Thai cuisine: the passion of the salad som tam

Thai cuisine: the passion of the salad som tam

The most popular Thai salad for both Thais and foreigners living in Thailand is the green papaya salad. Usually called som tomor his real name som tam maloko, this salad is even more popular. Thais have a real passion for this dish. To the point that the guide Lonely plans in Thailand dedicates to him a box entitled “the cult of som tam”. In short, we do not live in Thailand without it som tom as in France without cheese. Why is this dish so special?

This salad traditionally consists of slices of green papaya mixed with a crushed mixture into a mortar and consisting of garlic, palm sugar, green beans, tomatoes, lime juice, fish sauce, small dried shrimp, peanuts and fresh peppers. The special feature of this salad is the presence in a plate with three flavors. The salad is sour (priao), soft (weak), and salty (Ke M). These three flavors are always found, even if their intensity varies, depending on the increased doses of lime, palm sugar and fish sauce. The harmony of the combination of these three flavors is definitely achieved thanks to the pepper: to be successful the salad must necessarily be spicy and spicy (fart).

Many variations of flavors

The richness of Thai culinary traditions comes in local variations: in the north of the kingdom, som tom is often less sour and salty; in the center is generally not too spicy and sweeter; in Isaan it is more sour and spicy; in the south (the region where salads are eaten less), it is more spicy and salty. In any case, whether spicy or not, the salad with green papaya remains strong in taste for flavors, fresh and spicy. Westerners always find it spicy and often too spicy. David Thompson, in his book Thai Street Food (Ten Speed ​​Press Editions), notes that there are “several versions” of the famous salad. Without a doubt, som tom traditional is som tom malako. However, notes David Thompson, green papaya can be favorably replaced by green mango (som tam mamouang), cucumber (som tam taengkwa), carrots (som tam carrot), grapefruit (som tam pomelo), green beans (som tam fakhiao), pineapple (som tam saparot), or white guava (som tam farang) or eggplant slices (som tam makhualai).

Sometimes green papaya is mixed with one or two of these fruits or vegetables. Similarly, the variety of ingredients that accompany green papaya allows the development of a large number of varieties of som tam. The recipe includes some of the essential ingredients already mentioned. But the accompaniment is different: small black crabs from fermented rice fields (som tam pu), fresh sea crabs (cougar), small fermented river fish (som tam plala), fermented mixed crabs and small fish (som tam pu plala), marinated mussels (somtam hoi dong), salted eggs (som tam kaikem), small cold Chinese noodles (som tam sua), etc. The list goes on and on.

Som Tam ThaiA salad always well beaten

Name som tom comes from the dialect of Isaan: som means “sour”, while tam means “to strike”. Hence, the name of this salad comes from its preparation according to a traditional method which requires beating and crushing with the sour mixture that accompanies the strips of green papaya. Even today, preparing a good salad with green papaya requires an oppressor (sark), usually made of wood or stone, and a mortar (croc), generally in sandstone, the edges of which are raised to avoid projections. Thai food experts believe that som tom probably comes from Laos and Isaani, though today this salad has become more of a Thai dish than a Lao one.

Papaya green salad is eaten in Thailand and Laos, but also in Cambodia, Burma, Vietnam and southern China. Som tam is nothing but a vegetable salad, simple enough to make. It is therefore not surprising that it is consumed elsewhere except in Thailand and in many circumstances. Green salad with papaya is usually not served for breakfast. And this because of his elevated character who can attack the stomach on waking. Generally, the salad is eaten in the middle of the morning (after consuming a rice-based breakfast) and this throughout the day, including the evening, before going to bed. Such a dish can serve as a meal, lunch or dinner. If som is fully served during a meal, it is usually accompanied by rice (sticky or not).

It is also sometimes eaten with meat dishes, ideally grilled chicken or grilled pork slices. Simple and easy, this salad can be eaten with any other dish. “At the culinary level, som tam can be served in any circumstance: as a snack, on the street, at home or in a restaurant; is the ideal dish that blends harmoniously with any side dish – with or without meat – and any beverage, including alcoholic ones “, confirms Morten Bojstrup, head of the Kin Kin restaurant at the Siam Kempinsky Hotel in Bangkok, a specialist in Thai cuisine and offers the famous salad on his menu. In practice, green papaya salad is also eaten at any time of the day by Thais. In this case it is served alone, without accompaniment. The spices contained in salads cause a rapid feeling of satiety. It does not contain fat and is therefore supposed to be excellent for your health. There are also women who are more concerned about their line than men who consume more.

Som Tam ThaiFreshness of ingredients

The quality of som tom comes both from the freshness of the ingredients and from the craftsmanship of the person who prepares it. “The best salad som tam is the freshest”, often say Thais. Hence the secret of its success lies in the freshness of the foods that make it up. Foods which, ideally, should be bought on the same morning in the market to ensure their freshness. Another guarantee for its quality is the origin of the person responsible for its preparation. Som tam is certainly a national dish, prepared and consumed throughout the kingdom. But it is probably in the north and east of the country that we consume the most. Here we find the best experts som tom.

On the streets of Bangkok, the vendors who make papaya green salad are often women from the north and east, a guarantee of quality for Thai people. It can be found in all places, from the largest restaurant to the mall, through the peddler in a cart or the small dealer. Finally, since som tam is a simple and relatively quick dish to prepare, many Thais think that salad prepared by a street vendor from the east or north of the kingdom can be just as good, even better than what you can order. the most exclusive restaurants.


– Choose a beautiful green papaya (maloko khiao), unripe and fresh. Rinse carefully and then peel. Hold the fruit firmly in your hand. Using a large knife, cut the papaya lengthwise, around the fruit. Once the papaya is properly cut, finely chop the surface of the fruit with a knife or vegetable cutter (Ti Code Maloko). Thin strips will then come off. Repeat the operation until you reach the core.

– Add the garlic (kratiam), dried shrimp (gong haeng) and peppers (Phrik), if possible small size because they are stronger (phrik kinoo) in a mortar (croc) or a salad bowl. Add cherry tomatoes (macaw aids where makuatet leke) and green beans (toua fakhiao) then tap and press with a press (sark) all;

– Pickled ingredients like salted crabs (I can) or fermented fish (pla raa) can be added to the mixture, to emphasize the taste;

– Add salt (klua), palm sugar (namtan pip), lime juice (nam manao ; sometimes, we also add thin slices of lime), peanuts (everything) and fish sauce (nampa); you can also add a tablespoon of tamarind juice (nam makham); season to taste;

– Add green papaya and mix everything; let stand a few minutes before consuming. Most Thai restaurants have green papaya salad on their menu. There are also several restaurants specializing in som tam. Let’s mention two in Bangkok (but there are others): Som tam nua (in central Siam); Som tam hai (in Silom, Soi Monastery).


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