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Thum Khao Poon Recipe (Easy Rice Vermicelli Salad)

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Thum khao poon recipe with the best homemade dressing that’s the perfect blend of spicy and tangy. This easy rice vermicelli salad is perfect for when you can’t get your hands on fresh papaya. It’s super easy to make at home, with a traditional mortar and pestle for that authentic touch.

Lao thum khao poon salad topped with tomatoes and long beans, garnished with a lime wedge, presented on a banana leaf.

Make sure to check out my recipe for tam sua, an irresistibly spicy Thai rice vermicelli papaya salad!

What is thum khao poon

Thum khao poon, a traditional Lao dish, is a spicy rice vermicelli salad. Beloved for its tangy, spicy flavors and fresh ingredients, this staple in Lao cuisine combines fresh herbs, lime, fermented fish sauce, and chilies for a delicious cold noodle salad.


In Thai and Lao, “thum” means to pound or crush, and “khao poon” translates to rice vermicelli noodles.

Lao Rice vermicelli salad

This Lao rice vermicelli salad or tum khao poon is similar to the famous Lao papaya salad, tum mak hoong, or in Thai: tom sum or som tum Thai.

It’s got that same spicy and sour dressing, but instead of papaya shreds, this salad is loaded with slippery noodles that soak up all the tasty dressing.

Close-up of twirled rice vermicelli noodles on a fork over a plate of thum khao poon salad, highlighting the dish's fresh tomatoes and long beans, with traditional Lao decor in the background.

With the heat from chilies, the sweetness from palm sugar, the sour notes from fresh lime juice, and the umami from fermented fish sauce or padaek, this is Lao food at its finest.

The flavors are easily customizable to personal preference, but the key to any thum salad is striking a balance of flavors: spicy, sour, savory, and sweet.

Laos thum khao poon salad with tomatoes, yard long beans, chilies, and lime, served on a white plate.

Hungry for more? See my collection of Lao noodle dishes:

  • Khao piak sen – Lao noodle soup with pork and ribs.
  • Khao poon – A delicious Lao chicken coconut noodle soup.
  • Kua mee – A signature Lao dry noodle dish with egg.

Why try this Lao spicy salad recipe

  • Healthy and nutritious: It’s a low-carb dish that’s packed with fresh herbs and spices, a nutritious option that doesn’t lack in flavor.
  • Authentic Lao flavors: This recipe showcases authentic flavors, with spicy and tangy in every bite, resembling the street food flavors you’d find in Thailand and Laos.
  • Refreshing and light: It’s the perfect summer salad, but it’s a great year-round option too. This vermicelli noodle salad is perfect for something satisfying yet light.
  • It’s so easy to make: This thum khao poon recipe is foolproof and easy for every home cook.
  • Easy to customize: You can easily adjust the spiciness or other flavors to suit everyone’s preference. Make it a kid-friendly option by omitting the chilies altogether.
  • It’s versatile: Thai, Isan, and Lao salads are great as a main, as a side, as part of a larger meal, or even as a snack throughout the day.

Isan and Lao cuisine

If you’re wondering why this salad is a staple in both Laos and Isan, it’s because these two cuisines are incredibly similar.

Lao and Isan cuisine are close neighbors in Southeast Asia. Both share a preference for bold, strong flavors, with an emphasis on fresh ingredients. A balance of spicy, sour, sweet, and savory can be found in most of our dishes.

Thai sticky rice is a daily staple in both regions, and spicy salads are a no-brainer.

The famed papaya salad and dishes like Thai pork larb (minced meat salad) are often enjoyed in both regions, with their own unique regional twist.

Lao spicy noodle salad with tomato, beans, chili peppers, and lime, served on a white plate.

Both cuisines make extensive use of umami-loaded fermented fish sauce and spicy chilies like bird’s eye chilies.

And the tradition of using wild ingredients is what sets both kitchens most apart from others. Elder people of Lao and Isan, like my grandmother and grandfather, enjoy cooking with ingredients found in the wild.

Wild mushrooms and even mountain rats are a delicacy in both regions.

Our foods are not just meals but wild stories on a plate!

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 khao poon laid out: vermicelli noodles, yard long beans, palm sugar, lime, MSG, fermented fish sauce, garlic, chilies, and tomatoes, ready for preparation.
  • Khao poon – Khao poon is rice vermicelli noodles that are delicate and absorbent. They are perfect for soaking up broths and dressings, making them a staple in Lao cooking. You can get them fresh at some Asian markets or dried at Asian grocery stores.
  • Yard long beans – Yard long beans and tomatoes are key ingredients in tum salads. The beans bring a fresh crunch and the tomatoes add a juicy sweetness to many spicy Lao salads.
  • Small tomatoes
  • Garlic – Use fresh garlic cloves for the best taste. No need to peel them.
  • Fermented fish sauce, palm sugar, fish sauce, lime juice – The dressing ingredients: Fermented fish sauce brings an umami punch, palm sugar adds a natural sweetness, fish sauce offers a savory depth, and fresh lime juice adds a tangy flavor.
  • MSG – A flavor enhancer, widely used in Asian cooking, brings out the best in other ingredients.
  • Dried chilies – Dry and fresh chili peppers add spice. Dried chilies offer a more smoky depth, while fresh chilies bring immediate heat.
  • Chilies

Cooking instructions

Spices including garlic and dried chilies at the bottom of a mortar, ready to be pounded for thum khao poon dressing.

