Heavenly Som Tam: Thai Papaya Salad
The famous Som Tam, Thai papaya salad. Oh god is this stuff good eats. Really. If you ever go to Thailand, don’t be a wiener. Get one every day.
The version I tried was Som Tam Thai, which is slightly different from the two other main takes on this dish, the Som Tam Pu with salted black crab and the Som Tam Pla Ra with fermented fish. I chose what seemed like the simplest one, more interested in the papaya itself than the mix-ins. I misunderstood e concept completely. Unlike the lettuce-tomato-onion-protein salads of Western salads, a Thai salad is a mixture of 5 or more ingredients always. It’s a dish where fresh, cool flavors meat heavier ones, contrasting sharply to form a complex mouthful with each bite. It is a process and each salad has its own methodology and it’s own traditions. The salad list is often the most daring section of a Thai food menu. It’s where chiles are left to roam wild, where lime juice pricks the tongue and the crunch of bean sprouts and kale resonates loudly.
My som tam was a beautiful blend of shredded, unripe green papaya (more sour than sweet, with a nice crunchy bite) soaked in lime juice with mouse dropping chiles (?) and chili powder bringing on the heat to contrast the cool citrus. Palm sugar adds a natural, oily sweetness while bits of toasted peanut add a crispy texture and nutty flavor. Big juice wedges of tomato add moisture while whole string-beans add a fresh crunch. Dried mini brine shrimps which soak up the excess juices add a chewy texture to each bite and a briny marine flavor with lingers and melts together with the fresh papaya wonderfully.
Oman. I need to come back just for this one dish.