The green papaya tastes nothing like ripe papaya, and the tangy flavour mixed in with the salty, spicy ingredients create a culinary balance.
Som Tam as it is called in Thailand, is believed to have originated from Laos but variations of this dish are found throughout Vietnam, Cambodia and is now considered one of Thailand's national dishes. The name Som Tam literally means sour pounded, giving you an idea of the general taste of this dish. In each region in Thailand, Som Tam or Som Tum is prepared with subtle differences. The most well known Green Papaya Salad in Thailand, is the version from Isan, the Northeastern region, which has the fermented crab or fermented fish paste ingredient.
Whilst restaurants offer this salad, the best place to try an authentic Som Tam is in the streets of Bangkok in the Soi Ari neighbourhood. Ask your accommodation in Bangkok about the street cart off Phaholyothin Soi 7 and they should be able to point you in the right direction. If street food is not for you, on the sidewalk of Silom 9 is a popular Isan street food restaurant where you'll find a great fresh Som Tum. What if you're not in Bangkok? If you're staying in one of the villas in Phuket there is a restaurant on Sai Yuan which serves a very spicy but delicious Green Papaya Salad. This dish is best with sticky rice or cold rice noodles. It is quite spicy so the rice balances out the heat a bit.
If you're not in Thailand, here's a Green Papaya Salad recipe that is suited for a first time taste of this tangy, spicy, crunchy delight:
5 Cherry Tomatoes
1 tablespoon dried shrimp
1 1/2 tablespoons fish sauce
1 clove garlic
6 green beans
2 cups shredded green papaya
juice of 1/2 lime
1 1/2 tablespoons Palm Sugar
2 tablespoons toasted peanuts
1. In a ceramic mortar & pestle, pound garlic and chilies until mashed up.
2. Add the long beans and crush the beans into the garlic and chilli.
3. Add some of the papaya, this helps mix the garlic & chilies. Continue pounding and crushing ingredients.
4. Add the palm sugar, fish sauce and pound more. Make sure everything is well mixed.
5. Add the tomato, chopped into large pieces. Pound the tomatoes to mix with the rest of the ingredients.
6. Add the lime juice, dried shrimp and the rest of the papaya. Pound about 10-15 times while mixing with a spoon. The purpose is to evenly coat the papaya with the juices while pounding the flavor into the papaya, but don’t pound so hard that the papaya disintegrates.
7. Add the peanuts, mix and serve.