To some, that could be stretching the definition of salad a little bit, but the formula where several ingredients are tossed together in a dressing is bound to give rise to countless versions – delicious ones in fact that don’t skimp on flavour.
Here’s seven of them from around Southeast Asia.
There’s certainly more to Vietnamese cuisine than steaming bowls of pho and banh mi as the cuisine has a variety of salads that’s numerous enough to be considered a category on its own. These are known as gỏi, or nom if you’re in Northern Vietnam and comes in a myriad of combinations. Some of the more popular options range from the gỏi bắp chuối (above) where the fleshy white insides of banana blossoms are tossed with shallots, garlic and meat options like pork and shrimp. Another popular dish is the gỏi ga, or chicken and cabbage salad. Here, shredded poached chicken is mixed with finely sliced cabbage, carrots, cucumbers and dressed with a sauce made of chicken broth and fish sauce lightly sweetened with a touch of palm sugar.
Plear Sach Ko from Cambodia
Some have come to describe this Cambodian salad as a beef carpaccio – and perhaps it truly is Cambodia’s answer to the Italian dish. The thinly sliced beef (and sometimes tripe) here is cured with prahok, an umami fish paste made by grinding and salting mudfish and then left to ferment in large clay jars anywhere from 20 days to three years. These strong flavours are offset by tossing in bean sprouts and long beans with sliced shallots, herbs like mint, lemongrass and basil with bird’s eye chili and a good squeeze of lime.
Urap from Java, Indonesia
While many Southeast Asian salads are meat-centric, the Javanese urap (also known as urab) consists of steamed vegetables like bean sprouts, cabbage, water spinach and long beans. This is topped with a dressing of shredded coconut seasoned with turmeric, ginger, shallots, chillies and tarmarind juice. When eaten together, there’s a texture that’s almost meaty thanks to the juicy long beans that meets the savoury creaminess of the shredded coconut.
It’s often mistaken as a form of urap but Karedok hails further west of Java, specifically from the Sundanese tradition. Here, the salad is savoured raw and often comprises of bean sprouts, long beans, cabbage, cucumber as well as Thai basil which gives it a herbaceous kick. The dressing comes in the form of a mildly peanut sauce made with ground roasted peanuts, fermented shrimp paste, chilies, tamarind and palm sugar.
Ensaladang Lato from The Phillipines
This Filipino salad incorporates Lato, a type of seaweed otherwise known as green caviar or sea grapes for its tiny globular appearance. The ingredient is found off the coasts of the Indo-Pacific and is favored for its succulent texture. In Ensaladang Lato, it is blended with chopped raw shallots, fresh tomatoes, and a dressing of fish sauce or bagoong (fish paste) and vinegar. The bulbs burst in your mouth as you eat it, delivering a refreshing feel that’s as satisfying as it is nutritious.
It’s hard to pin down larb’s exact geographical origins. After all, this dish is enjoyed in a region that stretches from North Thailand to Laos. Some food historians point out that the dish originates in the Laotian tradition. Today, two differing versions exist; the larb of northern Thailand uses dried spices like cloves, cumin, long pepper and star anise while the Lao variety uses padaek (a Laotian fish sauce made from freshwater fish) and fresh herbs. Despite the difference in flavour, the common thread they share is in the use of minced meat and often enjoyed with glutinous rice with a side of fresh vegetables.
Hinava from Sabah, Sarawak
If a plate of hinava arrives before you, don’t be surprised if it resembles ceviche, the Latin American cured fish dish. It’s one of the Kadazan Dusun community’s most well-known food items where chunks of tropical fish (often mackerel) is cured in vinegar or citrus like calamansi along with shallots, grated ginger and chillies. While the fish is at times enjoyed without any greens, those looking to increase its nutritional profile can add sliced bitter gourd. A similar dish known as kinilaw is also enjoyed further East in The Philippines.