Som Tam (Thai papaya salad) recipe

Som Tam (Thai papaya salad) recipe

Som Tam is the delicious spicy Thai papaya salad, popular throughout Thailand and a staple in the many street food markets.

As well as being tasty, it’s also a very healthy starter.

But, it’s not called spicy without reason! We quickly learnt that grinding up chillies (in a pestle and mortar) makes a dish even more spicy than anticipated. So even if you have developed high spice tolerance levels, we’d still recommend a conservative approach to the chillies.

Thai papaya salad popular street food

Thai papaya salad is popular street food in Thailand

Ingredients for Thai papaya salad

  • 400g of shredded green papaya (as an alternative use cucumber)
  • 200 grams of toasted peanuts or cashew nuts
  • 2 cloves of peeled garlic
  • Half a red chilli (more if you dare)
  • 1 tablespoon of dried shrimp (or cubed tried tofu for vegetarians)
  • Half a piece of palm sugar (coconut sugar or use 2 teaspoons of normal sugar)
  • 2 tomatoes, chopped
  • Juice of 1 lime
  • 2 tablespoons of fish sauce (or use soya sauce for vegetarians)
  • 200 grams of bean sprouts
  • 200 grams of green beans
Sebastien with freshly made Thai Papaya salad

Sebastien with freshly made Thai Papaya salad in Koh Lipe island

How to make Thai papaya salad

1. Crush the nuts with a pestle and mortar and set aside.

2. Shred the papaya into long slices (if not already purchased like this) and place in a bowl with cold water to remove excess starch.

3. In the meantime cut the green beans into 3cm pieces.

4. Mix the peeled garlic, palm sugar and half chilli in the pestle and mortar and grind it into a rough paste.

5. Add the shrimp (or tofu), peanuts (or cashew) to the pestle and mortar and continue grinding.

6. Remove the shredded papaya from the water and mix into and grind to the pestle and mortar mixture, not too hard but enough for it to soak up the flavours.

7. Mix in and grind the tomatoes, sprouts, green beans, lime juice and fish sauce (or soya sauce) to the pestle and mortar mixture.

At some street food stalls, we found that live crabs can also be smashed up and used as well, but we always felt too bad to try!

Sebastien with live crab for the salad

Sebastien refusing to use live crab for his Thai papaya salad

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7 Comments

  1. Wow, look so delicious and mouth-watering. Those dishes remind me of our trip to Laos and Thailand. We enjoyed in Laos eating larb, papaya salad (Tum Mak Hoong) and sticky rice, and of course washed down with Beerlao. In Thailand, there were so many delicious dishes to choose from, from all types of Pad, like pad Thai, Tom yum Koong, noodle soups, and others. By the way, Som Tum Thai is actually a version of Tum Mak Hoong (called Som Tum Lao in Thailand) that has been extremely popular among the ethnic Lao people in Laos and northeastern Thailand (Isaan) before it has become also so popular in other parts of Thailand.

    Reply
    • Thanks for your comment Pat! We wrote this article just before travelling to Laos and now see that this tasty yummy salad does in fact have its roots in the Laotian cuisine. There was quite a bit in Laos that is just so unknown internationally like the coffee and the lovely Beerlao too! It’s interesting that a lot of the people we’ve met here in Northeast Thailand are proud to be Thai but have roots in Laos via parents/grandparents but seemed to us a bit ashamed to admit it 🙁

      Reply
      • Dear Stepfan,
        As for your comment: “”…but seemed to us a bit ashamed to admit it.”” This is so true not just among Esan people in Thailand, but also among those Esan working/studying in western countries. I have the opportunity to look through the history of Laos to understand why the country has only about six millions people while its neighboring countries are so much more populated. As it turns out the then Lan Xang kingdom (former Laos from around 1300 to 1800), that included the Esan region, used to be bigger and prosperous. It was then attacked repeatedly by Siam, and by 1800 Vientiane was ransacked by the Siamese and many of the Lao people from the east side of the Mekong were forced to relocate at the west side and other parts of current Thailand, bringing with them Lao cultures and food, etc. Since 1950 and in particular since 1975 (when Laos became a communist country) there have been successful Thaiification and nationalism to the point that many people in Esan, especially the younger generation, don’t want to be associated with the Lao in Laos who have a lower standard of living. But this doesn’t prevent the general Thai from enjoying eating some Lao food that has become more and more popular in Thailand under the name Esan food, or Northeastern Thai food.

        Interesting writing about the cuisine of Laos:
        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lao_cuisine#cite_note-autogenerated2002-19

        Reply

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