Lao Green papaya salad recipe Tam Mak Hoong is an extremely flavorful, mouthwatering salad made from shredded green papaya, tomatoes, beans, and carrots. This crunchy salad is lightly pounded with garlic, Thai chilies, tomatoes, and green beans, then seasoned with pungent fermented sauces making this recipe one of the raved-about salads in all of Southeast Asia.
This popular spicy salad comes from Laotian cuisine, where the original recipe was birthed and has been adopted and loved by many worldwide. You can find a lighter and simpler Thai green papaya salad version here.
What Is the Lao green papaya salad recipe, Tam Mak Hoong
Lao papaya salad is a raw salad made from green papaya with garlic, chilis, tomatoes, and green beans and pounded in a clay and mortar pestle. The flavors are seasoned with fish sauce, lime juice, tamarind paste, and sugar. The extra pungent smell and flavors come from the fermented fish sauce, crab paste, shrimp paste, and pickled whole blue crab. The taste is out of this world, delicious, and super addicting! It is the best salad in the world!
Now let’s back up just a bit. This particular version of the Lao Papaya salad recipe has many strong and unique flavors. If you are not used to all these new ingredients, be warned, you may need some time to get used to the smell and taste. Most especially the smell. But once you taste the salad, you'll understand what the rave is all about! (:
There are a lot of strong and perhaps unusual ingredients in this recipe. But these are the legit, authentic, true street style ingredients used almost secretly sometimes by locals. I know because I have seen, smelled, eaten, and inhaled this salad hundreds of times in Thailand, on the streets of Luang Prabang in Laos, and in my home province in Isaan. Trust me on this one. (;
Why This Recipe Works
- This is legit street food at its finest. No kidding around. If you want the real deal, this is it.
- All of the ingredients can be found in one place, your local Asian grocery stores.
- Most of the ingredients can be reused for other Thai recipes as well. Check the bottom of the post for related recipes using these ingredients so you won’t waste them.
- It’s low carbs, light, and refreshing.
- The flavors are lighting jolt delicious. You will be craving it every week.
- Eating raw vegetables is good for you. This salad is healthy minus the use of sugar. You can substitute honey. I often use agave instead.
- You will impress not only your Western guests with this dish but also your Asian and international friends with such know-how of true Isaan, Lao, and Thai street food.
What Goes Into making this Lao papaya salad?
These are the main ingredients in Lao papaya salad. You can mix and match these items and play around with the portions as needed.
- Green papaya salad. Use only unripe green papaya for this. Never use ripe or orange papaya. The flavors and crunchy texture will not be there.
- Garlic. Use whole garlic cloves rather than paste or minced for the best flavors.
- Thai chilis. Use fresh chilis, and adjust as needed for your taste buds for spice level.
- Tomatoes. Cherry tomatoes yield the most juice and flavors, but any tomatoes are great.
- Green beans. Traditionally, long green beans or snake beans are used, but you can use any beans available.
- Shredded Carrots. Use store-bought shredded carrots or peel your own with a vegetable peeler into thin shreds.
- Pla Ra. Fermented fish sauce is not the same as fish sauce. This is the one sauce I don't recommend you skip out on. It's what gives this salad its iconic taste and smell.
- Shrimp paste. Make sure to remove the top waxy part on top of the jar before use. This is not edible. It is used for sealing the container for longer shelf life.
- Crab paste. Comes in a jar usually. The dark paste gives the salad its murky look but tastes amazing.
- Pickled whole crab. Usually found in the refrigerated section in the Asian market.
- Lime juice. Use fresh lime and save a slice of lime rind to add to the salad for the extra release of bitterness.
- Tamarind. Use tamarind concentrate.
- Fish sauce. This recipe uses a lighter and sweeter fish sauce like three crabs brands or red boat brands.
- Sugar. Use palm, white or brown sugar. Agave or honey is excellent for this recipe too.
For different variations, you can customize your Lao papaya salad with these ingredients if preferred. Thai eggplants, dried shrimp, steamed, boiled, or blanched shrimp, cooked vermicelli rice noodles, and cooked ramen noodles. These Asian meatballs add extra umami flavors, fish, pork, beef, or chicken meatballs, fish or shrimp cakes,
Thai basil, purple cabbage, sliced cucumbers, green beans or long beans, Thai green eggplant, and peanuts.
Optional accompaniments or side dish:
Pork rinds, sticky rice, chicken wings, grilled meat, fresh vegetables
How To Make the best Lao papaya salad
Let's get started on this classic recipe, a staple food for so many around the globe! There are many ways to make this salad, but this Lao recipe is what I love making with the ingredients found in my local Asian market.
Prepare the green papaya. Wash, dry with paper towels, and carefully peel the skin off of the papaya with a sharp knife. Peeling only the green part, you will see raw papaya's beautiful white flesh. Wash the sap off with water and towel dry.
Shred the papaya. There are two ways to shred the green papaya, one is the recommended version, and the other is the traditional version-dangerous and not recommended if you are not skilled with a knife. Method one, use the Kiwi peeler or a grater, shred the papaya into thick log slices, 4-6 inches long. Keep shredding until you have about 2 solid cups. Method two, the traditional way (advance cook only, please). Hold the papaya with one hand with a knife in the other. Using a sharp and sturdy knife, start shredding the papaya with the knife in one hand while holding the papaya in the other. Chop the papaya up and down until you have patterns of long cuts in the papaya. Slice the chopped pieces off until you have enough papaya for the salad. Put the rest of the papaya in the fridge for another round of salad tomorrow. (: Note that your second shredding method will yield thicker and crispier papaya salad than the shredding method. Both are great. It’s only a personal preference.
