Community Food: Thai Green Papaya Salad

Certain songs can you take you to an exact moment in your life. Smells can remind you of a person you loved. And tastes will have you traveling to an exotic journey you’ll always want to remember.

That’s exactly how I feel about Green Papaya Salad (Som Tam).

Adorned with a Thai theme at a monthly community dinner a few weeks ago, I couldn’t help but bring this tasty dish to share with some friends and colleagues.

I’d never experienced papaya salad prior to traveling to Thailand, but once I tasted it for the first time, I knew it was a treasure I would never forget. It’s a common Thai dish, one that you can easily find from street vendors and food carts all throughout Thailand and I’m sure your local Thai restaurant has it as well, you just may never have noticed it.

During out first experience with papaya salad, we were visiting a children’s shelter in Chaing Mai when lunch was being prepared. However, instead of lunch being prepared for us, all the ingredients were spread out on a table and we, one-by-one, created our own salad. Using a pestle and mortar, we smashed the chilies, beat the beans, and shaved the papaya.

It was an experience that always
be etched in my memory.

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Our lunch at the Children’s Shelter – Fried Rice with Papaya Salad

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When we returned home, we found all the necessary tools and ingredients to recreate this delicious salad. Ever since, it’s been a food we love to share with friends and family. We do our best to recreate the same “community through food” experience we had.

So, when my friend asked me to bring along spring rolls for our Thai dinner, I asked instead if I could bring papaya salad. And that’s exactly what I did.

Green Papaya Salad (Som Tam)

Ingredients

Cloves of garlic (1 bunch of garlic)
Red Chillies (to taste)
Shrimp Paste
Fish Sauce
Fresh Lime Juice  (get plenty of limes – about 5-6 for 2 or 3 servings)
Honey (Optional)
Tomatoes (2-3 large tomatoes or cherry grape tomatoes)
¾ Inch long yard beans (1 bunch – found at the Asian market)
Green Papaya – Shredded (The right tool is essential to shredding the papaya, if you don’t have one, here’s one on Amazon!)  Green papaya is usually only found at Asian markets
Peanuts – Chopped

This recipe is not an exact science as portion sizes vary along with your ability to handle heat. Personally, I prefer my salad without the red chillies as I believe it takes away from the other flavors. If you like spice, start off slowly – you can always add more, but what I find is that the papaya soaks up the heat and it really permeates the salad, so less is more!

Instructions: Grind garlic and chillies in a mortar. Add ½ tsp shrimp paste, 1 tablespoon fish sauce, 2 tablespoons lime juice. Mix well. Then add 2 cups shredded green papaya, 2-3 slices of tomatoes, and a handful ¾ inch long yard beans. Crush and mix lightly with pestle.

If you want more flavor – add more shrimp paste and fish sauce. I don’t think you can have too much shrimp paste in this dish.

Have each person take turns making their salad. Each salad can then be customized to their tastes, as well as a fun experience around the mortar and pestle.

Here’s a look into what I recreated for friends here, although my spread wasn’t quite as beautiful as the one in Thailand! 

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Our dinner - Massaman Curry and Papaya Salad
Our dinner – Massaman Curry and Papaya Salad

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