Som Tam - Thai Papaya Salad

Som Tam in Thailand
Som Tam is a very well known dish I believe. It is very popular in Thailand, across the whole country... not just in the Northeastern or Esarn where it originated from. And most Thais have a feeling that the best Som Tam does not come from a fancy restaurant, but a very local vendor. We normally pay about 20-30 Baht for a dish... when the price goes up to 50 Baht we start to feel that it's expensive.

Som Tam Thai
Som Tam is made from raw grated papaya mixed with small tomatoes, long beans, peanuts, dried shrimps, chili and garlic... seasoned with coconut sugar, lime juice and fish sauce. Voila - that's Som Tam Thai! All this mixing is done in a wood or earthen mortar... never a stone one because the weight of the stone won't just mix the salad, but crush everything flat.

The dish is often served with fresh local vegetables such as long beans, cabbages or cucumbers. To make the meal complete, it goes with Thai sticky rice.

There are a lot of variations of Som Tam that you could try as well...
  • Som Tam Poo - replace peanuts with salted black crab. This is as popular as Som Tam Thai
  • Som Tam Pla Raa - replace peanuts with fermented fish
  • Som Tam Poo Pla Raa - replace peanuts with both black crab and fermented fish... yum!
  • Som Tam Kai Khem - add hard-boiled, salted egg to Som Tam Thai
  • Tam Sua - mix cold rice noodles (Kanom Jeen) into Som Tam Poo Pla Raa
  • Som Tam Poo Maa - add sand crab (either cooked or raw) to Som Tam Thai. This is often found by the sea side where sand crab is plentiful.
The list can go on and on with what you can put in your Som Tam, be it crispy fish, dried fishes, cooked prawns, water bugs (Mang Da) or even mussels!

Replacing papaya with something else is also an option. Carrot is already a popular addition to papaya for Som Tam Thai in many restaurants. Replacing the papaya completely create a new name for the dish.
  • Tam Mamuang - replace papaya with raw mango (Mamuang)... often made in Som Tam Thai style
  • Tam Tang - replace papaya with cucumber
  • Tam Apple - usually green apple. This dish is quite popular among Thai students abroad who are desperate for Sam Tam (well I was one of them back then!)
  • Tam Carrot
The best Som Tam in Thailand that I've ever had is in Udonthani - the province in Esarn not far from Laos border. That was Som Tam Poo Pla Raa by default if you are around that area.
Som Tam Kai Khem
Tam Sua
Could be fishes or Mang Da here, not sure :)