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Spicy Lao Cucumber Salad Recipe (Thum Mak Thang)

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Spicy Lao cucumber salad recipe or thum mak thang is a refreshing dish that’s perfect for a quick lunch or light dinner. Crunchy cucumbers, fresh vegetables, lots of spices, and an easy dressing are mashed together in a traditional mortar. Perfect with Thai sticky rice to tone down the heat!

Spicy Lao cucumber salad in a dish with tomatoes and sticky rice on the side.

Craving more crispiness? Check out my Thai cucumber salad for satay – it’s a crisp, refreshing side, especially with satay!

What is thum mak thang

Thum mak thang, also known as Lao cucumber salad, is a tangy, spicy, savory, and sweet dish. It combines crunchy cucumber slices with juicy tomatoes and a dressing of fermented fish sauce, palm sugar, and lime juice.


Thai woman preparing traditional tum tang in a stone mortar with pestle

Thum in tum tang refers to the age-old Thai and Lao tradition where spices and ingredients are crushed in a mortar. This technique blends flavors together, releasing more of the natural oils and aromas of the pounded ingredients.

In lao, “thum” means to pound, “mak” means vegetable, and “thang” means cucumber.

Spicy Lao cucumber salad

This crunchy, refreshing salad is absolutely restaurant-quality!

Close-up of tum mak thang with fresh sliced cucumber, tomatoes, and spicy chilies, a traditional Lao salad.

It’s one of my favorite dishes that’s actually really easy to make at home with all the best flavors mingled into one – a little bit salty, sweet, sour, and most of all spicy.

You can spot it at most Southeast Asian street food markets, as it’s a favorite among Thai and Lao people. It’s our go-to for a quick lunch or a tasty side.

It’s the kind of salad that’s perfect for summer, but totally fits year-round. And if you’re a fan of papaya salad – tum mak hoeng – this is basically it but with a refreshing cucumber twist.

A spoonful of tum tang, a spicy Lao cucumber salad with ripe tomatoes and chilies, served alongside sticky rice.

We love it spicy, but you can adjust the heat level to your liking – add some extra spice or tone it down a bit for the kids. It’s everything you and I love about Thai and Lao salads!

Don’t forget to check out some of these readers favorite spicy Asian salad recipes: som tum Thai – green papaya salad – and som tam pla ra with fermented fish sauce!

Why try this recipe

  • Perfect for gatherings: This Lao salad with cucumber is a hit at BBQs, family dinners, and your next Asian-themed party. The flavors are easily adaptable to turn it into a crowd-pleaser!
  • Easy-to-customize: Taste-test the dressing and easily adjust to taste. Too spicy? Try adding a bit more sugar.
  • Authentic flavors: This tum tang recipe is authentic, whipped up with a traditional mortar and pestle.
  • It’s so refreshing: It’s the kind of dish that’s perfect for cooling down on a hot day.
  • Quick and easy: This delicious salad comes together in no time, ideal for busy days or last-minute lunches.

Ingredients

Ingredients can be sourced at Asian grocery stores and Asian markets.
The exact measurements are in the recipe card at the end of this post.


Top-view of ingredients for thum mak thang, with labeled cucumber, tomatoes, garlic, chilies, lime, fish sauce, fermented fish sauce, and palm sugar.
  • Cucumbers – The best greens for Lao-style cucumber salads are Japanese, English cucumbers, or mini cucumbers. These are known for their thin, tender skin, minimal seeds, and crisp texture. Their mild, sweet flavor makes them perfect for soaking up all that delicious homemade dressing.
  • Tomatoes – Cherry tomatoes or small, ripe Roma tomatoes are a great option. Look for tomatoes that are somewhere in between ripe and soft for the best results. Feel free to add other vegetables of your choice, like yard long beans or green beans.
  • Lime – Use fresh lime juice, avoid the pre*packaged stuff. Pick limes that feel heavy for their size and are glossy, and deep-green.
  • Fermented fish sauce – Fermented fish sauce is a key ingredient in Isan and Lao cuisine, adding a salty, umami depth to our salads.
  • Palm sugar – Palm sugar adds a caramel-like sweetness. Available at any Asian grocery store or larger supermarkets.
  • Fish sauce – Choose a premium fish sauce like red boat brand for the best balance of salty and savory that’s not too overpowering.
  • Chilies (optional) – Choose Thai bird’s eye chilies or Jinda chilies for a spicy Lao cucumber salad. For a mild salad, opt for a mild type of chili, remove the seeds, or omit the chilies altogether.

