Som Tam Recipe (ส้มตำ): Thai Green Papaya Salad With or Without a Mortar

som tum thai papaya salad recipe
Some of the requests I’ve been getting in the past several months include, “How do you make X without Y (Y = a cooking apparatus with which X is traditionally prepared)?” Ranked number one among such requests is, “How do you make Thai green papaya salad without a mortar and a pestle?”

On a bad day, I would cringe and wonder, in this day and age when even the most exotic of cooking tools can be purchased online, what would be the excuses for not investing in such tools if the success in creating one’s favorite dishes depends on them? But on a good day, I tell my sometimes impatient, self-righteous self to shut the heck up. True, the tools may be more readily available these days, but there are issues of shipping costs (would anyone care to calculate how much it costs to ship a granite mortar across the country?), storage space, etc. Besides, I am a trouble-shooter by nature. The process of figuring out creative solutions to a problem thrills me to no end. Macgyver is my kitchen patron saint.

Well, guess what. Today’s one of those good days.

Those who have never been to Thailand may not be aware of the fact that what is featured here is only one of the many versions of Som Tam (ส้มตำ)* or Thai green papaya salad (most often transliterated Som Tum which is linguistically messed up or Som Tom which is wrong in multiple levels). This more “friendly,” peanutty version happens to be the most prevalent one outside of Thailand.

Why? Well, it’s less intimidating than some versions that are flavored with the Northeastern-style fermented fresh water fish (ปลาร้า) the smell of which could send the uninitiated running for their mommies. Then there are some versions that are flavored with pickled fresh water crabs (ปูเค็ม) featuring severed and crushed body parts of brined decapod crustaceans peeking through the strands of green papaya as if to say, “Can you put me back together?” (These versions do exist in Thai restaurants outside of Thailand, but people who order them are usually native Thais or non-Thai secret menu seekers.)

There are also some that are made with vegetables other than green papaya** (which, strictly speaking, is a fruit). And some are made entirely out of fresh fruits.

som tum recipe
I needed to get that out of the way lest anyone think that this version of Som Tam is the definitive version.

I also need to talk about one other thing before going into the recipe. (Please know that I’m not wasting your time with these little tidbits of background information; I actually have a point.) It should be noted that the “Tam” in Som Tam means “to crush” or “to pound” — a verb that is most commonly used when a mortar and a pestle are involved. Som Tammade without a mortar and a pestle,” therefore, is oxymoronic.

But that’s okay.

How to Make Thai Green Papaya Salad (Som Tam or — shudder — Som Tum, Som Tom) with or without a Mortar
Printable Version

To make a single serving of this version of Som Tam, you need:

1. 6 ounces of green papaya strands – To make green papaya strands, peel a green papaya (choose one that’s really, really firm and doesn’t yield easily when pressed with your thumb) and shred its flesh with this incredible tool that holds the universe together – the Kiwi shredder. There is a very inexpensive handy dandy shredder which is much more affordable. Or you can go for the more expensive brand – Kiwi Pro-Slice Thai Peeler.

thai green papaya salad recipe
2. 6 cherry tomatoes, halved
3. 1/4 cups of dry-roasted peanuts (unsweetened)
4. 2 tablespoons of dried shrimp (omit if you’re a vegetarian)
5. About 1/3 cup of fresh green beans or yardlong beansthat have been cut into 1-inch sticks
6. One of two any color Thai bird’s eye chillies (serrano works too, but not jalapeño), depending on your heat tolerance
7. Fresh lime juice, to taste

thai green papaya salad recipe
8. Good Thai fish sauce, to taste (use salt if you’re a strict vegetarian/vegan, but soy sauce in Som Tam would seriously undermine our friendship)
9. One medium clove of garlic, peeled
10. Palm sugar, to taste (brown or white sugar works as well, though not as authentic)

som tam recipe thai green papaya salad
To make Som Tam with a mortar and a pestle:

