Zaap by Chang

Jackie McMillan
21st Jan 2024

Zaap by Chang wasn’t my first foray into Lao or Isan cuisine, so I knew to order Lao sausage ($15) and to avoid asking for extra heat. Dishes from Laos and Thailand’s northeastern corner tend toward being both fiery and sour. The Lao sausage proved a good exemplar with thick slices of fatty pork sausage seasoned with minced markut, lemongrass, garlic, galangal, chillies and shallots padded out with sticky rice and fish sauce. My other Laotian go-to is a crispy rice salad called nam khao ($20). I found the version here a little flat and one-note, lacking the textural interest you usually get from clumps of deep-fried seasoned rice and the sourness from fermented som moo sausage. We ate ours over slices of Lao sausage in lettuce wraps with bottles of Beer Lao ($9), the country’s best-selling beer brand.

Green papaya salad is common to both Lao and Isan cuisines but originated in Laos. The Laotian version is called tham mak hoong but is listed on the menu here as som tum Luang Prabang ($15). Thai som tum tends toward being sweet, sour, spicy and salty from the use of fish sauce. Lao tam mak hoong is spicy and salty with more intense funkiness from fermented fish sauce (padaek) and pickled crab; it’s also much wetter. Both dishes usually contain green papaya, green beans, and cherry tomatoes. The Lao version is more of an acquired taste, and here it also lacked visual appeal. One byte prawn Zaap ($9/2) were better presented but lacked the palate burst you’d expect from prawns dressed in herbs, chilli and lime wrapped in betel leaves. The heavily designed menu and on-table marketing collateral all look like they have been set up for franchising, so perhaps the differences are deliberate: dumbing down normally zingy dishes for wide scale appeal. It didn’t seem to impact the restaurant’s popularity with groups of young people. The open plan, nicely decorated second floor space was rammed with big groups though perhaps they were attracted by the very reasonable pricing.