Lemon Leaf on Boxhagener Platz. Number 33. They call it “lukewarm salad”. Order it with chicken and sticky rice. It’s a different preparation than Papaya, but I enjoy it, especially in cold months, because it comes with a flavourful clear broth soup.
Last Berlin larb reco: Chez Dang, next to Katie’s Blue Cat. This was the place where I first ever had it. Chez Dang is also offers a vegetarian option.
Okay, so now you know what larb is.
A couple years ago, a woman running a little Thai grocery very enthusiastically introduced me to to Lobo brand sauces and seasonings. On her strong recommendation, I bought and used Lobo brand Laab-Namtok Seasoning Mix. The seasoning mix makes larb dead easy to make: besides fish sauce (a pantry staple for me) the other ingredients are all readily available nearly anywhere: protein of your choice, bunch of fresh mint, shallots, green onion.
Most of the well-stocked Asian markets in Berlin have the seasoning mix, though not all the time. I keep it stocked by looking for it and buying some when I see it in such a shop, so I have it when I want it.
If you make straight up warm meat larb (chicken is my favourite), the instructions say to use the whole package for 300g of meat, but I have found those proportions to be outrageously spicy. The most I enjoy is 2/3 of the package. If you enjoy quite spicy, start with 1/2 the package. Otherwise, start with a tablespoons worth.
(psst: I developed a vegan version with smoked tofu, mushrooms, and fermented soybean paste. I blogged about it already.)
I have learned that this seasoning is great for other purposes. Try sprinkling it on sliced cucumber or fruits, just like you would with Tajín. (Never heard of Tajín? Now you have! You can read all about it in Saveur magazine.) Tajín is a Mexican seasoning brand that makes a “salsa powder” from chillies and lime, which means it’s VERY similar to Laab-Namtok Seasoning Mix.
I leave you with this rough guide for a larb-inspired salad that I made recently and served with roasted fish:
- sliced fennel
- quartered radishes
- chopped fresh mint
- chopped cilantro
- sliced spring onions (I happened to have a red onion version; pretty!)
- fresh orange juice
- fish sauce
- Lobo brand Laab-Namtok Seasoning Mix