Som Tum, also call Green Papaya Salad, is the perfect example of the balance of flavors in Thai cuisine. This dish is slightly sweet from palm sugar, sour from fresh lime juice, salty from fish sauce and has a fabulous kick of spice that mellows in the sweet shredded papaya. And that’s not even the end of it - you also get the crunch of peanuts that makes every bite indescribably lovely.
Som Tum has become ubiquitous in Thai restaurants from London to Sydney and can be found in many restaurants and street food stalls in Chiang Mai. There are many variations
of it but the essentials remain the same. Pounded with a clay or wood mortar it is sometimes mixed with preserved crab, tomatoes, fresh crab, fresh smake beans and dried shrimps. Usually it is served with a side of sticky rice which provides a delicious textural contrast to the fresh, sharp flavors.
This refreshing salad originates from North East Thailand where it was first made with fresh green papayas due to the abundance of the fruit in this region. At this time it was not made with palm sugar as the region prefers strong and spicy flavors. It used to combine preserved crab, preserved fish, tamarind juice, beans and salt. When people from the North
East started to enter the capital city for work as tricycle riders during the reign of King Rama II (1809-1824) the dish gained popularity and was introduced to Bangkok where sugar and other ingredients were added.
This refreshing salad can be eaten at any time of the day. Just remember to say “Som Tam Thai” when ordering it (it means with no fermented crab). And don’t forget to say how spicy you want your salad (about 40 THB).