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Tasty Laos Eats: Nam khao – Lao crispy rice salad

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Nam khao or naem khao is Lao crispy rice salad, a flavourful dish eaten with your fingers at a family feast or with friends after work over beer. Nam khao is laborious to make, but luckily it’s sold ready-made at street stalls and markets throughout Laos.

Steamed rice is mixed with shallots, shredded coconut, garlic and chili or red curry paste, then formed into balls and deep-fried until golden brown. Think of it as Lao arancini. Once cooled, the balls are broken up. Here’s where the “salad” part comes in.

You don't play petanque with these balls.
You don’t play petanque with these balls.

Nam Khao – Lao crispy rice salad

The crispy rice is mixed with som moo (sour pork) or sliced sausage, green onions, herbs like coriander and mint, thin strips of pork skin and a dressing of the usual suspects, fish sauce and lime. It’s topped off with roasted peanuts and whole fried red chili. As if this dish wasn’t epic enough, to eat it you scoop the salad into banana flower petals, lettuce or betel leaf and make a little wrap. The contrast of textures is incredible: crisp fried rice, wet crunchy lettuce and chewy boiled pork skin (yeah, it takes some getting used to).

Laos is all about finger food.
Laos is all about finger food.

From aromatic herbs to smoky fried chili, the flavours in nam khao are bold. But som moo is the ingredient that gives the dish that unique oomph.

Som Moo | Lao sour pork

Som moo, translated as “sour pork”, is raw pork that’s ground then vigorously kneaded with garlic, salt, sugar, cooked bits of pork skin and sticky rice. It’s rolled and left to cure at room temperature for two to three days. The result is garlicky fermented meat. It can be eaten raw (not recommended for uninitiated stomachs), grilled or in the case of nam khao, used as a key ingredient.

Lao sour pork
Som moo for sale at the market. While not the most photogenic of ingredients, but it packs a lot of flavour.

Recipe for Nam Khao

NGO Friends-International have an excellent recipe for nam khao in their Lao food cookbook “From Honeybees to Pepperwood: Creative Lao Cooking with Friends”. They’ve kindly granted me permission to republish it here:

RECIPE FOR NAM KHAO – LAO CRISPY RICE SALAD

You can buy the book at any of their six restaurants in Cambodia and Laos, including their newest training restaurant Khaiphaen in Luang Prabang.

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