Som tam (green papaya salad)

This is hands-down my favourite Sunday lunch dish, and why not? I do live in the hot, wet tropics of Far North Queensland, after all, and the climate is so similar to Thailand’s that I can’t help but cook to the conditions 😉

The first time I tried som tam it damn near killed me, but two years of living in Thailand saw to it that I developed a taste for chilli, and a palate well-conditioned for papaya salad perfection. I can’t get enough of this….. Crisp slivers of fragrant green papaya, salty soy sauce, fiery bird’s eye chillies, the mouth-watering tang of lime, and exactly the right amount of sugar to round it all out (you’ll know what I mean when you make it – the sugar makes aaaalll the difference!)… and serve with sticky rice and cool, crisp salad greens, oh yes, welcome any Sunday!

Sadly my som tam will likely never rival the world’s best – you’ll only get to taste that one if you make some loyal local friends in Chiang Mai, who will show you where it’s at (I’ve never seen another farang in my fave som tam joint, so it’s safe to say this is off-limits to tourists, and who’d want to spoil the authenticity by catering to tourist tastebuds anyway?!) 😉

Anyhoo – here’s my pale imitation of the world’s best som tam, and I think it’s good enough for anyone who hasn’t yet tried the best…

Flavour: Tangy & spicy

Serves: 2


  • Green papaya – one whole small one, or half a large one – coarsely shredded
    • Amateur tip: I shred my green papaya with a veggie peeler, but if you want a really nice fine shred to your papaya, I recommend using a purpose-made veggie shredder like this one
  • 4 red bird’s eye chillies, chopped finely (adjust chilli to your own taste – this dish is supposed to be spicy, but you’re the best judge of how much you can handle!)
  • 1 clove garlic, crushed (minced if preferred – see here for my how-to tip on perfectly smooth garlic paste)
  • Juice of 1 lime
  • 4 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon palm sugar or rapadura (or if you can’t get either of these, use raw sugar, but not the horrid white stuff that should only ever be used for desserts)
  • Crushed, toasted peanuts (see here for my how-to tip on crunchy toasted crushed peanuts)

Optional extras:

  • Sliced cucumber (preferably de-seeded), sliced ripe tomatoes, snake beans snapped into 3-4cm pieces (I always use tomato, often snake beans, and sometimes cucumber…)
  • Sticky rice to serve
  • Chopped chunks or slices of cucumber to serve
  • Fresh green leaves to serve – I use lettuce, Chinese cabbage, morning glory, and a little Thai basil when I feel like dressing this dish up Chiang Mai style


  • Large, preferably heavy, pestle and mortar (I prefer the wooden ones they use in Thailand & Laos) – if you don’t have one, a salad bowl will do for mixing, but a pestle and mortar are best for getting the flavours out and well mixed


  1. Pound the garlic, palm sugar and chillies in a heavy pestle and mortar until they are well combined
  2. Add the shredded green papaya to the pestle and mortar, and pound gently while mixing to combine all ingredients
  3. Add lime juice and soy sauce, and pound gently wile mixing until well combined
  4. Add any optional salad extras you fancy, and mix well
  5. Serve immediately, topped with crushed peanuts – best eaten with steamed sticky rice and an array of raw vegetables and fresh green leaves (see here for how to prepare sticky rice)

Best served when the weather is hot and humid – just as I like it best 😀

And if you’re really in slow Sunday mode (highly recommended), wash this down with an ice-cold beer – chok-dee, kha! 😉

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