When done right, papaya salad is a dish that floods the senses with flavour. Also known as som tam, you’ll find papaya salad on the menu of any Thai restaurant in Soho worth its salt – but only the very best will find the perfect balance of heat, acid and sweetness that characterises a good papaya salad.
Finding this balance isn’t easy. We think it’s quite an achievement for a single dish to achieve such an explosive range of flavours, ranging from scorchingly spicy to refreshingly sour. Fortunately, at Banana Tree, our papaya salad is famous for its bold yet balanced flavour – and today, we’re sharing our secrets with you.
The recipe for papaya salad likely originated among Lao settlers in what is today Central Thailand. It then spread to Isan, the northeastern region of Thailand, where it became more well known. The dish grew in popularity and the recipe was passed from person to person. Soon, the rest of the world fell in love with it, too.
Som tam contains all of the vibrant flavours of Thai cuisine. It’s made from a colourful array of ingredients, including chillies, fish sauce, palm sugar, fresh herbs, punchy garlic, sweet tomatoes and the famous papaya – a sour cousin to the sweet papaya fruit you may be familiar with. The ingredients are mixed and pounded in a mortar; in fact, som tam literally translates to ‘pounded sour’, or, more specifically, pounded papaya. This enchanting recipe manages to capture so many of the tantalising flavours of East Asia in one dish.
Of course, aside from our restaurants, you can find variations of this popular dish across the Indochinese region. While papaya salad can be very spicy, some versions are sweeter or funkier. For instance, som tam boo pla ra is made with fish sauce, tam ba contains snails (an acquired taste) and tam sua also includes rice noodles. There’s a papaya salad for everyone!
Here at Banana Tree, we create amazing, authentic Indochinese cuisine that ranges from sweet and sour dishes, to aromatic curries, to mouthwatering stir fries. Give this papaya salad recipe a try – or just pop into our restaurant and let us do the work for you!
Papaya Salad, inspired by Banana Tree
1 garlic clove
4 chillies (bird’s eye chillies, if you can handle the spice!)
1 tbsp. shrimp paste
½ tbsp. crab paste
2 cups shredded papaya
1 tbsp. fish sauce
3 tbsp. palm sugar
2 tbsp. lime juice
1 tbsp. dried shrimp
6 halved cherry tomatoes
Roasted peanuts and fresh coriander, to garnish
Using a large pestle and mortar, pound the garlic and chililes together so that they are crushed into a rough paste. Then, add the shrimp and crab paste and continue to pound the ingredients together.
Add the shredded papaya, followed by the lime juice, fish sauce and sugar. Continue to bruise the ingredients, then use a spoon to really mix the ingredients in well together.
Stir in the dried shrimp and cherry tomatoes and adjust the seasoning to taste. Garnish with roasted peanuts and fresh coriander and serve.