A Fond Memory of Steamy Bangkok: Larb

| April 6, 2010 | 5 Comments

The older I get, the more I crave the dishes of my childhood in steamy Bangkok. Maybe it’s because I miss home so much. Maybe it’s because I’m in that stage of mid-life crisis and self-examination.

One of my favorite memories of Bangkok often prompts me to ask my mother to make larb for dinner. Larb is a Thai dish that can be made from ground beef, ground pork, or, if you have to be healthy — ground chicken or turkey. It is quickly cooked then seasoned with fish sauce and lime juice and dressed with roasted ground rice and ground red chilis, chopped cilantro and chopped scallions. The sour/salty flavor is the theme in many Thai dishes that are commonly described as “Yum.”

Pork larb.

As a child, I remember our family living on Sukhumvit Road Soi 43 behind a big movie theater in a modern high-rise apartment complete with a swimming pool. My pal and cousin, Ronnie, would hang out with me on the weekends, and we would spend our days playing in the pool, staying cool from the omnipresent heat. We would toss rocks into the pool and take turns diving into the water and swimming to the bottom to retrieve them, gradually working our way from the shallow end of the pool to the dreaded deep end.

For a snack in the afternoons, we would often run down the alley behind the apartment to a neighborhood restaurant. It was a hole in the wall with a few tables and a kitchen that was outdoors on the front porch. The cook worked over three coal-fired clay stoves, cooking various kinds of noodle soups, pad Thai, and larb. My cousin and I would order some pork larb and split a bottle of Fanta strawberry soda as we eagerly waited until a plate arrived with sticky rice, lettuce and napa cabbage on it. Soon the other plate containing the larb would arrive, the pork still steaming. We would form cups from the lettuce and cabbage leaves, spoon some of the pork larb into it, stuff it in our mouths, and relish the salty and sour flavors of the seasoned pork while we waited for the afterburner of the Thai chili peppers to kick in and cause our tongues and ears to burn. At this point, my cousin and I would compete to see how many bites of the spicy larb we could eat before one of us gave up and reached for the bottle of strawberry soda to put out our flaming tongues.

These days at home, the larb that mom cooks for us isn’t as hot as the one I remember from my childhood, but then my tastebuds have gotten accustomed to less spicy food. But every time I eat larb now, I can almost start to feel my ears burning, even though the memory of my childhood in Bangkok is distant.


  1. 1 lb. (454 g.) ground pork, beef, chicken or turkey
  2. Juice from one and a half limes
  3. 2 tablespoons (30 ml.) fish sauce
  4. 2 tablespoons (30 ml.) Thai jasmine rice, roasted in a pan until golden and then ground in a mortar and pestle or blender until it’s the consistency of grains of sand
  5. 1 cup (240 ml.) chopped cilantro
  6. 1/4 cup (60 ml.) chopped spring onions
  7. To taste: 1 teaspoon (5 ml.) — or more, if you want the larb to be spicier — Thai dried red chili peppers roasted in a pan a few minutes until fragrant and then ground in a blender
  8. Romaine lettuce leaves or napa cabbage leaves
  9. 1 tablespoon (15 ml.) peanut or safflower oil
  • Heat oil in a saucepan over high heat.
  • Add ground beef, pork, chicken or turkey and stir to quickly brown. NOTE: If you’re using ground chicken or ground turkey you may have to add another tablespoon (15 ml.) of oil since the ground chicken and turkey are much more lean.
  • Remove saucepan from heat and add lime juice, fish sauce, ground roasted rice and ground roasted chili peppers. Stir until totally incorporated. Add chopped cilantro and scallions and stir.
  • Serve immediately.

A good side dish to serve with larb is white jasmine rice.


— Vic

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Category: Pork, Thai

About the Author (Author Profile)

Victor Panichkul is a journalist and writer by training; a cook, wine lover and photographer by passion; and a lover of the outdoors since moving to Oregon more than 10 years ago. He is a native of Bangkok, Thailand.

Comments (5)

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  1. Charles says:

    One of my favorites and difficult to exercise self-control when it’s on the table. Many times there are no leftovers.

  2. Aki says:

    Your story takes me back. I have a weakness for Thai street/stall/cart food. Back when we used to live in Japan (many years ago), Thailand was a favored vacation destination for me and my wife. A large part of that was the food like larb. We almost never ate in a place with four walls and a roof.

  3. I can well-remember a wonderful visit in 2001 with you and Charles in Baltimore and having this delectable larb one evening! The crunchiness of romaine leaves and spicy ground chicken had such a grand mouth-feel, as well as a lovely ‘after burn’! Thanks for the memories!

  4. VPanichkul says:

    Aki, I had no idea you had been to Thailand. I’m hoping to go home again one of these days soon. Thanks for reading and sharing your memories with us!


  5. VPanichkul says:

    Wow. That seems like ages ago since we lived in Baltimore. We still fondly remember your visit to us in Oregon. Thanks for reading and commenting!
    We miss you!

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