1. Choose the right kind of mortar and pestle to avoid 1. producing a DOA Som Tam and, 2. an appearance of cluelessness.
2. Pound the garlic and chilies until they form a smooth paste.
3. Add the dried shrimp and pound until the pieces are broken up, but not completely pulverized.
4. Add the palm sugar (sometimes it is hardened and needs to be chopped into little pieces before being used in a recipe), maybe 2-3 teaspoons at first. You can always add more. The reason we’re adding the palm sugar now is because you want to pound it to a paste so that it can be dissolved more easily and blend more readily with the other flavoring agents which will be subsequently added.
5. Add the peanuts and lightly pound until they are broken into tiny pieces, but not to the point where they form a thick paste.
6. Add the green beans and crush them with the mortar until they’re splitting and lightly bruised.
7. Add the papaya and tomatoes and pound on them. This is strategic bruising. You want the papaya strands to soften up a bit so they can drink up the seasonings more readily. You also want to crush the tomatoes so they release their juices and give their flavor and beautiful red hue to the otherwise anemic-looking papaya strands.
8. Add a couple of teaspoons of fish sauce and a couple of teaspoons of lime juice to the mix.
9. Have in one hand a large spoonto help flip things over in and scrape down the sides of the mortar while your other hand pounds away with the pestle.
10. Keep pounding and flipping for a few seconds, just until the content of your mortar resembles Som Tam. Trust me, when you see it, you’ll recognize it.
11. Taste for seasoning. Add more fish sauce, lime juice, or sugar as needed.


That is the standard Som Tam protocol. But what if you don’t have a mortar and a pestle or — for reasons that escape my logic — you have one without the other? In that case, you will need to simulate the mortar-pestle action in the following manner:

how to make thai green papaya salad
1. With a garlic press, or a sharp knife and two skillful hands, mince the garlic into a paste. No chunks, not even small ones. Paste.
2. Place the chillies in a plastic ziploc or sandwich bag, seal the bag, place it on a folded kitchen towel, and pound it into a paste with your weapon of choice: a rolling pin, a baseball bat, or the bottom of a Mason jar. Be brutal. You’ve earned that right.

thai green papaya salad recipe
3. In a separate bag, do the same with the palm sugar. Make sure the sugar is pounded into a paste for better dissolution. Spare it no mercy.
4. Place the peanuts, green beans, and dried shrimp in one bag and pound them just until the peanuts are broken up, the dried shrimp is flattened, and the green beans are bruised and split up.
5. Place the green papaya strands in a large mixing bowl along with the halved cherry tomatoes. Empty the contents of the torture bags into the papaya bowl. Add lime juice and fish sauce to the bowl (start off with just a little; you can add more).
6. With your eager, murderous, yet impeccably clean hands, mix and squeeze everything together, crushing the tomatoes in the process. With both hands, mix and squeeze, then mix and squeeze some more. Keep squishing until the papaya strands are softened, the tomatoes have released their juices, and everything melds together nicely. This should take a few seconds, depending on how hard you squeeze.
7. Correct seasoning as needed.
8. Trust me. In a side-by-side blind tasting, one will have a hard time differentiating Som Tam made the traditional way and Som Tam made without a mortar and pestle.


You have now entered the geeky area.

*For those who have the smallest semblance of interest in how to properly pronounce the name of this dish in Thai:

The first syllable, Som (ส้ม) has the same vowel quality of the long ô in “dome” or “Rome,” but is of smaller quantity. Say Rome or dome, but reduce the vowel quantity to half its length. Then replace the R and D with S, keeping the shortened vowel in place. That’s how you say it. As for the tone, the closest thing to the proper tone would be to turn it into a verb in the imperative mood and say it as if you’re making a command, “Som!” That should do it.

The second syllable, Tam (ตำ) has the same vowel quality and quantity as the word, “come.” Say “come” in the flattest tone possible. Then replace the “c” in “come” with “t.” That’s exactly the vocalization you’re looking for. For extra authenticity, make your “t” unaspirated/unvoiced. Place the tip of your tongue right behind your front teeth (or, in some cases, denture) and make the “t” sound without shooting out a breath of air between your upper and lower teeth as you would when pronouncing the English “t” (especially in the initial position).

**Some vegetables have been successfully used as substitutes for green papaya which may not be available in all areas of the world. Good candidates would be vegetables that are crisp, mild- and clean-flavored, not prone to oxidation and can hold their shape well. Carrot (as LimeCake has made it here), cabbage, and daikon work really well. In fact, my favorite Som Tam is made of grated carrots. I like even it better than I do the traditional green papaya.

89 Responses to Som Tam Recipe (ส้มตำ): Thai Green Papaya Salad With or Without a Mortar

  1. 5 Star Foodie June 9, 2010 at 2:07 am #

    Now that I have mortar and pestle I can try to make this specialty the standard way! The kiwi peeler looks like a great gadget too!

