Somchan Restaurant was discovered by the guidebooks several years back, but nothing like this spritely, sour fish lab (as Somchan spells it; 25,000 kip, about $2.45 at the time) has found its way anywhere near New York. Here in the city, the common signifier for an "authentic" larb is a lettuce leaf, topped with minced beef, pork, or chicken that often acquires a grainy mouthfeel — nothing like the mild, moist, firm-fleshed (but to me unidentified) fish shown here. Anyone know where to find fish larb in New York?
My other dish was the traditional Luang Prabang pairing of khái pâen and jąew bąwng (15,000 kip). "Khai" describes several filamentous varieties of river moss that are processed, laboriously, by hand; beating the algae to remove debris is especially tedious. The jaew bawng, a chunky, ostensibly chili-ridden water-buffalo-skin jam, was spicy-sweet and inoffensive, thought it's possible I was served a tame version prepared for the tourist trade. While some of the local kids took a dip in the Mekong River, I cooled down with a pineapple shake with fresh milk and coconut (5,000 kip).
Th. Suvannabanlang, Luang Prabang, Laos
(From a November 2006 visit)