Som Tam (Thai Papaya Salad)
Thai food. How do you describe Thai food? I would just simply say sweet, sour, and spicy! It’s a cuisine that is full of flavours, good use of ingredients and always never too complicated. I know I probably have mentioned this too many times but I am really glad that I have been brought up in a society that has allowed me to taste different cuisines without having to travel too far!
There’s one Thai restaurant in my hometown, that I always make sure I go when I travel back to Malaysia. It is very well-known amongst the locals and through word of mouth, many people travel from far to dine there. It’s just a basic restaurant without much deco that offers authentic Thai food. When I say authentic, I mean the food is like what a real Thai loves! There were 3 chefs, all Thai-Malaysian women, operated and owned by a Thai family. There’s absolutely no shortcut in preparing their dishes. No written menu is given, it’s always spelt out verbally. The ordering process always starts like this ‘what are the specials for the day’? We will see what we fancy for that day – chicken? vegs? fish? seafood? starters or no starers? Then, the waitress will tell us what they have for that day and how they will be cooked.
One thing that I don’t even have to think twice to order is Som Tam (ส้มตำ)or Thai Papaya Salad. Some restaurants call it Pok Pok. At first, I couldn’t make sense of why it’s called Pok Pok. Then, I learnt that it’s because when all the ingredients are all pounded together in a mortar using a pestle, it produces the sound “pok pok”. Hence, the reason why it’s also called Pok Pok.
Som tam is a spicy salad that is made from shredded green and firm papaya. Then, it is dressed with a sweet, sour, and spicy dressings. Som Tam is one of the most popular dishes in Thailand, originated in the northeast of the Kingdom. Som Tam is assembled in a mortar in which the vegetables and papaya are slightly crushed together, a technique that helps release the flavours and juices.
Som Tam is such a simple stuff but big in flavours - this is the reason why I love Som Tam so much!! No hassles in preparing – you don’t even have to use your wok/frying pan, oil and switch the gas on. Som Tam, it is a dish that I have been eating since young, it has become part of my life. It is probably one of the best friends to my taste buds! Once in a while, when my taste buds cry for help, especially for sweetness, sourness, and spiciness at the same time, Som Tam is what comes to my mind!
One thing though, it’s pretty difficult to get green papaya in London. But, I finally manage to track green papaya down! There is no where else to go but certain Asian supermarkets that stock plenty of SE Asian food and fresh ingredients! Having paid quite a big price for a medium size green papaya that probably costs only a few Malaysian Ringgits/Thai Bahts, is well worth it! High possibility that it costs nothing after all if there’s a papaya tree grown in the garden! The taste of Som Tam makes me feel at home, the taste that I am so familiar with. I am happy! It’s a dish that makes me happy, that’s it!
This Som Tam recipe that I am going to share today is from a Thai Chef that taught me how to make authentic Som Tam. I am sharing this dish of great flavours with all of you! Hope you’ll like it!
Som Tam (Thai Papaya Salad)
Yield: 4 persons
400g papaya, shredded
3 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
2-3 green thai chillies
10 cherry tomatoes
80g long beans
3-4 tbsp fish sauce
4-5 tbsp lime juice
20g dried shrimps, soaked to soften
40g toasted peanuts
3-4 tbsp palm sugar
1. Peel the green papaya and shred the papaya with a zigzag peeler.
2. Soak the papaya in water to remove the acid and make it crispy.
3. Crush the chili, garlic, long beans, dried shrimps and peanuts in a mortar.
4. Mix all the ingredients together with the pestle and spoon.