Thum Moua

You know the feeling when you crave something super tasty midday or even in the middle of the night? Suddenly, you find yourself opening up your fridge and you just don’t know what to make in order to satisfy that craving? When I don’t know what to eat, I go for Thum Moua!

What is Thum Moua?

Thum Moua is a very creative dish made often in the Lao and Thai community. 

In Lao, the term “thum” means to smash. That’s why this dish is prepared in a mortar and pestle. Thum Mak Hoong is one of the most well-known Lao dishes using a mortar and pestle. This dish is also known as papaya salad.

Yet, Thum Moua is a little different. It has all the umami and intense sweet and sour spice like Thum Mak Hoong. The main difference is that Thum Moua doesn’t have to be papaya - it can be whatever you want.

That’s what makes this dish creative! For me, Thum Moua is all about the versatility and fun in Southeast Asian cooking. This dish is the perfect snack or light meal enjoyed any time of day (even a sneaky midnight snack!)

I love adding in rice noodles and Lao Thai Nam beef meatballs for more chew and texture. 

The Essential Sauce Ingredients for Thum Moua

Thum Moua is a flexible dish. For those who aren’t as familiar with Lao or Southeast Asian cooking, it’s important to go through the sauce ingredients that give Thum Moua its awesome flavor!

  • Fish sauce - This funky condiment is an essential ingredient of Southeast Asian cuisines. It’s super potent, so you don’t need a ton! 
  • Padaek - This fermented fish sauce is a staple of Lao cuisine. It lends an incredible umami flavor you can’t find anywhere else.
  • Shrimp paste - Another staple of Southeast Asian cuisine, shrimp paste is very salty but amazingly aromatic.  
  • Thai Chili Peppers - Earthy and super spicy, these peppers give Thum Moua a nice amount of heat. I recommend 3-5 peppers, using more or less depending on your heat tolerance.
  • Garlic - An essential aromatic used in Southeast Asian cuisine. You can also add shallot as well.
  • Sugar - Many Southeast Asian dishes have a sweetener, to enhance the sour and spicy notes in various dishes. You can use any kind of sugar you like. I typically use cane sugar
  • MSG - This is a totally optional ingredient. MSG helps to bring all the unique flavors of this dish quickly.

Thum Moua Recipe

Prep and cook time: 10 mins

Serves 2-3 people


3-5 whole 

Thai Chili Peppers

2 cloves


1 ½ tablespoons

Sugar (or Sweetener of Choice)

½ teaspoon


1 ½ tablespoon

Fish Sauce

1 tablespoon

Padaek (Fermented Fish Sauce)

½ teaspoon

Shrimp Paste

1-2 whole 

Lime (sliced in wedges)

½ cup 

Cherry Tomatoes (cut in half)

1 whole

Thai Eggplant (sliced)

½ bag 

Rice Noodles 

¼ of whole

Cabbage (chopped in 2-inch cubes)

½ package

Lao Thai Nam Meatballs (cut in half)

¼ cup 

Peanuts (roasted)*

¼ cup

Dried Tiny Shrimp*




To Make your Base

Step 1: Boil a pot of hot water. 

Step 2: When the water comes to a boil, cook the rice noodles in the pot for about five seconds. Remove noodles and set aside. 

Step 3: Use the same pot of water to blanch the cabbage for about a minute, then set. aside. In that same pot of boiling water, boil your Lao Thai Nam meatballs for two minutes. These meatballs are pre-cooked and are ready to eat but we want to freshen them up with some heat. Set meatballs aside accordingly.

To Make your Sauce

Step 1: Whip out your mortar and pestle. Add your preferred amount of Thai chili peppers and garlic, along with the sugar and MSG (optional). Smash everything aggressively in the mortar until a paste-like consistency is created. 

Step 2: Add your fish sauce, padaek (fermented fish sauce), shrimp paste, and lime. Start off by squeezing one whole lime first, tasting the sauce to preference as you go.

Pro tip: Throw some of the lime peels after squeezing them into the mortar to add some bright green colors to the dish.

Step 3: Toss the cherry tomatoes and Thai eggplant into the mortar. Gently smash everything so it mixes in well with the sauce.

Step 4: Add the cooked noodles, cabbage, and Lao Thai Nam meatballs in the mortar. Carefully smash with the pestle while scooping upward with a spoon. This will naturally transform into a mixing motion. After a minute, all the ingredients should be well combined. 

Step 5: Go ahead and give your Thum Moua a final taste! 

Step 6: Plate your delicious Thum Moua and garnish with peanuts and/or dried tiny shrimp if you like. 

I hope you enjoy this dish as much as I do! I like to pair this dish with Lao Thai Nam’s pork nam on the side. Simple and saap (delicious)! 

Recipe by Ae Southammavong


Ae is a small business owner and runs The StirFry Master, a meal prep company primarily focused on Lao and other Southeast Asian cuisines. She is also a TikToker and creates content to showcase the eclectic Lao culture to the masses while influencing young Lao kids to be proud of their heritage and explore their self-identity.

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