Learning How to Make Thai Papaya Salad (Som Tam)

Growing up there’s always one thing I look forward to in April, and that’s Cambodian and Thai New Year. Temples are filled with food stalls selling a variety of street food, and the one food I look forward to the most is Papaya Salad. I grew up with authentic Thai Papaya Salad after living near a Thai Temple for majority of my childhood. One thing that always surprises the elders is that my sister and I would order our papaya salad with everything in it, including the salted crab. This salad is sweet, sour, spicy, and savory, which is perfect for spring and summer. So to celebrate the upcoming New Year, I’ll be sharing my attempt in making a Thai Papaya Salad – the nontraditional way. Please note this is not a recipe post, since I’m still learning how to make this dish. It’s not perfect, but hey, practice makes perfect.

Before preparing the ingredients, I shredded a unripe green papaya using a papaya peeler. Make sure your papaya is very green because any hint of yellow or pale green means that your papaya is ripen. Unripe papaya also has a long list of health benefits such as aiding digestion and increasing your metabolism. After, I got out some Thai red chili peppers, garlic, tomatoes, and lime. I wanted to add more Thai Chili, but mom thought it would be too spicy.

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I’m cheating a bit for the sauce, but I’m using this Som Tam sauce (image below: left) that you can find in your local Thai grocery market. This sauce listed tamarind and fish sauce as part of the ingredients, but I feel that it’s not strong enough so I added more tamarind paste (image below: right), and a bit of fish sauce into this salad.

 

I’ll be using a large clay mortar (about 9″ in diameter) and pestle to combine all the ingredients. First pound the garlic and chilies. After, I mix in the sauces.

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Next, I mixed in the shredded green papaya. From watching my mom, and the elders at the temple, I noticed that you pound while using a large spoon in the other hand to help toss the salad. By the way, this was a very good arm workout haha.

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Lastly, I add in tomatoes. I was trying to find some long green beans, but we didn’t have any in the fridge. My dad passed by and (made me) add in some chopped dried baby shrimp. My dad wanted me to add roasted peanuts, but I really didn’t want it in the dish haha.

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Well, this was my attempt at making Thai Papaya Salad. Papaya Salad is great on its own, but in our family we love eating it with fried chicken or fried tofu. One day, I hope to make it just as good as the one I buy at the temple.

– Cindy

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