  2. Nui June 9, 2010 at 2:11 am #

    The other thing we can’t get in Mexico is green papaya. Not enough demand, hence market failure again. Mexicans eat ripe papaya by the tons here. One cook from another restuarant tried to order her own bacth of green papaya, but on the day she went to pick them up, they all turned out to be ripe. Totally unusable!

    I also cannot get dried shrimps, nor palm sugar. Furthermore, even if we’re on the same continent, the arms of logistics do not reach efficiently down here. It would cost me a fortune to order anything online, and sanitary regulations probably prohibits me from ordering food products.

    However, one day I went to one of three Thai restaurants here in Mexico City and the owner/cook had an alternative. She said she discovered this on a visit to Chiang Mai.

    The substitute she used for green papaya was chayote. In the north of Thailand, it’s called ‘fak maew’ (ฟักแม้ว), the northerners use this for making their own version of ‘som tam’. It works beautifully. Only drawback, the grated chayote needs to be used immediately, can’t be prepared in advance like green papaya, it loses it’s crispiness easily. And to substitute for dried shrimps, this cook uses fresh shrimps slightly sauteed.

    I bought myself some chayote a few days back. Let’s see if I can replicate the results!

    I can’t help but wonder how chayote arrived to Thailand and became popular there! Many vegetables and fruits have their origins from ancient america. I used to take it for granted that chilli was always Thai, so wrong….

    • EL May 1, 2014 at 1:39 pm #

      Try Zucchini (Italian squash) as substitute.

  3. LOM June 9, 2010 at 3:52 am #

    Thanks for posting this. Good things do come to those who wait! I did make pad see ew over the weekend with the almost burned bits of goodness. Now I look forward to trying the methods you outline here. This post takes me right back to our recent visit to Thailand, where I had som tam at pretty much every meal.

  4. Angry Asian June 9, 2010 at 2:11 pm #

    honestly, i do like thai green papaya salad, i even like it better than vietnamese green papaya salad (much better, in fact) but it something that i have never had the inclination to make. why? because that special sour/salty/sweet combination that is virtually impossible to replicate in my kitchen. i’m serious. i don’t want to break my heart when i fail at making this and then be turned off of this dish for.ever.

  5. Arwen from Hoglet K June 10, 2010 at 6:36 pm #

    MacGyver is the perfect patron saint for you! I like the idea of the rolling pin pestle, especially the part about being brutal. This sounds like a great dish for relieving stress!

  6. Juliana June 11, 2010 at 7:18 pm #

    Nice post….the green papaya salad look so refreshing 🙂 Sure a great treat for the Summer!

  7. Peggy June 12, 2010 at 6:36 am #

    I absolutely love your blog and look forward to each one. As a novice Thai cook I appreciate all your helpful hints.

  8. OysterCulture June 13, 2010 at 4:23 pm #

    I cannot wait to try this one, it sounds so delicious, mortal and pestle or not, but I want to create this as authentically as possible.

  9. LimeCake June 14, 2010 at 12:19 am #

    som tam is my absolute favourite thai dish. whenever i’m in thailand i eat it every single day! no kidding. and i love it even more with the crabs. so crunchy and delicious.

  10. Michelle@TastyThailand June 14, 2010 at 8:25 am #

    I’ve tried som tam without a mortar and pestle but, to me, it doesn’t taste close to the real thing. If everything isn’t bashed and squished so it all blends together, you just don’t get the right flavor. But….I do live in Thailand and get the real thing several times a week, so I AM a bit spoiled 🙂

  11. Leela June 14, 2010 at 12:54 pm #

    Michelle – True, hence the explanation in the post on how you should pre-bash individual ingredients then squish them all together until they’re softened and the flavors meld together.

  12. jan June 16, 2010 at 4:45 am #

    I could only giggle when I read your ways to pronounce som tam. But yes I am going to try the recipe. Californians can buy som tam at thai restuarants and it is pretty good.

  13. Cherry June 20, 2010 at 1:08 pm #

    Thank you for this post this is so informative. I have seen it done on TV in a mortar and pestle and never thought that I could recreate without the gadget. Now that you have shown it it makes total sense! I should try this out. Thank you.

