Thai green papaya salad, which in Thailand is known as as ‘som tam’ (ส้มตำ), is one of the most commonly available and most popularly consumed dishes in all of Thailand.
Originating in the northeastern part of Thailand (Isaan), bordering the country of Laos, the dish is a staple for the entire area. Nowadays, you’ll now find green papaya salad everywhere throughout Thailand, as well as on just about every street corner in the entire city of Bangkok.
In this recipe for Thai green papaya salad, you’ll learn how to make an authentic version of som tam, one that’s easy to make, and one that is sure to taste delicious.
Variations of Green Papaya Salad
Before we get started with the Thai green papaya salad, I want to quickly give you an overview of the different types of variety of green papaya salad available.
- Som tam Thai – This is one of the mildest versions, where the dressing is sweet and sour.
- Som tam boo pla ra – This is a very common version that uses fermented fish sauce and pickled crab in the recipe.
- Tam ba – Literally translates to ‘jungle salad,’ this salad includes all sorts of things, like freshwater snails, unripe Thai eggplant, and pickled bamboo shoots
- Tam sua – This version includes green papaya, fermented fish sauce, and rice noodles.
When you’re in Thailand, if you go to an Isaan restaurant or street food stall, you can choose to order whatever type of green papaya salad you prefer. But for this recipe, we’ll be making som tam Thai.
The dressing (palm sugar)
One of the main dressing ingredients for this Thai green papaya salad recipe is palm sugar which balances the sour lime juice of the dressing.
In Thailand you can get palm sugar in every local market very easily, and in countries throughout Europe and the USA, you should be able to find palm sugar at any Asian supermarket. Alternatively, you can even buy palm sugar on Amazon.
Freshly roasted peanuts are another one of the necessary ingredients when making Thai green papaya salad (som tam ส้มตำ).
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For the best taste, I like to get raw peanuts and roast them myself, so they have a nice fresh crunchiness to them.
However, you could always just use any kind of roasted peanuts for this recipe, just preferably roasted unsalted peanuts.
The green papaya
Finally, before we get into the main ingredients and step by step instructions for this Thai green papaya salad recipe, I just want to quickly go over the base ingredient you’ll need: green papaya.
When you think of a papaya, you might think of an orange colored fruit with little black seeds in the middle that’s extremely sweet.
But green papayas (which are literally papayas that are picked unripe, so they are hard and green), not only appear completely green, but they taste completely different. They almost have a neutral cucumber like flavor.
Although you could substitute a different ingredient for this Thai green papaya salad recipe, it’s really worth it to go out of your way to get a green papaya. It can’t be compared to anything for the texture. And again, I have seen green papayas available at Asian supermarkets throughout the US.
To prepare the green papaya, first you want to peel off the outer dark green skin. Then either using something like a cheese grater, or chopping it manually with a knife (see the method in the video), you want to julienne your green papaya.
Method of preparation
Since this is a salad, you don’t need to cook it. However, you do need to pound it.
Using either a clay mortar and pestle (I used one like this in the video), or a wooden mortar, first pound the garlic and chilies, mix in the seasonings, and finally add the green papaya. You don’t need to pound it very hard, but it’s more of a mash and mix motion.
Alternatively if you don’t have a mortar and pestle, you can mix all the ingredients in a big bowl.
(If you can’t see the video, watch it here: http://youtu.be/b9bGSSsfaCw)
Thai green papaya salad recipe
Prep time: About 30 minutes or less – no cooking is involved
Recipe size: 1 big plate
Utensils: wooden mortar and pestle (but if you don’t have this, you can always just use a nice metal or glass bowl and a spoon), cutting board, knife
Flavors: Fresh and crisp, spicy, sour and sweet
Eat it with: Normally Thai sticky rice, and possibly some Thai grilled chicken or larb
Just like all of the Thai recipes, the ingredients listed (and the quantities) are a guide – it’s what I used – but make sure you use it loosely. Thai food is made to taste the way you want it to, so make sure you balance out the flavors to your specific liking.
- 2 cloves of garlic
- 5 Thai chillies (up to you how many depending on how spicy you want it)
- 2 tablespoons shelled roasted peanuts
- 1 tablespoon fish sauce
- ½ - 1 tablespoon palm sugar (can also substitute brown sugar)
- 1 - 2 limes (I used about 2, but I like things pretty sour)
- 1 tablespoon of dried shrimp (optional)
- 1 - 2 small tomatoes (the som tam tomatoes in Thailand are different from regular tomatoes - they are known as sida tomatoes, but you could use just 1 roma tomato)
- 1 big handful of slivered green papaya (depending on the size of your papaya, I used only about ⅓ of my papaya in this recipe, but papayas come in many different sizes and shapes)
- Long-beans or green beans
- Green cabbage
- Thai sweet basil
- More roasted peanuts
- After washing the green papaya, peel off the skin using a carrot peeler (or a knife will do as well). You can then either use a cheese grater to shave the papaya, or you can do it the traditional way and hack at the papaya with your knife until there are numerous vertical cuts, then shave off the top layer into thin slivers, and repeat. I like the traditional method as you get bigger, un-even, pieces of green papaya. Cut enough green papaya to have a big handful worth for this recipe.
- Add 2 cloves of peeled garlic and 5 chillies (or however many you like) to the mortar (krok). Pound them for a few seconds until the garlic is crushed and chilies are reduced to small bits.
- Add ½ tablespoon of palm sugar, 1 tablespoon of fish sauce, and then squeeze the juice from 1 - 2 limes into the mortar. You can always start with less seasoning and add more to your liking.
- Mix and pound the dressing, making sure the palm sugar gets fully dissolved into the liquid (so no one bites into a chunk of pure palm sugar).
- Add about 1 tablespoon of roasted peanuts (no need to measure, just grab some with your hand), 1 tablespoon of dried shrimp, and then roughly slice in the tomatoes into the mortar.
- Pound the mixture for about 30 seconds, lightly breaking up the tomatoes, shrimp, and peanuts. No need to pound too hard.
- Last step is to toss in a big handful of the green papaya shavings. Mix it all together, doing a combination of using just a spoon and pounding lightly, but no need to pound hard. Make sure the dressing is coating all the green papaya and that the salad is evenly mixed through and through.
Dish out the green papaya salad onto a plate, and I like to then sprinkle another small handful of roasted peanuts on top.
Garnish your green papaya salad with pieces of raw Chinese long-beans or green beans and a wedge of cabbage.
In Thailand, som tam is eaten with Thai sticky rice. You can grab a small ball of sticky rice in your fingers, dip it into the green papaya salad dressing, and then pop it in your mouth.
As long as you can get your hands on a green papaya, this Thai green papaya salad recipe is easy to make, and tastes incredibly good.