Thai Papaya Salad, a.k.a. Som Tum


Ah yes, I am in fact back from my unannounced hiatus. Sorry about that! Real Life caught up to me for a couple weeks there and not a lot of cooking and baking were done. Good news is that I have a couple of Thai food posts for you, and then a whole wheat bread recipe coming up.

So Thai green papaya salad. If you’ve never had the pleasure of trying this dish, I urge you to do so. Now. In America, Pad Thai may be the most popular Thai dish, but I feel that papaya salad is *the* quintessential dish that defines Thai food.

Let me explain. Thai food is about balance. Sweet and salty; tangy and tart; spicy and coolness. Papaya salad has all these things. Palm sugar evened out with fish sauce, tamarind juice mellowing out lime juice, and hot Thai chilies competing with the chilled salad. It’s absoultely divine. And while the dish is easy to make, the ingredients may be hard to find. So how it was that I had almost everything I needed on hand is beside me, but I’m glad I did.

I love my mom. I love that I can call her from the grocery store for cooking ideas. “Mom, I’m walking through the Filipino market and they have fresh, pre-shredded green papaya here. What do I do?” It has never failed me.


That’s all I had to buy. Shredded papaya, a tomato, a lime, and Thai chilies. Awesome, huh? I actually only used one chili pepper in my salad because those things are damn near toxic. SO SPICY. Beware when you buy and use them. In a pinch, if you can’t find Thai “prik ki nu,” then a couple of jalapenos will probably suffice. Fun fact: “prik ki nu” translates as “mouse poop chili” due to the size of the pepper. : )


To my initial ingredients, I threw in the zest of the lime I was using, some shredded carrot, and some Chinese long beans, although regular green beans would work too. Normally there would be some crushed peanut involved here too, but I don’t like nuts in my food.

So here are the key ingredients that you may have to go searching for besides the green papaya: tamarind paste and palm sugar.


You can omit the tamarind if you must, but the final flavor of the dish will be lacking in aroma and body. If you can’t find palm sugar, don’t use white sugar. Try looking for cane sugar. If that fails too, you can resort to brown sugar.

For the tamarind, soak a couple of tablespoons of the paste in 1/4 c. boiling water for five minutes. Strain, then reheat to boiling to “cook” the liquid. This can be done in the microwave.


This next step can be done in a small food processor, but traditionally the entire dish is made in a large stone or clay mortar with a pestle. Since I only have a mini mortar and pestle, I only did this next part in it. This step involves muddling raw garlic, chili, and palm sugar together, with a little fish sauce to aid the process.

When done, pour this into the papaya mixture. Add in the lime juice and tamarind juice. I took a large wooden spoon for this part and started mashing and tossing all the ingredients together in a large bowl. Taste as you go and add more fish sauce to your liking.


Papaya Salad, aka Som Tum | Adapted from my mom


  • 2 c. shredded green papaya
  • 1/4 c. shredded carrot
  • 1 small tomato, cut into wedges
  • 1/2 c. green beans or long beans, cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 1 1/2 tbl. palm sugar
  • 1 Thai chili, aka prik ki nu
  • 1-2 cloves garlic, peeled
  • 1 lime, juiced + zest
  • 2-3 tbl. tamarind juice

6 Responses

  1. looks so tasty I can imagine it!

  2. I love thai papaya salad! True story!

  3. Entertaining post. My colleagues and I were just discussing this the other night. Also your page looks good on my old sidekick. And thats rare. Keep it up.

  4. Thanks! I’m a web developer by day, so that actually means a lot to me. 🙂

  5. Been to Koh Phangan a couple of times now, first time was in July 2004, then back at Christmas 2007. What a great holiday place! It supplies for everyone: if your looking for cordial locals there is plenty of them,if you want delicious food there is quite a little and nightlife is excellent. If you want a low-budget vacation, you can have it – if you need an expensive vacation, you can have it also. My friend is really in love with the place and has just bought into a resort over there. My children love it as well. What a fantastic place to celebrate New Year!

  6. Hrm, looks delicious. It’s much more colorful than vietnamese papaya salad, but lacks the strips of beef jerky. Interesting.

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