Akha-style pork laap is made by mincing a slice of fatty pork cut with liver or fresh pork blood and a generous amount of herbs, chilies, the roots of Hooker chives, and the soft inner bark of trees such as the hog plum (เปลือกมะกอก) or Indian gooseberry (เปลือกมะขามป้อม). It is then seasoned salty with salt, wrapped in banana leaves, and grilled over charcoal until cooked. The dish’s appearance is similar to the Northern Thai-style grilled curried parcels called aaep (แอ๊บ). Thus, sometimes this dish is called aaep laap (แอ๊บลาบ), but I think that we should use its Akha name instead – saa bpia (ส่าเปี๊ยะ).
The Akha people are an ethnic group living in Thailand, Myanmar, China, and Laos. They are believed to originate from China, with many migrating to Northern Thailand during the late 19th century.
In the Akha language, “ah” means far away and “kha” is humidity; together, the name can be thought of as “far away from moisture”. This name could originate from when waterways carried diseases (“mihi” in the Akha language), such as cholera and malaria, which would have affected where they settled, in villages scattered across the mountainous region of Northern Thailand.
An essential element of Akha belief is the connection with the land and its place in the natural world. For example, a pig born in the village rather than its natural forest habitat, or a pig that bore a litter of fewer than three piglets, should be eaten or sacrificed for the spirits of the ancestors – but not raised as their birth was unpropitious.
What about the hard-to-get ingredients?
Although Hooker chives roots have a more oniony and pungent taste, you can substitute chives and omit the wood bark altogether; the wood barks are used mainly for their medicinal properties. However, if you live in Asia and can get these ingredients, the dish will have a more authentic Akha flavor.
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- 200 g pork neck meat (สันคอหมู)
- 1/4 cup fresh pork blood (เลือดหมูสด)
- 60 g pork liver (ตับหมู)
- 60 g pork belly (เนื้อหมูสามชั้น)
- 1 teaspoon rock salt (เกลือสินเธาว์)
- 3 pieces fresh green Thai bird’s eye chili (phrik kee noo) (พริกขี้หนูเขียว)
- 3 pieces dried Thai bird’s eye chili (phrik kee noo) (พริกขี้หนููแห้ง)
The wood bark:
- 1/4 cup hog plum inner bark (เปลือกมะกอก) or
- Indian gooseberry inner bark (เปลือกมะขามป้อม) peeled and the soft inner bark scraped
- Banana leaf (ใบตอง)
Prepare the wood bark:
- Peel the hard bark from hug plum or Indian gooseberry wood; scrape and collect the soft inner bark. Set aside.
Prepare the herbs:
- Wash, dry and then roughly chop all the chilies, hooker chives roots and herbs. Set aside.
Prepare the laap meat mixture:
- Using a knife, mince the pork meat with salt to a rough consistency on a cutting board.
- Add all the other ingredients and continue pounding until all the ingredients are well mixed.
- Add fresh blood and keep pounding. Keep the consistency fine but not gooey.
Grill the laap:
- Place the laap mixture on the shiny side of a banana leaf; shape it into a large meat patty.
- Top the meat with slices of liver, skin, and pork fat. Then wrap the meat with additional two layers of banana leaves, now, keeping the shiny side outside.
- Charcoal grill the parcels over low heat until the outside layers are charred.
- Tip: Brush the banana leaf parcels with oil before placing them on the grill to get a vivid color.