Som Tum is a Thai papaya salad that’s made with shredded green papaya and the ingredients are pounded together in a mortar and pestle.
This dish can be found all over Thailand, with different variations of flavor based on the region. ‘Som’ means sour, and ‘Tum’ means to pound. Som Tum in Thailand is made by using a mortar and pestle, and pounding the ingredients.
The video at the end shows how to make it with and without a mortar and pestle.
Papaya Salad Variations
Depending on the region of Thailand, there are different variations of the same dish. The recipe I’m showing here is called ‘Thai style’ or Tum Thai. This variation is most common here in the states and typically has peanuts, green beans, and dried shrimp.
I'll be making this variation and the flavor profile will be spicy, sour, salty, and a hint of sweetness.
In the North East part of Thailand, Som Tum has pickled mud fish. Yes, I know that mud fish does not sound appetizing, but if you didn’t know what you were eating, you’d probably think it just tasted salty.
Another popular variation is Som Tum Boo or Papaya Salad with salted crab. The crab is not boiled crab that most of us are used to eating, but instead fermented in salted water and used as a flavoring agent.
Ingredients for Papaya Salad
Green Papaya- This is the main ingredient for papaya salad, and you must use green papaya. Yellow or sweet papaya will not work. I’ve always been able to find green papaya at an Asian Market.
If you can’t find green papaya you can use shredded cucumber for Tum Thang or Zucchini has a similar texture to green papaya.
Thai Bird’s Eye Chili’s- These peppers can be found at most Asian Markets and essential for a traditional papaya salad. A substitute can be Serrano or habaneros, but instead of pounding them, I would slice very thin.
Fish Sauce- Fish sauce can be found at most stores and online. It’s another key ingredient but if you have an allergy to fish sauce, then a substitute is light soy sauce.
Dried Shrimp- Dried shrimp can be found at an Asian Market or online here. A substitute for this can be regular whole shrimp, boiled just until cooked, and used as a garnish on top of the papaya salad.
Tomatoes- I used roma tomatoes and sliced them, but cherry tomatoes cut in half work well too. You want to keep the seeds in to make the ‘sauce’ for the papaya salad
Green Beans- For a more authentic version, use Chines long beans. But here I'm using regular raw green beans.
Mortar and Pestle Method
Pound garlic cloves and Thai chili peppers in the mortar until a paste is formed. The number of Thai peppers you use will depend on how spicy you want it. I used 4 for Medium to Hot spice level.
Add lime juice, fish sauce, coconut sugar, dried shrimp, tomatoes, and green beans to the mortar and pound to release juices.
Add the shredded papaya to the mortar, or bowl. Begin pounding until papaya is evenly coated with sauce and tomatoes have been slightly smashed. Taste for seasoning and top with roasted peanuts.
Use a food chopper or finely chop the garlic and chili peppers with a knife, then add to a large bowl.
Add Shredded papaya, lime juice, fish sauce, coconut sugar, dried shrimp, tomatoes, and green beans to the bowl and smash with a large spoon.
Keep mixing and smashing until all the ingredients are incorporated. Taste for seasoning and top with roasted peanuts.
How to Serve and Store Papaya Salad
Serve papaya salad with sticky rice and Thai beef jerky, or with grilled chicken or meats. It's also a spicy salad, so a plate of lettuce, cabbage leaves, cucumbers, and Chinese long beans is served alongside.
Papaya salad is best eaten the same day. Leftovers can be kept refrigerated up to 2 days, however the papaya will get soggy the longer it is kept.
Try this Thai Ground Chicken Salad- Laab.
Som Tum- Thai Papaya Salad Recipe
- 1 Green Papaya Medium size- Once shredded you need about 4-6 cups packed.
- ¼ cup Shredded Carrot
- 3 Garlic Cloves
- 1-4 Thai Bird's Eye Chili's Depending on how spicy you want it.
- 2 Limes squeezed have more on hand
- 2-3 teaspoon Thai Fish Sauce have more on hand
- 1 tablespoon Coconut Sugar have more on hand or sub regular sugar.
- 3 tablespoon Dried Shrimp See notes on where to find
- 2 Roma Tomatoes thinly sliced or use cherry tomatoes cut in half.
- 5 Fresh Green beans cut into 2 in pieces or Chinese long beans.
- ¼ cup Peanuts
- Sliced Cucumbers, Lettuce or Cabbage leaves for serving
- Peel the papaya and cut in half length wise and scoop out the seeds. Do a quick soak in ice water to ensure the papaya is crisp and cold. Then shred the papaya with a mandolin or peeler. You want to end up with shreds.
- Pound garlic cloves and Thai chili peppers in the mortar until a paste is formed. (Non-mortar) Use a food chopper or finely chop the garlic and chili peppers with a knife.
- Add lime juice, fish sauce, coconut sugar, dried shrimp, tomatoes, and green beans to the mortar and pound to release juices. If using a bowl, smash with large spoon.
- Add the shredded papaya to the mortar, or bowl. Begin pounding until papaya is evenly coated with sauce and tomatoes have been slightly smashed. For the bowl method, use a large spoon to incorporate all the ingredients.
- Then add your peanuts, taste, and see if additional lime juice, fish sauce, or sugar is needed.
Nutritional information is provided as an estimate only and depends on ingredients and amounts used. Thai Caliente makes no guarantees to the accuracy of this information.