Green Papaya Salad

Green Papaya Salad

Green Papaya Salad, or Som Tam (sometimes written Som Tum), is a very common dish eaten throughout Thailand. It originates in Laos/Issan, but now the whole country enjoys it. This version does not add fermented crab or fermented fish paste (plaa-raa) which is common in Issan. Feel free to add that if you want! This dish is easily made vegetarian by omitting the dried shrimp, and substituting salt for the fish sauce.

Directions

  1. First prepare the papaya by peeling the dark green skin. Then, hold the papaya in your hand, and smack the fruit lengthwise with a good sized knife. You want to create 1/2″ or so deep cuts into the fruit. Do this over and over until you’ve created a good amount of cuts. Watch your fingers! Then, cut the papaya lengthwise to produce long strips. You can also buy tools which can create long shreds, or even use a cheese grater (the big holes). Thai people use the knife method though!
  2. In a ceramic mortar & pestle, add the whole garlic cloves and chilies. Pound with the pestle a few times to mash, then add the long beans.
  3. Pound a few more times, and add a pinch of papaya. This helps mix the garlic & chilies. Pound some more.
  4. Add the palm sugar, fish sauce or salt and pound more. Make sure everything is well mixed.
  5. Add the tomato, chopped into large pieces. Pound more, but not as hard. Add the lime juice, dried shrimp and the rest of the papaya. Pound about 10-15 times while mixing with a spoon. You want 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. Add the peanuts, mix and serve.

Note:

Don't pound the papaya too hard. You want to gently bruise the fruit, not smash it into bits or make it soggy. The papaya should be crunchy. You need to use a special ceramic mortar & pestle for making this dish. Using the stone variety will over-pound your papaya.

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Ingredients: What You'll Need

Smack

Smack lengthwise until you've shredded it

Slice

Slice thinly to create strips

Correct Size

Your papaya should look kinda like this

53 Responses to “Green Papaya Salad”

  1. T.C says:

    thank’s for this, I was looking for a good way do make this recipe,
    now it’s fine

    bon appetit !

  2. Shruti says:

    Which is the best brand for fish sauce ? Palm sugar is very hard…how do I use it?

  3. cee says:

    I recommend ‘Oyster Brand’ and ‘Squid Brand’ fish sauces. You can read more about fish sauce here: Fish Sauce in the Glossary.

    For the Palm Sugar, I’m assuming you’ve got round disks which are all dried out. You could try adding a bit of water and microwaving them for about 10 seconds to soften them up. Or you could hack them apart with a knife, or smash them with the butt of the knife. I recommend buying Palm Sugar in a plastic jar, with a red screw-on lid if you can find it. It has a layer of wax on the top which needs to be cracked off before eating. It’s soft enough to spoon out and easier to work with.

    Good luck

  4. Maddy says:

    This was utterly delicious – the vegetarian version was fresh and complex, a lovely recipe, and I look forward to making it again.
    What I would find really helpful is a display of how to cut the green papaya. Even though an explanation is given, I couldn’t quite visualize it. I ended up using a cheese grater, which was perfectly adequate, but next time I would like to be as authentic as possible.

    Shruti – I pounded up a big serve of the palm sugar in a mortar and pestle before I started cooking the 3 dishes I made in one go, and then it was ready to measure accurately for all the recipes. I have the leftover powder in a small, sealed container for next time.

    Thanks very much for this vego-friendly website!

    • Dana says:

      Preparing papaya as described is almost an art form and is the oriental version of Juliann (sp) slicing.

      Hold the fruit in the palm of your hand facing lengthwise and perpendicular to your body. In the other hand holding a long kitchen knife and make repetitive chopping strokes on the fruit with sufficient force to create a quarter inch cut in the fruit.

      After approximately 15 such cuts, you then turn the knife flat to the fruit and slice lengthwise creating Juliann slices.

      When you’ve reached the end of the vertical cuts in the fruit, repeat the process as many times as necessary to exhaust either the fruit, your patience or both.

      Gadget minded as I am, I purchased a hand held Juliann slicer to satisfy my appetite for this dish.

  5. Luke says:

    I don’t get it, the website says REAL thai food and there you go substituting salt for fish sauce. There isn’t a vegetarian option if you want to be REAL authentic. This is how flavors get washed out and traditional food mucked around with. Also what small thai chillis? be specific and say ‘Bird’s eye chillis’ or the thai ‘prik kee nee suan’

    Still its great that everyone is getting addicted to chilli heat! Try a Lao Som Tam, if you can get hold of any ‘pla raa’

    Maddy to cut a green papaya see this video http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JVO6S7bYAkg

  6. Luke says:

    this is actually more suitable and accurately goes into chopping the papaya. There is also now a ‘julienne’ peeler that makes uniform long slivers and is a lot safer, still authentic as it is used for green mangoes in thailand.

