Thai food: Green Papaya Salad (Som Tum)

by Dave from The Longest Way Home ~ April 8th, 2015. Published in: Travel blog » Food around the world » Thai food.
Green Papaya Salad from Thailand

Green Papaya Salad from Thailand

Green papaya salad is one of Thailand’s most popular dishes

If you are planning to spend any time in Thailand’s central and northern areas be prepared to come across green papaya salad or Som Tum. Just don’t expect anything sweet like papaya fruit usually is. It’s also a meal unto itself. Often coming with nuts or shellfish depending on your preference.

The base ingredients are a mix of garlic, chili, green beans or peas,  cabbage and of course shredded or grated green papaya. This is all then tossed in lime juice and sometimes a dash of vinegar.

What is green papaya?

Green papaya is quite simply unripe papaya. It’s used extensively in Thailand. Malaysia and the Philippines as both a garnish and as a salad. It’s usually shredded and tossed in either lime juice or vinegar and served saw. It can also be pickled.

The taste is both bitter and sweet depending on what it’s been mixed with.

What does green papaya salad taste like?

Fresh, crunchy, a little tart with an air of sweetness.

I’ve never had a bad Thai green papaya salad. I have had several papaya salads that have been a little too keen on chili. The variation with shrimp and peanuts called som tum thai is especially good.

Usually the added shrimp is dried which can be overpowering in some dishes but in green papaya salad there’s very little shrimp taste. The dried shrimp are more for texture or meat than anything like flavor. Though do watch out for restaurant near the sea which may serve the salad with shrimp paste which most definitely is strong in flavor.

Is green papaya salad a good vegetarian meal in Thailand?

Yes! Just be sure that you asked for it without meat. Shrimp or crab is often added but it tastes equally good without meat. The peanuts help in this regard and add a wonderful texture to the dish.

In either case it’s not an expensive dish so for any budget and is surprisingly filling!

This is an additional article featuring Thai food

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13 Great responses to Thai food: Green Papaya Salad (Som Tum)

  1. Ariel says:

    Wanted to comment for a while. Thanks for all these real photos of Thai food. It’s good to see it from your perspective instead of all these recipe sites. This is what you really get in Thailand!

  2. Ted says:

    Great looking salad. Nice to see one being made from fruit instead of vegetables. Shame we can’t get unripe papaya here though.

  3. Roger says:

    I’ve had this in London. It was a desert I think. Surprised to read it as a main course in Thailand!

  4. Anna's World says:

    Great to see a vegetarian dish on show!

  5. Dana says:

    What an interesting idea. I wonder what other unripe fruits can be used in salads that we are not using?

  6. Sandra says:

    A very long time ago a Filipino girl gave us some pickled papaya. It was quite nice. Do you know if it’s similar?

  7. De'Jav says:

    Sounds very interesting adding to my list of things to try when I start traveling Southeast Asia in July.