Roughly pound garlic and Thai chilies in a large mortar and pestle with a wooden pestle. Don’t make a paste.
Add the green beans, again roughly pound them with the wooden pestle, just enough to bruise the beans. This is where you can add one or two Thai eggplants.
Add the sliced tomatoes, pound just enough to bruise, and extracts the juice of the tomatoes.
Add shrimp paste, crab paste, fermented fish sauce (Pa Daek), pickled crab, fish sauce, and lime juice with rind, tamarind, and sugar. Leave the rind of the lime, but don’t eat it when served. Either remove it before serving or set it to the side of a plate as how the locals would do it. Half mixing, half light pouring of everything together. Use a large spoon to help swirl the sauce around in a circular motion with one hand while using the wooden pestle on the other.
Add the shredded papaya and carrot and the rest of the lime juice. Lightly pound everything all together one last time. 1 Minute more. Taste your salad and adjust here with more fish sauce, lime juice, or sugar.
Prepare a platter with vegetables and garnishing options on the side. Pour the salad from the mortar into the serving platter, and that's it! Enjoy the taste of heaven on earth! And again tomorrow. (;
Helpful Kitchen Notes
- Soaking the shredded papaya, green beans, and carrots in an ice bath will help crisp the vegetables, adding a fresh crispy texture to the salad.
- Add a small amount at a time of the seasoning ingredients to ensure the flavors aren’t too strong. You can adjust more towards the end.
- You can add up to ¼ cup of water to the sauce to help dilute some of the saltiness if you find the measurements too strong.
- Have sticky rice, jasmine rice, and vermicelli noodles ready to serve with the salad.
- Use lettuce, napa cabbage, or sliced cabbage to eat the salads as a wrap.
- Use a large spoon alongside the wooden pestle to help stir, flip and circulate the salad in the mortar for an even pouring and blending of the sauce into the ingredients.
Helpful Kitchen Tools for this Recipe
What's the difference between Lao and Thai papaya salad?
The Thai version of the papaya salad typically uses fewer ingredients and seasoning than Lao Papaya salads. Thai style tends to be milder and sweeter. Its Thai name is Som Tam. In Thai, Som means sour, and Tum means pounding, so pounding (of) sour (things.) You can find an easy Thai green papaya salad recipe here. Lao Papaya salad is more pungent, spicy, salty, and sour with less sugar than Thai Som Tum. The Lao version uses more fermented ingredients, which adds an extra depth of flavors, colors, and smell to the salad. Lao salads are called Tum Mak Hoong.
What does Lao papaya salad taste like?
Tam Mak Hoong has multi-layers of flavors that explode in your mouth with every bite you take. Each mouthful builds on the last, especially the spiciness. Lao papaya salad has a flavor blend of salty, sweet, tangy, umami, and pungent. It is extremely addicting!
What is Lao style VS the Thai spicy papaya salad?
Throughout Thailand, street stall vendors selling papaya salads usually offer many styles or variations of green salads. When asked for a Lao Style salad, that means Pla Ra (in Thai) or Padaek (in Laos) or fermented fish, shrimp, or crab paste are added to the salads for the extra flavors. Lao-style salads swing more towards salty and tangy rather than sweet. Peanuts are not usually added to the Lao-style papaya salad either.
Are papaya salads healthy?
Yes. Papayas are full of fiber, vitamins, and many other healthful benefits for the body. The salad is mostly raw vegetables pounded with fermented seasoning and some sugar. You can substitute sugar for agave, honey, monk fruit sugar, or other healthier sweetness of choice. It is an extremely healthy dish.
Why is papaya salad so spicy?
Locals in Thailand and Laos love spicy papaya salad. It’s always been a tradition to eat spicy papaya salads, even from an early age. The sounds of lips smacking, mouth wheezing and eye-watering hot are almost a badge of honor when eating this green salad with a group of friends and family.
The spiciness makes one sweat, which helps cool the body off from the smoldering humidity and heat. I guess that’s how it’s always been done, loved, and accepted, and I don’t see it changing anytime soon when it comes to this extremely popular salad. The spicy characteristic of Lao papaya salad makes it iconic and sassy.
Can you eat papaya salad while pregnant?
It’s been a myth in the Thai culture, or in the area where I grew up, that it’s best not to eat papaya salad during pregnancies. I believe the salad uses fermented Pa Deak or Pla Ra, a fermented fish deemed unsafe for the fetus. Also, the raw nature of vegetables made with spicy chili and strong flavors causes heartburn and stomach sensitivities in pregnant women.
How long does green papaya salad last?
Green papaya salad is best eaten in one meal. It loses its freshness and texture if stored in the fridge for the next meal. A salad with many names.
There are many different names and spellings for this Southeast Asian classic dish of Lao cuisine.
Lao people called it Tum Mark hoong, tum som, Tam Lao, Som Tum Lao. In Thai, it's called, Som Tum, Tum Malakoh (Pounded Papaya) or Som Tum Thai.
Do you need Thai Mortar and Pestle to make Som Tum?
Thai Papaya salad is typically made in a large clay mortar and wooden pestle for the light pounding of raw vegetables. If you don’t have a set, there are a few things around the house you can use to make this Thai dish. Here are some suggestions:
Use a sturdy medium size bowl, and with cooking gloves, use your hands and fingers to massage ingredients together. Use a sturdy gallon zip lock bag lined with a dish towel and a meat tenderizer to lightly pound the bag with the ingredients.
Related Thai dishes You’ll Love!
- Thai papaya salad
- Easy chicken satay recipe
- 5-minute authentic Thai satay sauce
- Thai cucumber salad for satay
- Thai Gai yang chicken recipe
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