The Hairy Bikers' Thai green papaya salad (som tum). Photo credit: www.telegraph.co.uk.

Salad days are here again – go Thai with Som Tam

The Hairy Bikers’ Thai green papaya salad (som tam). Photo credit: www.telegraph.co.uk.

The start of Wimbledon marks the start of England’s summer and brings with it thoughts of warm days and cool food that’s delicious and (fairly) easy to prepare.

So – are you looking for a quick and tasty lunch or supper dish? A fantastic side dish to serve with your BBQ? Or do you simply want to recreate a dish you ate on your travels in Thailand? There’s one Thai salad that ticks all of these boxes – Thai green papaya salad, or Som Tam.

This spicy salad, made with shredded unripe papaya, originates in Laos but is eaten throughout south-east Asia. As you’d expect, the dish combines the five main tastes of the Thai cuisine: sour lime, hot chilli, salty, savoury fish sauce, and palm sugar for added sweetness. In the Thai language, Som Tam translates as “sour pounded” as the ingredients are mixed and pounded in a mortar.

If you’re in Isaan, in the north-east of Thailand which borders Laos, people may ask for Som Tam Lao. In central regions of Thailand the dish is more often referred to as Som Tam Thai. Whatever it’s called – it’s sure to be delicious! Popular all over Thailand, Som Tam even made it onto CNN’s list of the World’s 50 most delicious foods in 2011.

Most often it is served with sticky rice and grilled chicken, and in central Thailand there’s a  version using brine shrimp. You can also find it served with fresh rice noodles,or simply as a snack. Sometimes you may get a serving of raw vegetables on the side to lessen the spiciness of the dish. The traditional Som Tam salad served by Bangkok street vendors is very hot because of the Bird’s eye chilli that’s used in the local recipe – but you can ask the vendor to make your Som Tam less hot!

Girl selling Som Tam in Krabi, Thailand. Photo credit: kaycooks.com

So, if you fancy having a go at making your own Som Tam salad – here’s a link to The Hairy Bikers’ som tam salad.  Alternatively, here’s a recipe from the BBC website for Som Tam salad with salt and pepper tofu. Som Tam is a fantastically versatile dish and instead of papaya you can use green mangoes (recipe here) or other raw crunchy vegetables such as carrots, apples, cucumber.

Finding an unripe, green papaya or mango shouldn’t be too hard in the UK and Ireland as most of the main supermarket chains now stock a good variety of exotic fruits and vegetables. You can also get Thai basil now in Waitrose. Alternatively, your local Asian greengrocers will certainly stock them. Look for a firm papaya with a green or greenish-orange skin.  On the inside the flesh should be white or pale orange.

Here’s a street-food vendor in Bangkok whipping up a Som Tam to go in a under three minutes! They make it look so easy…

Happy cooking!

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