  14. maew June 29, 2010 at 8:23 am #

    im curious, do you know anything about the history of som tam? where it originated and how it spread across SE asia? any ideas/musings appreciated 🙂

  15. Leela June 29, 2010 at 12:35 pm #

    Hi maew – I was debating as I wrote this post whether to include the history part. Then I decided against it as the instructions were already too long for a blog post. I intend to write another post that will be more pertinent to the history part. Coming soon. Som Tam is a very recent invention, by the way. 🙂

  16. shayma July 23, 2010 at 5:41 pm #

    the photo you place at the beginning of each of your posts is always so beautiful- it reminds me of a favourite food photographer of mine who lives in my old home- Rome, she also has a blog called- il cavoletto di bruxelles. you both have the same beauty exuding from your photography. x shayma

  17. Jessica July 24, 2010 at 2:30 pm #

    Pardon my ignorance: is green papaya the same as unripe papaya? 🙂

  18. Leela July 24, 2010 at 8:49 pm #

    Jessica – Technically, yes. Green papayas are not only unripe, but they’re picked before they are fully mature too. The skin has a glossy sheen to it and is thoroughly green with no yellowish spots anywhere. The seeds are still tender and white and the flesh so firm that it doesn’t give at all when you press on it hard.

    The papayas that are sold in most non-Asian stores that I’ve seen are fully mature, even though they are not fully ripe. Best places to get young, green papayas would be Asian supermarkets, especially ones that are specialized in Southeast and/or South Asian ingredients.

  19. Jessica July 27, 2010 at 9:56 am #

    That’s good news, I am going to pick the green papaya off the tree in the garden and try out your recipe right now! Many thanks Leela!! 🙂

  20. Anonymous February 6, 2011 at 5:34 am #

    Just done it, it was terrific!
    I worked equal fish sauce to lime juice and adjusted the sugar. My father said it was to hot and I already half the chili, I told him without the heat it isn’t worth eating and said that the chili will stop him from over eating so it’s a good thing!
    Me Like it fiery hot, so as it tastes cold kind of going onto the tongue initially then burns back out the nose!!!!
    Loved it, thanks for your time and efforts!

  21. Joel March 27, 2011 at 5:59 pm #

    Just made this…delightful. I used stevia in place of palm sugar to make an already low-carb dish even lower. I figured if there was any dish in the world that could hide the small aftertaste of stevia (some people can’t even detect it, but I can), this would be it. Of course, it’s so concentrated I ended up making it too sweet, but I’ll do better next time.

    I only had one of the mid-size granite mortars, so I smashed everything in sequence and then mixed in a bowl. I hadn’t seen the point in having a mortar for one dish, but I now see how it’d really be helpful.

    Leela – Can green papaya be frozen, either shredded or whole? I doubt there is going to be a long window where these are available at my market.


  22. Leela March 27, 2011 at 6:40 pm #

    Joel – Brilliant! My aunt makes this all the time with powdered stevia from Trader Joe’s which though is not pure stevia (it has lactose in it), it tastes pretty close to sugar and isn’t bitter.

    Papaya once frozen and thawed loses its original texture. I don’t recommend it. To store grated green papaya for up to 7-10 days in the refrigerator, wrap it up in 3-4 layers of paper towel, place it in a zipper bag, and store the bag in a temperature-controlled vegetable crisper.

    When you don’t have green papaya on hand, thinly sliced cabbage and grated carrots make great Som Tam, too. All low/low-ish carb. 🙂

  23. Traci S. April 12, 2011 at 10:00 pm #

    Finally got myself a good mortar and pestle, and whoah! this was fun. Oddly, I remember not being able to eat Som Tam at first(I practically needed to drink a bottle of water between bites!) But now i can’t imagine leaving out any of the heat – yum – it turned out lovely. Thanks for the recipe and especially for including the “pounding order”!

  24. Indonesia Eats June 2, 2011 at 12:06 pm #

    I’m writing about 3 different green papaya salads from 3 different country in SE Asia and hopped on your blog. I realized we have the same julienne peeler, the colour and brand as well 🙂

  25. yowza June 4, 2011 at 10:34 pm #

    Great post. This is a favorite Thai dish of mine – it’s great to take to barbecues. Love the linguistics/pronunciation section!

    Also wanted to add . . . I’ve been using this thing: for shredding and it’s been great. Probably takes up a lot more room than your suggested tool, though.

