Saturday, April 20, 2013

The incredible delights of som tam

You all told me. You sung the praises of the green papaya salad that is som tam, with its lime and chilli and sweetness and spice. You told me it was a classic dish, and that I needed to try it.

And you were all right. Very, very right.

I don't know how authentic my version of this salad is (probably not very), but it was enough to win me over. In fact, it was enough to make me swoon. My mouth danced. My soul danced. My memories of this salad are still, right now, dancing.

It is amazing that something so simple can be so good. I can only add my praise and delight to that already heaped on this dish, which is so exquisite and so wonderful that it is entirely deserving of its place in this list of 'top 50 foods'.

If there is anyone like I was a week ago, who hasn't yet tried som tam, please do yourself a favour and try it. Whether you make it yourself or find somewhere to buy it, I am sure you won't regret the experience. I know I don't.

Som Tam salad
Good in all the ways
Adapted from this recipe on Manngchi
Serves 2

1 green papaya, peeled
Decent handful of green beans, ends chopped off
2-3 cm (1 inch) piece of palm sugar
2 tbsp water
1 red birds eye chilli, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 1/2 tbsp lime juice
1 1/2 tbsp soy sauce
1 - 2 tbsp crushed peanuts
6 cherry tomatoes, cut into quarters
1/2 red pepper, thinly sliced

Small bunch fresh mint, chopped, optional

Grate or thinly cut the papaya, by hand or using a food processor. I used a slicer attachment on my food processor.

Place the green beans in a bowl of boiling water and allow to sit for 3-5 minutes.

Place the palm sugar and 2 tbsp water in a small bowl and melt over the stove top or in the microwave.

Combine the chopped chilli and crushed garlic in a small bowl. Mash with the back of a spoon. (If you have a mortar and pestle, using those would be more authentic.) Add the melted palm sugar, lime juice and soy sauce, and mix together well. 

Place the papaya, green beans, red pepper and tomatoes in a large bowl, then add the chilli-garlic-sugar-lime-soy mixutre and stir well to combine. 

Serve topped with crushed peanuts and optional chopped mint.

From what I can gather, a traditional version would make use of a mortar and pestle for mixing the dressing ingredients, would include fish flavours (fish sauce and possibly shrimp), and wouldn't include red pepper or mint. I hope to taste a Thai-prepared plate of this one day, but for now, this version will do me just fine. In fact, if possible, I would happily eat it daily for the foreseeable future.

Thank you, all of you, for telling me to try this. It's going down as one of my life changing food experiences for 2013!

Submitted to Ricki's Wellness Weekend 25th to 29th April 2013.

What are your som tam experiences? Or is there anyone like I was until recently, who hasn't yet tried it?


  1. I haven't tried it but would love to, looks amazing!

    1. It definitely is. It deserves its reputation!

  2. Looks good! Haven't tried it but very tempted!


    P.S. It makes me sad that you no longer let me comment as/from my actual blog/link. :(

    1. I'm sorry :( Hopefully my comment to you on your blog explains why. I have temporarily allowed unrestricted commenting again to see how it goes - it usually takes a few days for the spam to ramp up, so we'll see. Fingers crossed!

  4. This salad has been on my make list forever now...I finally made the banh mi just recently. I love the flavours and textures of this salad! Looks amazing. You have inspired me to get my butt out to the Asian store and get the green papaya. Thanks!!


    1. I'm so glad Nazneen! I hope you find one and then that you enjoy this :)

  5. Hi Kari,

    I'm so glad you've sampled the delights of a good Som Tam! Congratulations too on the half marathon. An amazing achievement. The spam on my blog comes in waves. Wordpress uses a spam filter. I wonder if there is such a thing on Blogger?

    1. Thanks so much Liz - I'm definitely glad to have my first half behind me and the increased running confidence that comes with that!

      On spam filters, Blogger has one, but earlier in the year it seemed to stop being effective :S I'm hoping that has changed - fingers crossed.

  6. I am excited only because you are excited. Like I say, I have had friends excited before and not found the salad that great. I suspect it might be because it was a vegetarian version just lacking the omni ingredients which meant it was lacking in flavour. This does look worth a try and would probably be better than the one I saw - I actually think I saw paw paw in the supermarket recently - might have to hope I see it again

    1. I suppose not all 'renowned' dishes match everyone's taste buds, so I can believe that this may just not be for you. However, after loving it so much myself, I would nonetheless recommend giving it another go! I think you could try harder than I did to get a vegetarian substitute for fish sauce - Mel of Veganise This recommended Thai thin soy sauce, but in the end I just used what I had to hand and was happy with the outcome. That could up the savoury spin on it though.

  7. This sounds so good! I love all the flavours that are combined! I think I need to try it so I can have my mind blown too ;)

    1. I hope you do Gabby! It's one of those mind blowing experiences that you want to repeat :-)

  8. okay, i'm a doof and don't think i've heard of this...BUT it looks quite mind blowing...hehe. :) come make me some? ;)

  9. Good to see you have become a Som Tam convert! Your salad looks lovely and the recipe sounds great.

  10. This is such a lovely fresh looking salad.


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