Som Tam

Som Tam

Think green papaya salad is nothing to be scared of?
Think again. To create som tam, papaya is pounded with
raw bird’s-eye chillies, creating a dressing that can strip paint.

The prototype for som tam – which translates to ‘pounded sour’ – almost certainly came from Laos, but it was the Thais, more specifically the chefs serving generations of backpackers in Bangkok,who put the dish on the international menu. Even today, the version served in Bangkok is celebrated as the fieriest, thanks to the addition of an extra-generous handful of bird’s-eye chillies in the pounded green papaya, lime juice, fish sauce, palm sugar and dried shrimp mixture.


You’ll need
½ green papaya
3–4 cloves of garlic, peeled
and crushed
4–5 raw bird’s-eye chillies,
3 tomatoes, cut into wedges
225g (8oz) bean sprouts
150g (5oz) yard long beans,
50g (2oz) dried shrimp
50g (2oz) roasted peanuts,
chopped, to garnish

Juice from 1 lime
2–3 tbs fish sauce
2 tbs palm sugar

Cooking Method
1 Cut the green papaya in half, then remove the seeds and grate the flesh into thin strips.
2 Add the green papaya to a large mortar and pestle with the garlic and chillies and pound to release the flavours.
3 Add the chopped tomatoes, bean sprouts, yard long beans and dried shrimp, then top with the dressing ingredients.
4 Mix roughly in the mortar and pestle. Garnish with chopped peanuts and serve.

Tasting notes
Before you taste som tam, you get to enjoy the theatre of its preparation. First comes the shredding of the green papaya, then the pounding, as ingredients are thrashed to within an inch of their lives in an earthenware mortar and pestle. Atomised chilli is already thick in the air when the dish is served, and the only option once you start is to keep on going, consuming every delicious mouthful before the awful reality of how much raw chilli you are eating starts to dawn. But what flavours! Som tam is at once tart, sour, sweet, salty, pungent and fresh. Eating is followed by a lengthy phase of panting and wishing there was something to take away the burn!

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