  26. J June 7, 2011 at 9:18 pm #

    I noticed that in Thailand they frequently add another brown colored liquid. I think it may be some kind of anchovy dressing in addition to the standard fish sauce. Does anyone know what it is ?

  27. Leela June 7, 2011 at 10:19 pm #

    J – That could be nam pla ra – northeastern fermented fish diluted with water with the solids strained out.

  28. J June 8, 2011 at 7:47 pm #

    Thanks Leela – so that’s what it is…most recipes never call for that but I see them adding it all the time in Thailand. Last trip I got the vendor to let me try it with a spoon and I noticed that it wasn’t as overpowering as say anchovies. Can it bought in a bottle…I’ll look out for it in new may wah in the richmond district ?

  29. Leela June 8, 2011 at 7:57 pm #

    J – Yep. Look for something like this.

  30. Laura November 6, 2011 at 1:47 am #

    I’m sorry if you addressed this somewhere, but I was wondering about green mango versus green papaya. The first of these kinds of salads (which are similar to a Westerner even though probably not to you) was a green mango salad in Bangkok, which I loved. And when I then tried som tam at another restaurant in Thailand, it tasted pretty similar to me. Are the 2 fruits interchangeable? I had to laugh, btw, about the mortar and pestle–I spent my honeymoon in Thailand and a granite mortar and pestle was what I wanted most. It was very difficult to find for a clueless tourist, I finally found one at a market on the side of the road in the south. I lugged that sucker everywhere–all the Thai people looked at me like I was crazy! We had to bury the pestle in the luggage as I was concerned it would be seen as a weapon! Of course now I know where to mail order one, but back then I was convinced I had to go to Thailand to get one!

  31. Admin November 6, 2011 at 2:15 am #

    Laura – Haha. I probably would have stared at a tourist who schlepps a granite mortar around town too.

    There’s a green mango version of Som Tam (Tam Ma-muang) which is a much, much less common variation of the dish. The mangoes are prepared and used the same way. You just have to adjust the amount of lime juice to correspond with the tartness of the green mangoes.

  32. Anonymous January 6, 2012 at 6:40 am #

    That’s how my mom makes it. 🙂

  33. Kitchen Barbarian June 4, 2012 at 1:38 pm #

    You know those meat hammers that come in every set of kitchen tools, that most of us have absolutely no use for?

    Well they make excellent jaggery/palm sugar pounders! The heck with grating the stuff (which is what’s usually called for in Indian recipes) – just pound the living bejeezus out of the stuff! Ought to work excellently well for this purpose as well. Easier to use (and probably safer) than either a rolling pin or a mason jar (imagine that breaking in your hand!). Just use the smooth side, not the jaggedy side.

    For 30 years I avoided using jaggery because it was such a pain to grate (even my in-laws grated the stuff). Then one day while I was trying to grate a block of the stuff (and trying not to drip the inevitable blood into it) I just lost it, grabbed the meat tenderizer and started whaling – WHY DID IT TAKE ME SO LONG? LOL!

  34. Admin June 4, 2012 at 2:09 pm #

    Kitchen Barbarian – Excellent tip. Thank you.

  35. Newbia July 15, 2012 at 1:41 am #

    Hi Leela! I recently found your site, and oh my goodness, I love it so much! Best of all, we both live in Chicago, which means I can ask you: where do you buy your Thai groceries? Specifically, where do you find green papaya? I tried looking for it in a grocery store in Chinatown but couldn’t find it. If you know anywhere on the South Side that sells green papaya, I would appreciate it if you told me the name and address.
    There are three Thai restaurants a mere block away from my house and none of them hold a candle to the food I had in Thailand or the food my Thai nanny used to make. *sigh* So I need to cook it myself and find a good place to buy Thai produce. I’m so glad I found your website! 😀

  36. Admin July 15, 2012 at 7:56 am #

    Newbia – Thank you. The best area to shop for Thai ingredients is Argyle/Broadway. There are a few Asian (mostly Vietnamese) grocery stores there that have pre-shredded green papaya. Golden Pacific is also a good place to shop for Thai ingredients. Sorry, I don’t know of any place in the South Side.

    Regarding Thai restaurants, here are some of the dishes I recommend.

  37. Anonymous July 17, 2012 at 10:40 pm #

    Many thanks for this friendly recipe – I will now actually try it out!


