Thursday, October 18, 2012

Som tam - Thailand's Green papaya salad

Spicy green papaya salad or "som tam" is a typical Isaan or northeaster Thai dish - loved by locals for its delicious, refreshing spiciness. The dish is well know in neighboring Laos as 'tam mak hoong' and as 'bok l'hong' in Cambodia. 

Som Tam is listed as number 6 on World's 50 most delicious foods complied by CNN Go in 2011.

The spicy green papaya salad combines all for different tastes - sour (lime), spicy (dired chili), salty (fermented fish sauce) and sweetness (sugar and sometimes fruits).

All ingredients are chopped in pieces and added to a mortar where they are pounded and mixed - "som tam" translates as "sour pounded" while the Lao and Khmer name translates into pounded papaya.

As green papaya is used for the dish, the overall taste is rather sour than sweet with a lovely crispy and crunchy texture - a dish like heaven in the tropical climate of Southeast Asia...

It is not uncommon to be asked or offered to try a little in order to prepare the dish to your liking. While in central Thailand locals referred to the salad as "som tam Thai" or "som tam" in Laos or Isaan people use the term Lao. But careful - unlike "som tam Thai" - "som tam Lao or tam mak hoong" comes with an additional ingredient - fermented fish sauce - a taste of its own.

True lovers would not dare to eat this salad without fermented fish sauce, but for beginners the taste might be  strong and take a while to get familiar with to say the least...

While in Bangkok's restaurants customers will usually get "som tam Thai", in Bangkok's road it is better to expects it's Lao/Isaan variation - usually prepared by immigrants from upcountry. This traditional Lao/Isaan style green papaya salad is a good as it can get. Beware of chili's! Expect lots of them...


  • the most important one : fresh, raw and green papaya
Add to the papaya slices some or most of the following items, make sure you pound them well:
  • Chili
  • Sugar (traditionally palm sugar)
  • Garlic
  • Lime
  • Fish sauce
  • Crabs
  • Shrimp paste
  • Pla ra / padaek (fermented fish sauce)
  • Tomatoes
  • Yardlong beans
  • Hog Plums
  • Raw Thai eggplant

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