Food carries memories. We all have those moments when a flavor or actually the scent of food brings back a distant memory, making time travel possible if only for a brief moment.

To me ‘Som Tum Thai’ ส้มตำไทย or green papaya salad carries a memory. The year is 1997 I’m in Bangkok. I’m hungry and asking Andrea a friend from Austria where should we eat. She wants to have ‘Som Tum’, “wanna have what?” I asked, “Som Tum a papaya salad” she replies, “you must’ve had Som Tum before, it’s like the most popular salad and everybody loves it”. Shamefully I had to admit that I never heard of it, but hey this is how amazing those times were, with no Facebook, YouTube and Instagram and amazing new discoveries made every day. It didn’t take too long before I had my first ‘Som Tum’. Who would’ve thought that unripe papaya would be the main ingredient in a salad? I haven’t…

This salad is made in a ‘Pok Pok’ a clay mortar with a wooden pestle.
Fresh chilies are thrown into the mortar with garlic and smashed by the pestle. Palm sugar, lime, fish sauce and dried small krill shrimp are added too. Then green papaya shreds, green long beans, tomatoes and peanuts. The mix is stirred with a spatula and pounded until the vegetables are lightly bruised. Variations of this salad include pungent fermented fish ‘Plaa Raa’, fermented small crabs and other condiments to surge umami levels. It is served with sticky rice which is perfect for soaking the sauce and for toning down the heat.

For this plant based version I’m replacing fish sauce with Thai light soy. It should taste salty, sweet and sour and fairly spicy.

Ingredients and preparations

Mortar:

Sauce:

Method

1.Roast or deep fry the peanuts and place on a paper towel to let excess oil drain. Peel and shred the green papaya. Cut the beans.

2.Crush the chilies and garlic in the mortar. Add and lightly pound some of the peanuts to release their fragrance. Add coconut sugar lime juice, soy and some of the tomatoes, pound lightly to form the sauce. Give it a taste, it should be quite salty to compensate for the bland papaya, sweet and sour.

3.Add the shredded papaya, beans and eggplant. pound and stir thoroughly to coat the vegetables with the sauce. Add the rest of the tomatoes and the peanuts. Give it all another stir to spread ingredients evenly and transfer to a serving plate.

3 Replies to “Som Tum Thai”

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