  38. Newbia July 20, 2012 at 8:32 pm #

    Thanks for the advice! I will make a trip up to Argyle.

    The link you posted didn’t work, but I think that the link was most likely this one, correct?
    I already read it and I will definitely be on the look-out for those restaurants.

  39. Heide M. December 28, 2012 at 12:58 am #

    This looks so good, healthy and light.

  40. Korteztk February 6, 2013 at 6:39 pm #

    Thank you for a GREAT blog and recipe! I made the som tam for my wife and I tonight. It was a big hit. I made it more spicy than usual, for my wife and I added a bit more palm sugar. The som tam was REALLY delicious, and using a mortar and pestle made the preparation even more fun than it would have been.

  41. Korteztk February 7, 2013 at 9:17 am #

    Would it be heresy if I substituted either small cooked shrimp or chopped larger cooked shrimp for the dried shrimp? I’m thinking in the style of the green mango recipe and I prefer cooked shrimp to dried shrimp, but I’m not anxious to have the Thai cooking gods and goddesses after me!

    • Leela February 7, 2013 at 11:06 am #

      It’s not traditional, but it definitely has been done.

      • Korteztk February 9, 2013 at 11:46 am #

        I made som tam again, but this time I tried it with carrots. You were right. It’s really good! My wife, an immunologist who teaches aerobics as a hobby, came back from her Saturday class with cupcakes. I wasn’t going to eat cupcakes, and I had just finished playing with our border collie, Loki, so I decided to make som tam again, this time just for myself. I had just picked up some really fresh carrots, being inspired by in your blog from the picture from Krua Apsorn (which look so fresh and shiny they appear to be almost magically delicious)! I tried the Kiwi Pro-Slice Thai Peeler, but I was not having much success making julienne slices out of the carrot. How do you use this tool correctly? My slices were too thick.

        Fortunately, I also have an OXO mandoline julienne slicer, so I was able to julienne what I needed. The rest I did in the traditional way using a mortar.

        It was great! I haven’t named my Cuisinart mortar, and I’m going to acquire a second Thai granite mortar and pestle. The right ingredients and equipment is just essential, as is the right technique, which I am still working on.

        I stuck with dried shrimp. Tomorrow I make penang beef in the rendang style. What beef cuts would you recommend?


        • Leela February 9, 2013 at 8:26 pm #

          It takes some practice with the Kiwi slicer. Don’t dig the slicer’s teeth too deep into the surface of the veg. You’ll get the hang of it.

          For panaeng, I’d go with chuck roast or anything you’d use for pot roast. Boneless beef shank is nice too.

          • Korteztk February 10, 2013 at 6:39 pm #

            I used grass-fed chuck roast for the Penang beef, and it turned out really well!

            If I wanted to cook it quicker, such as on a week night, do you think there is any chance skirt steak would work, since there is a significant amount of fat in that cut of beef?

            Thanks, Leela!

          • Leela February 10, 2013 at 6:48 pm #

            For quick cooking, I’d use chuck steak, sliced thinly against the grain. It’s got a pretty good amount of fat in it, and I think it’s more tender than skirt steak even though it doesn’t taste as beefy. (Too bad this convo is happening on this som tam post. Wish it would be on the panaeng post so others can benefit from your good questions.)

  42. Neil February 21, 2013 at 8:06 pm #

    I started making this recipe with cucumbers several years ago when we had an abundance in our garden. Slice them in half, de-seed (just run a small spoon down the center) and then shred. Let it sit for a while and then you can tip out the excess juice/water.

    Great recipe, and great blog! Thanks!

  43. Victor April 11, 2013 at 2:50 pm #

    Hi, Do you know which kind of kitchen electric appliance/utensil can cut or slice the papaya in those thing long strips, so as not to have to do it manually with the kiwi-peeler ?? I love this salad, but my wife refuses to continue to make it unless I find her the correct appliance that can assist with the cutting/slicing to save some time, please help 🙁

    • Neil April 11, 2013 at 7:47 pm #

      Google ‘electric mandoline slicer’. Amazon has a few different ones.

    • jbwill_i_am July 11, 2013 at 7:40 pm #


      I have a Kiwi slicer and making mounds of green papaya strips isn’t all that easy with that tool either… Maybe I’m doing it wrong, wouldn’t be the first time. :-/ Well, here’s a way to do it without a Kiwi slicer. Take your regular fruit/veg peeler and remove the skin, next carefully take your chefs knife and whack the papaya (lengthwise along the papaya) making multiple parallel cuts into the surface. Finally take your peeler again and peel the cut surface rendering yourself strips of green papaya.

