How to Make Larb Gai – Lahb Gai – Laab Gai – Larp Gai – Laap Gai

There is a good reason why the title reads the way it does. I am aware that when I show my face here, people expect me to talk about food. But if you know me very well, you will know that, as much as I love food and cooking, the majority of my time is spent in the areas not at all culinary in nature. And though I’ve tried to repress that non-culinary part of me when I come here, it sometimes slips into my site here and there.

 Larb (Laap, Larp or Lahb)
Larb (Laap, Larp or Lahb)

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Take the dish we have before us here for example. While it may be more appropriate to discuss the anatomy of the dish, the linguist in me just couldn’t overcome the urge to discuss the anatomy of its name. After all, there’s not much to talk about in terms of how to make the dish as you will soon see; it’s one of the simplest things to make. This version that you see here (which represents the most common overseas Thai restaurant version) is especially easy. But the name.

I don’t know if the inconsistencies in the way Thai words are transliterated into English ever drive anyone nuts the way they do me. (I guess this is one of those things where not caring is bliss.) Is it Som Tum or Som Tam, Tom Yum Goong or Tom Yam Gung? I could go on for at least 20 pages with my hypothesis as to why that is the case.

 Larb (Laap, Larp or Lahb)
Larb (Laap, Larp or Lahb)

Nonetheless, in an attempt to keep the 7-8 readers that I have, I’ll just give you a one-sentence summary: The complete madness that is the romanization stems primarily from the blatant disregard for correctness and the lack of understanding about how language works and secondarily from the lack of agreement as to whether a word should be transliterated to reflect its vernacular pronunciation or its etymology.
Given the fact that the Thai language has been tremendously influenced by Sanskrit with lots of Old Khmer — among other things — thrown in just to make things hopelessly confusing, unless rules are promulgated and enforced, all hope for uniformity is lost. 1

Back to the subject at hand — ลาบ. The issue here does not pertain to etymology, but the English representation of the long A vowel.

I personally prefer the spelling Lap in strict compliance with the standard transliteration rules (lap kai is the RTGS romanization). But I do realize how unpopular this is. Apart from that, Laab (or Laap) is about as far as I’m willing to go. But I don’t prefer that, because — long story short — I don’t like the idea of reduplicating a vowel to signify lengthening. 2

Lahb is not my first choice, but it doesn’t irritate the heck out of me (in some languages the H is one of those consonants that sometimes function in a vowel-like manner). However, the worst transliteration of this Thai word, ironically, happens to be the one with which you’re perhaps most familiar — Larb (or Larp).

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