Som Tam – Spicy Papaya Salad

Most, if not all, girls in Thailand, especially Bangkok, eat Som Tam (ส้มตำ) or papaya salad as part of their daily staple diet. This spicy salad is not only popular with Thai nationals, it is also one of the countries most famous exports and voted into the top 50 dishes of the world (CNN). Not only is  the dish it’s self popular but so is the actual words ‘Som Tam’. Take a look at the local directory of most major capital cites around the world and you are likely to find at least one Som Tam Thai restaurant or take away.

What is Som Tam?

So what exactly is this extrenly popular dish? It’s a combination of the four basic flavours of Thailand, salty, sweet, sour and spicy. The saltty flavor comes from fish sauce, the sour from the limes or lime juice that are used, the sweet from palm sugar and the spicy obviously from the chillies. Now, that’s the flavour basics of all Som Tam’s but also we have the all important papaya which is shredded into long strips. In Thailand this is usually done with either a large knife gently tapped against the white flesh making small incision then this is stripped off the fruit or by a small hand help scrapper like tool. [image size=”small” align=”left”][/image]The first method isn’t something I like to do personally as holding a heavy fruit in one hand and waving a large knife in the other doesn’t feel safe to me. The small tool only costs about 25Bht (75cents or 50pence) so i’ve had a few of these across the years and they do get used very well before they break.

Getting the right papapya is the key to a great som tam. It must be very firm to the touch, almost coconut like, and not feel like a soft fruit that it will become. What else is added to the Som Tam is actually up to you, where you are in Thailand and what the particular street style the street vendor makes. Usually you will find dried shrimps as an addition most vendors will have but some vendors will have small fresh water crabs pounded into the mix. Tomatoes, yardlong beans and peanuts are other additions you may ask for if available.

Best Advice for Eating Som Tam

Avoid having this dish in a restaurant even in Thailand. The best way to eat this is to stand by the road side and have the vendor make ‘your’ som tam just the way you want it. Before serving it to you the vendor will often offer you a small taste of the liquor at the bottom just to be sure it’s what you want. Take your Som Tam and sticky rice and head to the beach, park, forest or wherever you find peace and enjoy!