      The closeness of the lengthwise cuts will determine the width of the strips, and to some extent their shape and the peeler depth will determine the thickness of the strips. I imagine this is the way it was done prior to the Kiwi type peeler. You can whack away with your cuts and make a mound of strips that look random and rustic or break out the ruler and make em uniform and fancy. I like the amount of control with this method. Enjoy!


  44. Tami Doncic May 11, 2013 at 7:06 pm #

    This brings back so many memories of my first year of college! My housemate was Thai and we used to make this salad at least once a week! (With carrots instead of papaya, unfortunately we don’t have papaya here :[ )

  45. Rethia Syahril May 14, 2013 at 3:57 am #

    I’m glad to find this recipe. It’s been a while since I ate som tam in Khon Kaen and I really missed it. Planning to make one in Indonesia but the problem is I wasn’t be able to find fermented crab and fermented fish (Bla rah). But this recipe just give me solution. I’ll try it as soon as I can get the green papaya. Thanks a lot.

  46. Emily June 17, 2013 at 8:23 pm #

    i spent seven months in Bangkok and am constantly looking for Thai recipes to re-create the wonderful flavors of street food and markets. i was ecstatic when i found this recipe- som tam was my absolute favorite food in Thailand! thank you!

  47. Brent June 17, 2013 at 8:34 pm #

    I made a batch of this for dinner yesterday, but the dried shrimp completely overwhelmed the other flavors in the salad. It would have been great otherwise.

    • Leela June 17, 2013 at 8:54 pm #

      Brent – Dried shrimp is one of the key ingredients in this salad; that’s why it’s included here. Having said that, it can be an acquired taste for those unfamiliar with traditional Thai food. You can leave it out.

  48. Arnaud August 30, 2013 at 3:35 pm #

    Hi Leela, I’m still not able to reproduce the exact taste of the Som Tam eaten in Thailand. I’m using a som tam pestle and mortar, all the ingredients from the official recipe. The result I’m getting is very honourable (much better than in all the Thai restaurant in Paris), but there is still a very small difference. Very frustrating.

    So in my quest of a perfect Som Tam, I searched for Nam pla ra, since I noticed as well that in Thailand people were using another sauce than the traditional fish sauce. DIdn’t find it, but I purchased a sauce called Mam Nem (ground fermented fish). Is it the same sauce than Nam pla ra?

    The Som Tam with this sauce in addition to the fish sauce was good. But the taste of this sauce is quiet powerful, and I’m not sure this is the one used in Thailand.

    I did a Som Tam in Thailand, using local ingredients including their special sauce, and was able to get the right taste. So I’m wondering if that could simply come from the ingredients that are not as good as in Thailand. Or maybe the only fact that eating a som tam in Thailand will always be better than eating it somewhere else.

    Looking forward earing your advice

  49. Dennis September 26, 2013 at 11:55 am #

    The recipe calls for everything to be mashed, while pictures show everything pretty well intact

  50. Manish January 19, 2014 at 10:51 am #

    Hi, thanks for a great recipe with an entertaining description. Also many thanks for the suggested alternative methods.

    I ended up doing a mixture of methods, since I have a small mortar & pestle. And no dried shrimps, so I substituted with some shrimp paste.

    But the result was great, definitely something that’s now going on our regular menu.

    One question… Sometimes one can’t get green papaya. In such cases, what would you substitute it with?


  51. Linh January 19, 2014 at 12:06 pm #

    In a pinch, my mother uses spaghetti squash for this dish. She cuts it in half and nukes it in a covered dish with a bit of water for 5 minutes. Then she scrapes out the threads with a fork. More watery than papaya but the crunch is still there and easily absorbs the seasonings.

  52. Summer February 21, 2014 at 2:50 pm #

    I kind of want to go out and buy a mortar and pestle just so I can make this properly.

  53. Doug September 15, 2014 at 11:41 pm #

    I made this tonight for the first time after having this page bookmarked for over two years, finally saw some green papaya at the market and jumped at the chance to try it. Used the torture bag method, left the shrimp out, turned out fantastic, a big hit ot a pot luck. Thanks so much.


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