  7. Thai says:

    Hi, I’m a Thai living in Bangkok. In response to Luke, substituting salt for fish sauce is as authentic Thai. There is a good number of Buddhist vegetarian in Thailand who still enjoy Som Tum. They do use salt and/or soy sauce as substitution. As for small thai chillies, ‘prik kee “noo” suan’ (translates to “garden rat shit chilli”) not ‘prik kee “nee” suan’ (translates to “run away garden chilli” in a coward kinda sense), come in various sizes depends on varieties. In my experience, the smallest chillis doesn’t mean the spiciest although that’s usually the case.

    To cut papaya for Som Tum, I prefer the traditional way of doing it which is using a knife. “Julienne” is “western” style of cutting and is not quite authentic to Thai cooking technique. The Julienne tool is usually not sharp enough and tends to bruise the fruit. It also sometimes doesn’t cut correctly and causes the cuts to come out in big sheets. If you like authentic Thai texture in Som Tum, I recommend sticking to the traditional way of cutting. It’s fun and authentic!!!

    To the site owner: Great job with the recipes! The site looks great and keep up with good work!

  8. [...] and Laos version. (And yet all this while I only know it as Thai food..haha!) I found the recipe of Som Tam here at Real Thai [...]

  9. cee says:

    Luke –
    The fact that this site is in English means that it’s meant for foreigners to learn Thai cooking. I know many foreigners are vegetarians, including a lot of my friends, so I’m making it easy for them to adopt the recipes, yet retain a lot of the correct flavor. I’m not in any way ‘white-washing’ the recipes, I’m simply doing what Thai Buddhist vegetarians would do. (Not what Chinese Buddhist vegetarians would do, which is to also nix the garlic. Yuck.) The aim of this site is to be as authentic as possible, which is why I learn how to cook these dishes from Thai people themselves, and have Thai people here in Bangkok taste-test them before I put them up.

    And regarding the chili comment — if you clicked on the link in the recipe where it says “small Thai chili” you’d see that there is not only a picture and description, but also the Thai name (and yes, it’s nuu not nee). I’m not going to use ‘birds eye chilies’ since that’s not the Thai translation of the name, and there seem to be many English names for them. Instead I’m just calling them by their size and showing a picture.

    As for the peeler being authentic, I know they’re produced in Thailand, but I’ve only seen them for sale in Asian markets outside the country, and have never seen anyone using them here in Thailand.

    Maddy –
    I’ve uploaded three pictures of the papaya cutting technique. My friend P-Mala modeled for you. :)

    PS: I can’t check the youtube video, since youtube is blocked from Thailand. Whee!

  10. Maddy says:

    Ahhhhhhhhhh, now I get it.
    And that is a mighty fine green papaya – mine was about 1/3 the size!

  11. dai ma says:

    thanks cee, i made this salad, but i use shrimp paste instead of fish sauce, i don’t know why i did this.

  12. cee says:

    Dai Ma –
    Next time use fish sauce (naam plaa) or fish paste (plaa raa). Shrimp paste is not supposed to be put into Som Tum!

  13. K says:

    Fantastic recipe, and so easy! Thanks for posting this. I’ve been looking everywhere for a decent som tum recipe so that I can finally make it at home instead of trekking out to the one restaurant in town that serves it. :D

  14. [...] Thai restaurants use regular broccoli in pad see ew…) and a delicate soy-based sauce.  Their som tam (green papaya salad) is transcendent and will make you question the reason that you ever used [...]

  15. Fay says:

    Yeah,you have got alot of good information thanks alot.I’ve been looking for some reicipe to send to my teacher.Thanks again.

  16. Fay says:

    And Hey “Cee” Shrimp paste is “klapi” not “pla raa”.”Pla raa” is fermented fish isn’t it.

  17. cee says:

    Fay-
    Yes, shrimp paste is “kapi”. “Plaa raa” is a fermented fish paste which is used in Laos and Northeastern (Issan) Thailand. You don’t put shrimp paste in this dish, but you can put either fish sauce (naam plaa) or fish paste (plaa raa) depending on what style you want (Thai or Issan).

