Sunday 13 January 2019

Taste Green Papaya Salad

Green papaya salad is a spicy salad made from shredded unripe papaya. Probably originating from ethnic Lao people, it is also eaten throughout Southeast Asia.

Locally known in Cambodia as bok l'hong, in Laos as tam som or the more specific name tam maak hoong, in Thailand as som tam, and in Vietnam as goi du du.

The green papaya salad was adapted from an ethnic Lao dish known as tam som or pounding of sour ingredients, which used local fruits and vegetables such as green unripe mango or cucumbers as the main ingredient, seasoned to a primarily sour flavour.

Although, green papaya salad is deeply linked to Laos and the Lao ethnic region of Isan, unfortunately like most dishes in Southeast Asia, the green papaya salad and its true origin were not recorded.

This is mainly because until recently more emphasis were placed on the oral tradition than to the written or literary tradition.

A spicy salad recipe, with the bold Thai flavours of chilli, garlic, dried shrimp and fish sauce, pounded together using a mortar and pestle, with fresh snake beans, tomatoes and crunchy grated green papaya.

The dish combines the five main tastes of the local cuisine: sour lime, hot chili, salty, savory fish sauce, and sweetness added by palm sugar.

The ingredients are mixed and pounded in a mortar. As the name tam som suggests, sourness is a dominant taste; however, the more specific Lao name tam maak hoong literally means pounded papaya. In Khmer, the name bok l'hong also means pounded papaya.

In Thai, the name som tam is simply a reversal of the Lao name. However, other pounded salads in Thailand are consistent with the Lao naming convention in which the word tam or pounded is listed first.

Despite the use of papaya, which one may think of as sweet, this salad is actually savory. When not yet ripe, papaya does not have a tangy flavor. The texture is crisp and firm, sometimes to the point of crunchiness. It is this that allows the fruit to withstand being beaten in the mortar.

In Laos, green papaya salad is one of the traditional staples of the Lao. Pounded salads in Laos all fall under the parent category of tam som, which may or may not contain green papaya, however, when no specific type of tam som is mentioned, it is generally understood to refer to green papaya salad.

For absolute clarity, however, the name tam maak hoong may be used, since this name means pounded papaya.

In Thailand, it is customary that a customer ask the preparer to make the dish suited to his or her tastes.

To specifically refer to the original style of papaya salad as prepared in Laos or Isan, it is known as som tam Lao or simply as tam Lao, and the dish as prepared in central Thailand may be referred to as som tam Thai.

Traditionally, the local variety of green papaya salad in the streets of Bangkok is very hot due to the addition of a fistful of chopped hot bird's eye chili. However, with its rising popularity among tourists, it is now often served not as hot.

Together with the papaya, some or most of the following secondary items are added and pounded in the mortar with the pestle:

- Asparagus beans

- Brined rice field crabs. These belong to the freshwater crab genera Sayamia, Chulathelphusa, and Esanthelphusa, which all belong to the family Parathelphusinae found in flooded rice fields and canals. Isan people eat the entire crab, including the shell.

- Chili pepper

- Dried shrimp

- Fish sauce

- Garlic

- Hog Plums

- Lime

- Palm sugar

- Shrimp paste

- Pla ra / padaek

- Raw Thai eggplant

- Tomatoes

Green papaya salad is often served with glutinous rice and kai yang/ping gai or grilled chicken. It can also be eaten with fresh rice noodles in Lao: sen khao poon in Thai: khanom chin or simply as a snack by itself with, for instance, crispy pork rinds.

The dish is often accompanied by raw vegetables on the side to mitigate the spiciness of the dish.

Green papaya salad is claimed as an innovation of the Lao people. Variations of the dish are found throughout Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, and as well as in the West, where it is more commonly known by its Thai name.

A non-spicy green papaya salad version also exists in Laos, Vietnam, and Thailand, which is much sweeter; it often contains crushed peanuts, and is less likely to have padaek or brined crab.

Dried brine shrimp are used in this Central Thai version. There are also versions that make use of unripe mangoes, apples, cucumbers, carrots, and other firm vegetables or unripe fruit.

Besides using varieties of fruits or vegetables as the main ingredient a popular option is to use vermicelli rice noodle wherein the dish is known as tam sua.

Instead of papaya, other ingredients can be used as the main ingredient. Popular variations in Laos and Thailand include:

- Tam maak taeng / Tam taengkwa, with cucumber, usually the small variety

- Tam maak muang / Tam mamuang, with green and unripe mango

- Tam maak kuai / Tam kluai, with banana, while still green and unripe

- Tam krathon, with santol, while still hard and unripe

- Tam hua pli, with banana flower

- Tam mayom, with Malay gooseberry

- Tam som o, with pomelo

- Tam mu yo, with mu yo sausage

- Tam phonlamai ruam, with mixed fruit


- 4–5 bird's-eye chillies

- 4 baby garlic cloves, skin on

- 4 snake beans, cut into 3 cm lengths

- 1 tomato, sliced or 5 cherry tomatoes, halved.

- 1 tbsp lime juice

- 2 tbsp dried shrimp

- 1 tbsp liquid palm sugar

- 2 tbsp fish sauce

- 200 g shredded green papaya

- 1 tbsp roasted peanuts

Using a large wooden mortar and pestle, pound the chilli.

- Add the garlic and pound.

- Add the snake beans and bruise slightly.

- Add the tomatoes and pound.

- Add the lime juice and dried shrimp.

Continue pounding, gradually adding the palm sugar and fish sauce. Add the papaya.

Continue gently pounding while mixing with a spoon for 1 minute.

Transfer to a serving plate. Garnish with crushed peanuts to serve.

Oven temperatures are for conventional; if using fan-forced (convection), reduce the temperature by 20˚C.

Use tablespoons and cups: 1 teaspoon equals 5 ml; 1 tablespoon equals 20 ml; 1 cup equals 250 ml.

All herbs are fresh unless specified and cups are lightly packed.

All vegetables are medium size and peeled, unless specified.

All eggs are 55-60 g, unless specified.

Enjoy Green Papaya Salad.

Tourism Observer

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