1. Crush garlic, dried chilies, and fresh chili peppers with a mortar and pestle.

Yard long beans and a dressing mixture in a mortar.

2. Add the yard-long beans and gently bruise them. Then, add the dressing: fish sauce, fermented fish sauce, MSG, palm sugar, and fresh lime juice. Pound and stir until the palm sugar is dissolved.

Vegetables and dressing in a mortar.

3. Add the remaining vegetables: Tomatoes and lime skin, crushing them gently.

4. Toss in the vermicelli noodles and thoroughly mix with the dressing and other ingredients. Serve immediately.

Kitchen tools

  • Clay mortar and pestle for pounding and blending the ingredients. This traditional tool is essential for the right texture and releasing flavors and aromas.
  • Cutting board and chef’s knife
  • Measuring spoons and cups
  • Small pot with strainer for boiling and draining the khao poon if you’re using dried vermicelli noodles.

How to serve this Lao noodle salad

Serve in a large bowl or dish. Optionally garnish with fresh herbs like mint or cilantro, add lime wedges, and a sprinkle of crushed peanuts. A side of sliced bird’s eye chilies can elevate the spice level.

Lao spicy rice vermicelli salad pairs great with any Asian mains or grilled meats like moo yang, moo ping, or even steamed fish. It’s also a perfect side at your next summer BBQ! Additionally, you can serve with a portion of jasmine rice or sticky rice.

How to store

If you have leftovers, place them in an airtight container and refrigerate. The noodle salad is best enjoyed within a day, as the noodles will soak up too much dressing over time.

Frequently asked questions

Can I prepare this ahead of time?

This is not the best salad to make ahead of time. The khao poon acts like a sponge and soaks up the dressing over time.

Is thum khao poon gluten-free?

Thum khao poon is made with vermicelli noodles, which are gluten-free. The rest of the ingredients are gluten-free as well, but make sure to double-check the labeling of your store-bought sauces.

Can I use other vegetables?

While not traditional, you can give the salad a different twist. Feel free to add other vegetables like cucumbers, carrots, or even bell peppers.

Is this recipe suitable for vegetarians?

No. This recipe is made with fermented fish sauce and fish sauce, substituting both will not have the same result flavor-wise.

More Asian salad recipes you’ll love

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Thum Khao Poon Recipe (Easy Rice Vermicelli Salad)

Thum khao poon rice vermicelli salad served on a white plate with tomatoes, yard long beans, and a lime wedge, on a traditional Lao textile background.
Thum khao poon is a refreshing Lao rice vermicelli salad with spicy, sour, and savory flavors, perfect for a light meal.
Praew
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 5 minutes
Total Time 15 minutes
Cuisine Lao
Course Salad
Serving Size 2 people

Ingredients

  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 2 dried chilies to taste
  • 2 chilies bird's eye chilies, to taste
  • 2 yard long beans sliced into 1-inch pieces
  • 1 teaspoon MSG
  • 1 teaspoon lime juice
  • 1/2 tablespoon palm sugar
  • 2 tablespoons fermented fish sauce
  • 1 tablespoon fish sauce
  • 5 tomatoes any type of small tomato will do
  • 8.8 ounces fresh vermicelli noodles see notes

Instructions

  • Crush garlic, dried chilies, and fresh chili peppers with a mortar and pestle.
  • Add the yard-long beans and gently bruise them. Then, add the dressing: fish sauce, fermented fish sauce, MSG, palm sugar, and fresh lime juice. Pound and stir until the palm sugar is dissolved.
  • Add the remaining vegetables: Tomatoes and lime skin, crushing them gently.
  • Toss in the vermicelli noodles and thoroughly mix with the dressing and other ingredients. Serve immediately.

Notes

  • Use the nutrition card in this recipe as a guideline.
  • Adjust the flavors to taste. Use the measurements as a guideline and aim for that perfect balance of sweet, spicy, sour, and savory.
  • Chilies are optional. 2 bird's eye chilies and dried chilies will make it very spicy.
  • Feel free to add vegetables of your choice.
  • Fresh vermicelli noodles - Dried vermicelli noodles can be used as an alternative and weighed out once cooked.

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