Thursday, March 27, 2008

OUR CULINARY GEMS: Som Tam / Green Papaya Salad | ส้มตำ, ส้มตำลาว

Ahhh…*deep sigh* that heavenly Som Tam. Nothing in this world is quite like it.

For those aren’t familiareither because they’ve been to Jupiter for the past 200 years or just outright jealous that Thailand (and Laos!) has such heavenly gift…a Som Tam is a strong-spicy salad made with green papaya. It is sweet, it is salty, it is sour, it is healthy and most of all, it is hot… all mixed together is perfect harmony.

There are many kinds of it – the most famous are these 3 -- from different regions and alternates one ingredient. Som Tam Thai is from Central Thailand which uses dried shrimps and peanuts, Som Tam Lao from Laos which uses fermented fish sauce (like Trasi, Belacan, Prahok or Bagoong) and Som Tam Khoong from Northeast Thailand and Laos which uses preserved fresh-water crabs.

If you are buying from a street peddler… she will prepare it in front of you and don’t be surprised if the Som Tam lady reached out to you with her huge spoon... it means that you have to try it before she bags it for you. Which goes to show that this dish is “to taste" – you want it sweeter, more salty or whatever.

Please remember that the decision of making it hot, hotter or “hell” comes BEFORE the whole preparation. So make sure to tell her “mai phet” (not spicy) before she starts pounding like a bunny.

Imaginative tourists call it “Papaya Pok-pok” because it is prepared by pounding the ingredients together with a special wooden mortar – *“pok-pok-pok”, get it?* and this actually poses as a problem if we want to make the authentic version at home. But nevertheless, let us improvise if the wooden mortar isn’t available.

Here’s how to make the Thai version...

Preparation Time 10 mins
Cooking Time *hello! It’s a salad. Duh!*
Serving 1


¼ kl unripe green papaya, peeled and grated into long, thin strips
2 cherry tomatoes, quartered
2 strands long beans or French beans, cut into 2cm/ 1/2in pieces

1 clove garlic, peeled
4 green bird's-eye chilies
2tbsp palm sugar
3tbsp fish sauce
3tbsp fresh lemon or lime juice

3 tbsp dried shrimps
3 tbsp roasted peanuts


1. In a mortar (or a large hard plastic bowl), roughly pound the garlic and chilies. Add the beans and pound. Then the shrimps and pound again until crushed.

2. Add the sugar, fish sauce and lemon juice and stir together. Add the tomatoes
and press with the pestle.

3. Add the peanuts and the papaya and stir until well mixed in.

Best serve with sticky rice and barbecue chicken!



*Thanks to Koost and Adactio for the photos =)


Nam said...

Love the version that combines fermented fish sauce with the preserved crabs. This dish was the reason I visit MBK every weekend before. As a matter of fact, just had it at MBK last night. Yummy!

curbside_puppet said...

i think it's kind of familiar to the Filipino atchara, minus the bean sprouts and the spicyness.

Preya said...

Yumm! I am moving to Bangkok in July:) !!

Tayla said...

The hotter the better for this dish.

lawrence said...

I am soooo gonna try this dish at home!

lawrence said...


err... it's way too different from the Filipino atchara. well, the only similarity is that they both use unripe papaya.

Filipino atchara is PICKLED papaya. If I'm not mistaken, the main ingredients besides papaya include vinegar, sugar, carrots, ginger, and raisins.

diwatang_byaning said...

aroi mak! it is indeed very delish!!! specially the one's sold in the temple...

how's your songkran?

flip89 said...

It's a wonderful salad really. Many Thai restaurants carry it here in Chicago (why do they always have three shrimps?, not more, not less).

It's NOT achara but we do have a similar dish in some parts of the Philippines, but we don't grate the papaya and we use vinegar and a little bit of sugar for dressing and no other ingredients.

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