Namkhao or naem khao is Lao crispy rice salad, a flavorful 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.
Namkhao mixed with Som Moo
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).
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 an amazing ingredient.