The abundance of fresh ingredients is ever-present in Thai cuisine. A popular Thai dish that showcases fresh vegetables is som tum Thai (ส้มตำไทย), or green papaya salad. This is one of our personal favorites and can be found anywhere in Thailand from restaurants to food stalls.
Som tum Thai is a fantastic raw Thai salad often made of shredded unripe papaya, sliced tomatoes, raw green beans, peanuts, crushed dried mini shrimp, and fresh garlic. Carrots and green or purple cabbage may be included and add a pop of color. A sweet, salty, tangy sauce made of sugar, lime juice, and fish sauce completes the dish. It can be easily altered by leaving out an ingredient or two (no shrimp for vegetarians), but don’t be afraid to try it in its original form.
Some Like Som Tum Hot!
Som tum Thai can be served quite spicy. Vendors typically have a bowl of hot chilies to add to the dish and the customer can request how many chilies they want. Don’t be afraid to make it spicy! It may take a little coaxing to get the vendors to put in more than one chili for Western customers. We like three! The word for chili is prik. If you don’t want any chilies, say Mai ao prik. (I don’t want chilies.)
There are several variations to this popular Thai salad including:
- Som tum bpoo is green papaya salad with whole baby salty crabs
- Som tum talae is seafood papaya salad and often has a mixture of shrimp, baby crab, squid, and mussels
- Som tum mamuang is green mango salad
How to Eat Som Tum
Som tum can be eaten by itself, but often sticky rice is available in small bags and served alongside. Take a ball of rice the size of a quarter, make a slight indent with your thumb, and use it to pinch or scoop up the papaya salad. We recommend eating som tum with sticky rice because it cools your mouth and allows you to mop up the sauce. We enjoy pairing it with skewers of grilled chicken.
Som tum is so popular and easy to make that it seems almost every family, restaurant, and food stall has their own special recipe. No matter where you are in Thailand, there’s bound to be delicious som tum close by.