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Som tam (sallad)

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Som tam is a spicy salad made form shredded unripe (green) papaya. It is believed to be of Lao origin, but is nowadays eaten throughout South-east Asia – including Thailand. The dish is known under various names, with som tam being the Thai name.

Som tam is both sour, sweet, salty, hot and savory. Since the papaya isn’t ripe, this is not an overly sweet salad – the sweetness comes only from the palm sugar and the tomatoes. Unripe papaya has a slightly tangy flavour and its texture is crisp and firm.

In Thailand, som tam is sometimes eaten together with sticky rice. Grab some rice between your fingers and dip it into the salad dressing before popping it into your mouth.

Som tam recipe

Ingredients (1 serving)

  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • 5 Thai chilli peppers
  • 1 tablespoon fish sauce
  • 1 tablespoon palm sugar or brown sugar
  • 1 lime
  • 2 tablespoons peanuts, shelled and roasted
  • 1 tablespoon of dried shrimp
  • 2 tomatoes (or 1 roma tomato)
  • Green papaya, enough to make 1 big handful of slivered papaya

To garnish

  • Long-beans or green beans
  • Green cabbage, wedged
  • Thai sweet basil
  • More peanuts, shelled and roasted


  1. Wash the papaya and peel off the skin.
  2. Use a knife to make numerous vertical cuts, before shaving off the top layer into thin slivers, and repeat. In Thailand, this salad is usually made from fairly large and uneven slivers.

    Since the size of papayas vary greatly, it is difficult to say how much of the papaya you will need. Your goal should be to end up with generous handful of slivered papaya.

  3. Place garlic and chilli pepper in a mortar  or sturdy bowl and pound them until the garlic is crushed and the chilli peppers have been reduced to small pieces.
  4. Add sugar and fish sauce to the mortar, and squeeze over the juice from the lime fruit. Pound and mix to make a salad dressing. You will need to pound for a while to make sure that all sugar is dissolved.
  5. Add roughly 1 tablespoon of peanuts to the mortar. Add the dried shrimp. Pound together.
  6. Slice the tomatoes and add them to the mortar. Pound gently until the tomatoes are lightly broken up.
  7. Add the papaya slivers to the mortar. Use a spoon to mix all ingredients together, while making sure that all the papaya is coated in dressing.

    If you don’t have a large enough mortar, use a sturdy bowl instead.

  8. Place the salad on a plate. Sprinkle the other tablespoon of peanuts on top of the salad.
  9. Add the garnish right before serving.