What is Som Tam?
Thai Green Papaya Salad (Som Tam) is a traditional Thai staple food. Not only does this mean that the Thai eat this popular street food in large quantities, it also means that when you travel to Thailand you will find this traditional Thai street food at basically every street food stall you will come across.
Luckily there is no need to travel to Thailand for this traditional dish that perfectly balances sweet, sour, spicy and salty fragrances. In this blog we will take you step by step into making your very own Thai green papaya salad in only 20 minutes.
We made lots of green papaya salads when living in Thailand for a couple of months and found it to be as easy as it is tasty.
For 1 serving
Truth be told: not all papaya salads are vegan. There are traditional variations of the Thai Green Papaya Salad that include shrimps or snails. Som Tam doesn’t, but most street food chefs will use fish sauce for the dressing. Simply ask them to replace it with soy sauce — as we will do in this recipe.
- 1 large handful of chopped up green papaya (or replace with cucumber)
- 2 cloves of garlic
- 2 red chillies
- 1 tablespoon of palm sugar (or replace with brown sugar)
- 2 limes
- 2 sida pink tomatoes (or replace with one big roma tomato)
- 1 tablespoon of soy sauce
- A handful of roasted peanuts
- Chinese long beans
- Chinese cabbage
- Thai sweet basil
- A mortar and pestle (or substitute with big bowl and firm spoon)
- A sharp, big knife
- A peeler (optional)
- A kitchen machine or grater (optional)
Where to find green papaya and how to replace it
A green papaya is the younger variation of the well-known orange fruit with the sweet, rich taste and the little black seeds in the middle.
Green papayas are picked while the fruit is still unripe. Taste wise they have very little in common with the orange papayas, but you can recognize them by their shape and their characteristic, round seeds.
In Thailand (as well as in Laos, where green papaya salad is a staple food as well) you will have no trouble at all finding young papayas. In other parts of the world the situation might be slightly different, though you should be able to find green papaya in an Asian supermarket.
Optional: replace green papaya with cucumber
We in Thailand had “green papaya” salads that had all the ingredients but one: green papaya. Thai make the same sort of dish using cucumber. The taste of a cucumber is less neutral than the taste of a green papaya, and the structure is less firm, but if you ask us the idea of the dish stays perfectly intact.
About sida pink tomatoes
The kind of tomatoes the Thai use for their green papaya salad, is typically the sida pink tomato — the most popular salad tomato in Thailand. The tomatoes are red, but lean towards pink and can be a little greenish, even when they are perfectly ripe. Sida pink tomatoes are very juicy and have a very full and sweet taste.
If you are not able to get sida pink tomatoes where you live – and you have no interest whatsoever in growing them yourself – you can replace two sida pink tomatoes by using one large roma tomato.
Buy freshly roasted peanuts or roast them yourself
You can use any type of peanuts, but the freshly roasted ones complete the Thai green papaya salad best.
As you can see in our ingredients picture, we were lazy — we bought them already made. At the time of writing we were in Thailand and here you can buy the fresh, roasted kind on any food market.
If you don’t have that luxury, just buy some unsalted, unroasted peanuts and roast them in a frying pan on high fire until they are fragrant and you see small brown spots. This will only take you a couple of minutes.
How to make Som Tam
Prep: 20 min. | Cook: 0 min. | Total: 20 min.
- Wash the green papaya and use a peeler to skin it if you have one. If not, just use whatever normal knife you like.
- Shred the green papaya to very small pieces. If you have a kitchen machine, you are a lucky bastard. If not, you can use a grater. Or you can simply do it the traditional way.
This means: make vertical cuts in the green papaya at the top. Then shave off the top into thin layers. Repeat this movement until you have enough shredded papaya. You want your green papaya to be julienne when you’re done with it. For one person a big handful should do.
- Take 2 cloves of garlic and 2 chilies (take less and / or remove seeds if you don’t like spicy food) and put them into a mortar. If you don’t have a mortar and pestle, you can use a bowl and a spoon. Crush the garlic and the chilies until they are pounded into small bits.
- Cut 2 limes into 4 pieces each. Put the pieces (leave the skin on) into the mortar together with 1 tablespoon of soy sauce and 1 tablespoon of palm sugar.
- Mix and pound the dressing until there are no chunks of palm sugar left.
- Slice the tomatoes into pieces and put the tomato pieces into the mortar, together with one tablespoon of roasted peanuts.
- Pound the dressing, the tomatoes and the roasted peanuts carefully, slightly breaking up the tomatoes, but not pounding everything into mush – your goal is to bring out and mix the flavors.
- Put a big handful of the green papaya shavings into the mortar or bowl and toss and mix until you are sure the dressing covers every single last bit of the green papaya. This way the flavours can really soak into the green papaya choppings.
- Garnish with some raw Chinese long beans, some raw Chinese cabbage, a dash of Thai sweet basil and some more peanuts to top it off.
Pro-tip: always make more! Thai green papaya salad will only get better overnight in your fridge.
Pro-tip 2: how intense you like each flavor maker (chili, garlic, lime and sugar) to be, is very personal. If you like spicy, put more chili. If you like sour, put more lime. If you like sweet … well, you get the picture. It’s chef’s choice! As that is exactly the way it is on the Thai street food markets.
How to serve Som Tam
- Serve the Thai Green Papaya salad with rice.
- If you want to go full-in Thai, eat it with sticky rice. Traditionally the Thai take chunks of sticky rice and dip it in the dressing of the green papaya salad.
- We like Som Tam as a side dish as well. Maybe combine it with some Pad Makua Yao (Thai stir-fried Eggplant) or Thai Pineapple Fried Rice.
More traditional vegan Thai recipes? Take a look the ones we’ve collected so far.
Recipe: Som Tam (Thai Green Papaya Salad)
Prep time: 20 min.
Cook time: 0 min.
Total time: 20 min.
Ingredients: green papaya, tomatoes, garlic, red chili, palm sugar, soy sauce, lime, roasted peanuts
Categories: main dish, side dish
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We are curious: did you make Som Tam? Did you find a young green papaya or did you replace it with cucumber? Let us know! And do you maybe have another favorite Thai dish that is traditionally vegan?