Cooking instructions

  1. Step-by-step preparation of spicy Lao cucumber salad, showing showing ground chilies in a mortar, adding tomatoes and lime, followed by sliced cucumbers, and the final mix of the salad ingredients.

    1. Crush chilies and mortar with a mortar and pestle.

  2. 2. Mix in the dressing made of lime juice, fish sauce, fermented fish sauce, and palm sugar. Add ripe tomatoes plus lime skin to the mix, roughly crushing them.

  3. 3. Toss in the cucumber and any optional vegetables of your choice.

  4. 4. Gently mix all the ingredients one last time, ensuring the flavors are well combined and balanced. Serve immediately.

Kitchen tools

  • Cutting board and chef’s knife
  • Measuring spoons and cups
  • Clay mortar and pestle
  • Vegetable peeler

How to serve this easy Lao salad

The best sides for tum tang:

  • With other sides: Tod mun pla (Thai fish cakes) or deliciously marinated Thai chicken wings.
  • Fresh vegetables: cucumbers slices, cabbage, tomatoes, Thai herbs like basil, Thai eggplants, lettuce wraps.
  • Meat: Crispy pork rinds, grilled pork, grilled beef.
  • Vermicelli noodles
  • Jasmine rice
  • Thai sticky rice

How to store

Cucumber salad is best enjoyed fresh. If you have leftovers, store them in the refrigerator in an airtight container and consume them within 2 days. The vegetables will soak up some of the dressing, so the salad might lose a bit of its crunch.

Frequently asked questions

Can I make this salad without a mortar and pestle?

Totally. Just use a large mixing bowl and the back of a rice spoon to press and mix the ingredients. Your salad will still be delicious.

Can I make this in advance?

Lao cucumber salad is best enjoyed right after making it. You can chop the veggies ahead of time and toss with the dressing before serving.

Is thum mak thang gluten-free?

This recipe is gluten-free, but always double-check the labels of your fish sauces.

Are there any vegan alternatives for fermented fish sauce?

Swap fish sauce with a vegan fish sauce alternative and if needed, try adding an extra tablespoon of vegan fish sauce to sub the fermented fish sauce if needed.

More Asian salad recipes you’ll love

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Spicy Lao Cucumber Salad Recipe (Thum Mak Thang)

Spicy Lao cucumber salad in a dish with tomatoes and sticky rice on the side.
This spicy Lao cucumber salad recipe comes together quickly for a delicious lunch or dinner.
Praew
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 5 minutes
Total Time 15 minutes
Cuisine Lao
Course Salad
Serving Size 2 people

Ingredients

  • 1 clove garlic
  • chilies optional, to taste
  • 1/2 tablespoon palm sugar
  • 1 tablespoon fish sauce
  • 1.5 tablespoon fermented fish sauce
  • 3 small tomatoes sliced
  • 1 tablespoon lime
  • 10.5 ounces cucumber sliced

Instructions

  • Crush chilies and mortar with a mortar and pestle.
  • Mix in the dressing made of lime juice, fish sauce, fermented fish sauce, and palm sugar. Add ripe tomatoes plus lime skin to the mix, roughly crushing them.
  • Toss in the cucumber and any optional vegetables of your choice.
  • Gently mix all the ingredients one last time, ensuring the flavors are well combined and balanced. Serve immediately.

Notes

  • Use the nutrition card in this recipe as a guideline.
  • The best greens for Lao-style cucumber salads are Japanese, English cucumbers, or mini cucumbers.
  • Cherry tomatoes or small, ripe Roma tomatoes are a great option.

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