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Thai spicy papaya salad. Somtam is the perfect salad for BBQ chicken!

Updated on January 21, 2012

Thai papaya salad

Somtam, the perfect side for BBQ chicken

If there had to be one national dish of Thailand, this spicy papaya salad would certainly be in contention. You see somtam stands at every market, in front of convenience stores, on the back of pick up trucks…everywhere. And the reason it's so popular is it's so good. To a Thai person, the though of eating grilled meats without this crunchy spicy and sour salad is unthinkable.

Somtam is eaten with most grilled or even fried meats, but is particularity well suited to grilled chicken.

This dish is made with unripened green papayas, and you should try to get a green papaya, but if that's not in the cards, you can make this salad with carrots, cucumbers, apples or green beans.

You want to get thin slices of green papaya for the appropriate texture, and a good way to do this is to use both a knife and a vegetable peeler together. Firstly, peel the outer skin off of the papaya. Holding the peeled papaya, start cutting into the papaya with whacking downward motions, as if (and I'm feeling very analogy challenged here) a street tough, holding a baton in one hand, and whacking the other palms up hand in an intimidating manner. Confused yet?

Anyway, make a whole row of vertical incisions into the papaya, and then peel this off with your vegetable peeler. This way you get good long, thin, and not too thick slices of papaya, perfect for this salad where texture is very important.

Thai papaya salad

2 cups of papaya, slice/grated as described above

6 cherry tomatoes

Juice of 1and a half limes (key limes)

2 Tbls fish sauce

1.5 Tbls palm sugar

Msg ½ tsp (this is a traditional Thai ingredient, but can be omitted if you wish)

¼ cup peanuts

4 cloves of garlic, minced

Thai Bird chilies to taste 0-15

Add all of the ingredients into a big mixing bowl.

This would normally be made in a large mortar and pestle, but a close approximation can be made in a big mixing bowl, using your hands to really squish all of the ingredients together. The tomatoes need to be a bit crushed and it should all be a homogenous whole.

This is traditionally quite a spicy dish, and if you like spicy food, add 5-10 Thai bird chilies. If you don't care for spice, then omit the chili, and it will still be great.

Fish sauce (don't worry…it's supposed to smell like that!) varies quite a bit in saltiness, so the amount given assumes a stronger variety. You will need to taste and adjust the seasonings. You want sour, with a bit of sweet, spicy and salty, and crunchy and perfect!

White sugar can be used as a substitute for the palm sugar, but the somtam will be lacking a bit of the complexity. It will still taste great though.

Somtam is the antidote to the richness of grilled meat, like the ying and the yang of BBQ. Try a little Thai somtam for your next grilled chicken meal.

A somtam stand on every corner in Thailand

How to make som tam


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    • profile image

      ali gill 

      9 years ago

      peanuts are highly fungal - i'd swerve them, the msg and half the sugar and swap the fish sauce for avocado oil

    • Thelma Alberts profile image

      Thelma Alberts 

      9 years ago from Germany

      That is my favorite papaya salad. My mouth is watering now Yummy! Thanks for sharing.

    • profile image


      10 years ago

      I never had a papaya salad but I want to try it.

    • profile image

      willa D 

      11 years ago from anywhere

      Sounds really good I will try it and see my family likes it!

    • John D Lee profile imageAUTHOR

      John D Lee 

      12 years ago

      Dohn121...You'll have to do a hub on Somtam Lao...bring on the Palau (My wife is Isarn, so I have a real fondness for Lao foods!)

    • dohn121 profile image


      12 years ago from Hudson Valley, New York

      Being Lao, I am indeed familiar with this dish. In college, I gave it to one of my suite mates after a night out of heavy drinking and it cured his hangover! Reading this was rather bittersweet (unlike som tom) as I was thinking of making a hub recipe out of it.


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