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The history + pronunciation of...

BY: Kim Pham

The history + pronunciation of larb

Known mostly as a Thai dish in the US, larb has a complex story reflective of unique migration patterns and state sponsorship.


While typically perceived as Thai, larb actually originated in Laos — where it is largely considered the national dish! Over time, the dish migrated and became popular in Thailand. Today, the dish is regional to both Laos and Isan, the northeastern region of Thailand.

Larb became popularized in the US through the introduction of Thai restaurants in the 1980s — starting mainly from Los Angeles.

Larb’s perception as being a Thai dish was because of the proliferation of Thai restaurants throughout the US, largely due to a Thai government-sponsored program in the 2000s.

This program trained Thai chefs and sent them abroad to open restaurants, promoting tourism and amplifying the country’s culinary culture  which is why there’s such a large per capita concentration of Thai restaurants in the US relative to the number of Thai folks.


When it comes to phonetically translating Lao or Thai words into English, there is no universal method to transliterate, so they can be imperfect.

“Larb” is one transliteration of ລາບ / ลาบ, the name of the dish in Lao / Thai, respectively.

There are many other transliterations for this dish in English (larb, laab, lahb, larp, laap, lahp), although it is most widely known as “larb.

💡 What’s interesting: for over a decade, there has been no “r” in the Lao language. Also, in certain cases, the Thai language pronounces the “r” like an “l” or an “h.”

🔊 Here’s how to pronounce the dish as Thai + Lao people do:

     ● Larb, pronounced lab with a short A sound, as in l-a-a-p, with the tone falling during the vowel sound.

     ● The “b” in Larb actually sounds more like a “p,” with the final consonant unvoiced.

     ● And don’t pronounce the R; it is NOT laRRRb!

Click here + swipe to the end to hear Pimm, Omsom team member and Bangkok native, pronounce the dish!

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