  18. kay says:

    hi,
    i’ve made som tum all of my life and depends on my mood. i like to shred my the traditional way because it gives it a much more “crunch” and “texture” to it. i make my papaya salad in a different way such as sweet and sour spicy taste and add long beans to it as a mix ( you must pound the long bean first) along with a little crab/ pla ra taste (laos and Isan version) you can add dried salty shrimps, peanuts, small thai eggplants ( i prefer not to add the seeds of the eggplant, but the outer part of it) . the taste and what you want to add in your papaya salad depends on the preference of the individual. i hope you guys enjoy your papaya salad.

    by the way, for vegetarians, this is the recipe i used to make for my veg friends(in my opinion): shred papaya, salt, thai chili peppers,palm sugar (or just sugar) , lemon, peanuts (if you want), and tomatoes.

    you can make just long beans this way too. taste great!

  19. kay says:

    by the way, i forgot to add.( this is not the veg recipe)from what i know, some lao version and issan do use shrimp paste , but just depends on the way you want it to taste. there are just different method on how to do your own papaya salad so play with it and find your taste niche for it. enjoy!

  20. RobAtYonok says:

    I have seen many a vendor in the North using a julienne tool, though I never thought to look closely. On my last visit I bought something at a market in Lampang — a kind of crude tool composed of 5 sharp-rimmed cylinders stuck into slots at the end of a stick that was then bound with a metal girdle. It made great som tam about five times but the cylinders are now coming out. :( I guess I’ll try the knife method but I’m afraid I may end up in the emergency room.

  21. david says:

    one thing to keep in mind this dish is made without any measureing tools!!! this is and most thai/isaan food is a to taste affair no 2 thais will make it the same so once you get the basics down experiment have fun and dont forget a taster spoon !!

  22. [...] julienned carrot, zucchini and mung bean sprouts instead. I found a fantastic recipe for the salad here although you can google it and they are all pretty much the same. I have to say, it was a delicious [...]

  23. Smukke says:

    Yum,yum! This has been delicious! I have left the prawns out and added a bit of Tamarind and it was just how I remembered it – can’t believe I have waited so long trying for myself. The most difficult bit is finding green papaya in Britain – green mango might be easier, will try this next time. Oh, I feel myself getting addicted again…but have been too mean to splurge out £5+ in Thai restaurants in Britain! Thank you!

  24. mai says:

    oh by the way my mum is a great thai chef prob one of the best overall compared to those in england. she is thai and said you can use shrimp paste in som dam along with fish source as well and it taste very nice to add an extra taste to it if you have not got brined crab or bla la if you dont want to make som tam in that style!. but appretaite your recipes for others to enjoy :)

  25. jennyccy says:

    It look really easy to make this recipe. I like thai food very much and I will try this at home. Thanks.

  26. Neil says:

    If you can’t find green papaya may I recommend about 3/4 of an english cucumber (or a full american cucumber, seeded). I used a mandoline to shred them and they come out a perfect size. After slicing/shredding let them sit in a colander for a few minutes to drain any excess water, then pat dry with a paper towel.

    I know, its not authentic, but its pretty darn close, tastes fantastic, and doesn’t require a special trip to the asian market.

  27. cee says:

    Neil-

    It actually is pretty authentic! It’s common to see “som tam daeng gwaa” (or just “tam daeng”) on the menu up in Northeast Thailand (Issan). Usually it’s got a hard boiled egg in there too. Yum!

    • Chawin says:

      I like your site and have recommended it to my foreign friends who like to try cooking Thai food. I spent quite a lot of time seeking a good site offering authentic Thai recipes written in English.

      By the way your comment about having “Tam Daeng” with boiled eggs really makes me smile. :) You know Thai food very well!

  28. LP says:

    I’m a som tam addict & eat it about 3 times a week. I actually get cravings for it, which might be because it’s so packed full of nutrients as well as being so tasty. The lady that I go to makes it vegetarian for me with light soy sauce instead of fish sauce & I’ve seen (Thai) locals ask for it vegetarian too. She knows now how many chillis to put in it for me.
    Cee, can I ask what the strange weed-like vegetables are that she gives me to eat with it? I don’t like them & usually say no thanks if I’m paying attention and just have the long beans & white cabbage that goes in the bag too.
    Some people might find it useful to know that people often eat sticky rice (khao niaow) with som tam, which is good cos if you have a plate that’s too spicy the rice will cool down your tongue. Also grilled barbecued meat or fish is usually served with it – so that could be a good dinner party menu…?

    • cee says:

      lp-  i’m guessing those weed veggies you speak of are thai water spinach (not the chinese kind you see stir fried). usually they give me long beans and white cabbage only, but there are a bunch of other veggies which you get too. if that’s not it, maybe take a picture next time and i can i.d. it for you!

  29. Darren Gaskell says:

    I have eaten this many times in English Thai restaurants and it never tastes the same as in Thailand, I understand the reasons for this, freshness of hrebs etc… but when I try to make it at home the papaya is always ripened and is difficult to cut. I have asked the Asian fppd store if they ever get unripened papaya, but it is costly. I have heard people say to use white cabbage, carrot, cucumber, suede. What is the best subsitute for unripe papaya.
    Great site and some really helpful comments.

