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Learn How to Make Papaya Salad; one Thailand’s and Laos’ Favorite Dishes

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One of Thailand’s and Laos’ favorite dishes is the papaya salad.  Called som tum in Thai tam bak hoong in Isaan, it is consumed with sticky rice and other foods such as larb (spicy minced meat salad) grilled chicken, pork and bamboo shoot salad.  The dish is derived from the traditional Laos dish called tam mak hoong.

It is easy to understand why the papaya salad is a popular dish in many parts of Thailand and Laos.   It combines the four main tastes people of this region enjoy most into one dish.  The sharp flavor of the papaya, the spiciness of red chilies, the sweetness of palm sugar as well as the saltiness of fish sauce and shrimp paste result in a dish full of flavor!

Papaya salad is a low calorie and highly nutritious dish.  Plus it is easy to make.  The dish is meant to be eaten with a group of people, so the recipe below is for four servings.

So, what do we need to make a delicious plate of papaya salad?  Obviously, you will need a papaya.  The fruit should be firm and its flesh should be white to light orange in color.  Make sure it is shredded and that all seeds are removed.

Next in the list is prik kee noo, otherwise known as bird’s eye chili or comically called mouse dropping chilies.  These are some of the spiciest things around, so use more (6-8 chilies), less (2-3 chilies) or none depending on your tolerance.   If you are crazy enough, feel free to add 20 chilies.  Make sure the fruits are chopped.

Then you will need four garlic cloves, two tomatoes cut into wedges and ten green beans.  Next up are herbs to further enhance the flavor, so have one cup of roughly chopped fresh basil leaves ready.

Some people prefer to have nuts in their salad, so go ahead and have one cup of honey-roasted nuts, plain roasted or glazed cashews ready (make sure only one type of nut is used though).  Shrimp or crab is usually an ingredient in papaya salad as well, but this is more of an exception rather than a rule.

Finally, you should also have condiments nearby, so make sure three tablespoons of fish sauce (three and a half tablespoons of soy sauce for vegetarians), one tablespoon of shrimp paste (substitute with an additional one and a half tablespoons of soy sauce for vegetarians) and half a cup of lime juice are at your reach.  One tablespoon of palm sugar should also be ready.

The most important tools in making papaya salad are the mortar and the accompanying pestle.  A lot of the ingredients will be grinded and pounded with these tools, so make sure it is nearby.

First, mix all the condiments together in one cup and then set it aside.  Next, put the garlic cloves in the mortar and crush it with the pestle.  Then add the tomatoes to the garlic and smash it a few times only to release the juice.  Throw in the green beans and smash a few times more.  Add chili peppers and crush them to release the hot seeds inside the chilies (crush more if you prefer more spice).  Then add the papaya, peanuts and condiments in and use the pestle to push the mixture up in the mortar.  Pour you creation onto a plate and enjoy!

If you are in the Thai capital and would like to learn more about authentic Thai food, then Exotissimo’s Culinary Delights of Bangkok – Bangkok tour is for you.  Explore the city’s best food markets and restaurants and uncover food stalls in narrow alleys in a tour designed to familiarize yourself with Thai food.

Our Taste of Laos tour is the perfect introductory program for first time visitors to the country.  A fine culinary experience awaits as you journey across the country and taste the finest food on offer.  In addition, you will also explore the country’s main cultural sites, immerse yourself with the local culture and explore Laos’ wildlife.  Please contact us if you have any question or would like to tweak any of our tours.

th-som-tum-or-spicy-papaya-salad

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