Som Tam (Papaya Salad)

som tam - thai green papaya salad

som tam - thai green papaya salad

This may seem strange, but the first time I had papaya salad was in Prague. When my sister and my cousin Nicole came to visit me last year in Spain, we went on a mini Euro trip. Our last stop was in Prague and it would be an understatement to say we were exhausted.

It was both exciting and tiring living out of our suitcases and hopping on a plane every three days. I heard from a bunch of friends who had already visited Prague that there was a lot of good ethnic food other than Czech food. We found a Thai restaurant (Lemon Leaf) within walking distance from our hostel and it immediately felt familiar. We ordered a bunch of dishes, but I distinctly remember this was the first time I had green curry and papaya salad, thanks to my sister (God bless your soul, Alexandra).

Since that one time in Prague, not once have I visited a Thai restaurant without ordering papaya salad. It is such a fresh dish either to start your meal off or to have as a side. It is pretty much just shredded green papaya that is sometimes topped with shrimp, tossed in an amazing, tangy dressing.

If you love papaya salad, you MUST try making this yourself because it will be better than any you've had in a restaurant. If you've never had it, you don't know what you're missing and you must try it. JUST TRY IT, OK? It's just so fresh, pickley, and crunchy! I'm a wordsmith, I know.

As I mentioned in my previous post on green curry, I found everything I needed for the papaya salad at the local Thai Market near my house. I anticipated buying a couple whole green papayas and shredding them myself, but at the market they had individually packed 1/2 pound bags of fresh shredded papaya. Half the work done for me : ) Obviously, in the case that you don't have this pre-shredded papaya readily available, you will have to buy some unripe, whole green papaya and shred it either using a mandolin if you have one or julienne them by hand.

2 tbsp fish sauce (I use Three Crabs Brand)
1 tbsp of dried shrimp (found in the freezer section at most Asian markets)
juice of one lime
2 garlic cloves, minced
2-3 chili peppers or jalapeno peppers
2 tbsp light brown sugar
1/2 lb shredded green papaya (1 to 2 whole papayas, depending on the size)

crushed peanuts
fresh cilantro

OPTIONAL: shrimp (peeled & deveined), seasoned w S&P and sauteed in olive oil (squeeze lime juice on cooked shrimp)

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  1. If you don't have pre-shredded papaya, peel the papaya using a paring knife. Either using a mandolin or by hand, julienne the papaya and set aside. 
    **Practice extra caution if using a mandolin**
  2. Mince up the dried shrimp, garlic, and peppers as fine as possible. Add all three into a mortar and crush with a pestle until well combined.
    **A mortar and pestle really allow the oils and flavors to come out of the ingredients but if you don't have one, you can toss the ingredients into a ziploc bag and roll over it with a rolling pin**
  3. In a small bowl, whisk together the crushed mixture with lime juice, fish sauce, and brown sugar until all the sugar has dissolved. Taste the dressing and adjust accordingly (i.e. if it's too sweet, add a little lime juice).
  4. Empty the dressing into a larger bowl. Add the shredded papaya to the bowl and toss using tongs.
  5. It is ready to serve! Garnish with some crushed peanuts and fresh cilantro.

It's best to toss the papaya just before serving because the longer it sits in the dressing, the more water will be rendered out of the papaya. The dressing can be prepared ahead of time and refrigerate until you are ready to serve.