    Kindest Regards
    Darren

    • Som Tam says:

      If I absolutely had to substitute papaya, which I can’t imagine anyone wanting to do, I’d go with green mango or jicama or chayote.

  30. Som Tam says:

    If I absolutely had to substitute papaya, which I can’t imagine anyone wanting to do, I’d go with green mango or jicama or chayote.

  31. Som Tam says:

    P.S. Details:
    en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chayote#Asia
    http://www.wisegeek.com/what-is-jicama.htm
    en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jicama#Spread_to_Asia

  32. alch says:

    But aren’t green beans slightly poisonous if you eat them raw (rather than cooking them)?

    • cee says:

      I’ve never heard of such a thing. People (including me!) eat these raw all the time in Thailand and they’re fine. Perhaps it’s another vegetable which you are confusing with this one?

    • Nicole says:

      Some dried beans are slightly toxic if not cooked at a high enough temperature – kidney beans in particular can give you a miserable couple of hours. Maybe that’s what you’re thinking of?

  33. alch says:

    Do you add the chilies in one piece, or chop them up first?

  34. That is a wonderful recipe. I love Thai Papaya Salad!

  35. Uanlin says:

    I hate America. You can’t find palm sugar and shrimp paste.

  36. Jane says:

    I live in the US a small Southern city and I can find both of those items. Granted there are other things I have to order off the internet, but the Korean and Chinese groceries here keep both of those items in stock. Palm sugar can also be found in our Indian grocery and our Caribbean grocery. You must live in the middle of nowhere. I thought where I live is the middle of nowhere, but you have proved me wrong. I feel for you. Buy what you need off the internet. Reserve your hate for something that makes some sort of sense.

  37. Uanlin says:

    @Jane

    I don’t purchase food on the Internet, and neither should anyone else.

    I finally managed to locate a Korean and Indian stores to buy shrimp paste and palm sugar, respectively. Having a luxury of browsing over 2 dozen types of shrimp paste bottles was a delight.

    The chili garlic sauce I augmented to my Sum Tom made it extremely spicy to the point that my parents had to run to the restroom to wash their mouth. After a while of coating their mouth with yogurt and bread, they raised the white flags. Although I had to suck it up and finish the bowl of salad with my entire face going numb. After consumption, my entire digestive system feels very refreshed. I think my body just burnt 1,000 cal. to fight the chili.

    I gotta pay more attention in selecting my Green Papaya. But now I know how to get the spiciness down a notch or 10. Other than that, my recipe, which does not follow the portion on this post, was almost perfect.

    P.S. When I referred to “America”, I meant American grocery stores; it’s almost impossible to find anything other than what it is mass-produced by one of the top 5 food companies.

  38. judy f says:

    Just picked up about 15 green papayas in the yard here in Miami – the tree broke! So I’m looking very forward to making papaya salad – my son has a peanut allergy so I make most Asian dishes at home. I have a question – so may sites say green papaya must be cooked due to the latex content – I’ve eaten this salad in restaurants, and had no issues with the latex content myself. Can someone please explain what the issue is?

    • cee says:

      Hi Judy,
      I’ve never heard of anyone cooking green papaya, nor have I ever heard of any problems with latex(?). Totally confused here. S.E. Asians have been eating green papaya uncooked for hundreds of years with no problems.

  39. Angela says:

    My friend makes somtum with shredded carrots. It is so awesome. It has been a great substitute for green papaya. So delicious!

  40. foodtaster says:

    Laos was where green papaya salad originated from. It did not originate in Isaan as this region was under Lao rule for hundreds of years and so naturally the people who live in Isaan Thailand incorporated many Lao dishes with green papaya salad being one of them. Thanks to Laos and the ingenuity of the Lao people for having created such a delicious salad, green papaya salad is now enjoyed throughout Southeast since several countries including Thailand and Vietnam have Laos as a common neighbor. Green papaya salad originated in Laos.

  41. Isabel says:

    Many thanks! I’m a Vietnamese vegan and I used soya sauce instead of fish sauce. It turned out great!

  42. will e says:

    I have had what you decribe in Donglane near Roiet. I was called,”Papaya Pok Pok”. Said like Papa ya Pock Pock. It was very hot!!! It took me several small bites mixed with rice until I adjusted to the heat. (And, I like heat!!)
    I hope you can find this enjoyable.

    • cee says:

      Papaya Pok Pok is the colloquial term for Som Tum, heard most often in Issan (NE Thailand). “Pok Pok” is the sound of the pestle hitting the mortar :)