The abundance of fresh ingredients is ever-present in Thai cuisine. A popular Thai dish that showcases fresh vegetables is som tum Thai (ส้มตำไทย) or green papaya salad. This is one of our personal favorites and can be found anywhere in Thailand, from restaurants to food stalls.
Som tum Thai is a fantastic raw Thai salad often made of shredded unripe papaya, sliced tomatoes, raw yardlong beans, peanuts, dried mini shrimp, and fresh garlic. Sometimes we find shreds of carrots and green or purple cabbage to add a pop of color.
A sweet, salty, tangy sauce made of sugar, lime juice, and fish sauce completes the dish. It can be easily altered by leaving out an ingredient or two (no shrimp for vegetarians), but don’t be afraid to try it in its original form.
Some Like Som Tum Hot!
This dish can be served quite spicy. Vendors typically have a bowl of hot chilies to add and the customer can request how many chilies they want. It may take a little coaxing to get the vendors to put in more than one chili for Western customers. We usually get two or three chilies.
The word for chili is prik. If you don’t want any chilies, say, “Mai ao prik.” (I don’t want chilies.)
There are several variations to this popular Thai salad including:
- Som tum bpoo blpah rah is green papaya salad with whole baby fermented crabs and a pungent fish sauce
- Som tum talae is seafood papaya salad and often has a mixture of shrimp, baby crab, squid, and mussels
- Som tum mamuang is green mango salad
- Som tum khao poht is corn salad
- Tum daeng is cucumber salad
How to Eat Som Tum
Eat som tum by itself but it’s better with sticky rice, which is served in small plastic baggies. Take a ball of rice the size of a quarter, make a slight indent with your thumb, and use it to pinch or scoop up the papaya salad. We recommend eating som tum with sticky rice because it cools your mouth and allows you to mop up the sauce.
We enjoy pairing it with skewers of grilled chicken. Som tum is so popular and easy to make that it seems almost every family, restaurant, and food stall has their own special recipe. No matter where you are in Thailand, there’s bound to be delicious som tum close by.