Thai Papaya Salad or “Som Tum” is an extremely flavorful salad made from green, unripe papaya lightly pounded together with garlic, Thai chilies, tomatoes, and green beans. The sweet, tangy, and sour taste comes from fresh lime juice, fish sauce, and palm sugar.
Thai green papaya salad has countless variations in Thai cuisine. This version is one of the easiest to make. Thai green papaya salad is believed to have originated from Laos, and it has gained its popularity throughout all regions of Thailand, especially in the Isaan Region (Northeast) where I grew up.
Do you Need Thai Mortar and Pestle to make Som Tum (Papaya Salad)?
Thai Papaya salad is typically made in a large clay mortar with a wooden pestle used for lightly pounding the 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 on, use your hands and fingers to massage ingredients together. Another option is to use a sturdy gallon zip lock bag, wrapped in a dishtowel, and use a meat tenderizer to lightly pound the bag with the ingredients inside.
Is Thai Papaya Salad a Vegetarian Dish?
Yes and no. The beauty of the papaya salad is that you can modify and substitute the ingredients very easily. That is why there is a number of variations out there. For this recipe, I use dried shrimp for a rich umami flavor LINK, but you can easily omit it. You can also use raw shrimp (cocktail shrimp) as well.
How do You Eat Thai Papaya Salad?
Papaya salad is commonly served with sticky rice. You can find my recipe on how to make sticky rice HERE.
If you can't find sticky rice, you can use jasmine rice as well. If you are avoiding carbs, you can always eat it as a stand-alone dish wrapped in leafy greens like romaine or butter lettuce or cabbage it pairs especially well with Napa cabbage.
Where Can I Buy Green Papaya?
I typically buy green papaya at my local Asian markets. That is the best and most likely place to find some. I have had some luck at Trader Joe’s, but the papayas were already on the ripe side and I DO NOT suggest papayas that are soft and almost ripe. The texture and sweeter flavor are just never right for the dish.
What other Vegetables Can I Substitute Instead of the Green Papayas?
As mentioned above, there are many variations of Thai green papaya salads out there. And with that, there are many vegetables used instead of the green papaya in salads. You can use green beans or cucumbers and make a slightly different salad. Both of those vegetables are also commonly used in Som Tum. By the way, “Som” means sour, and “Tum“ means to pound. So basically any vegetable used to make this dish just has to have gone through the process of being pounded in a sour agent of some sort. So you can make Som Tum green beans or Som Tum cucumber too. Thai papaya salad is not only tasty but it is also a healthy dish especially if you cut down on the sugar used in the recipe.
Helpful Tools to Make Thai Papaya Salad
The clay mortar and wooden pestle set, (pictured below) are used most often for making Thai papaya salad in Thailand. Your best chance of finding a quality mortar and pestle is at your local Asian Markets. Go on an adventure to your Asian Market and see what you can find there!
Kiwi vegetable peeler, also at your local Asian markets, or you can snag one online HERE. I love this kitchen tool! I use mine often for peeling fruits and vegetables. They are great for peeling carrots, zucchini, cucumber, daikon, mangos, etc. It definitely gets used a lot in my kitchen.
How to Make Thai Papaya Salad?
Pictured below are the ingredients and helpful tools you need to make Thai Papaya Salad. You can find a few items online with a link below:
How to Make Thai Papaya Salad (step by step photos)
1. Prepare the green papaya. Wash, dry with paper towels. You can cut the peeled papaya in half before peeling if it's easier to grip on the fruit with your fingers.
2. Peel the skin off of the papaya. Peel the papaya with the kiwi peeler and save the rest of the papaya for your second round of papaya salad tomorrow!
3. In a mortar and pestle, add the garlic and chilis. Also, have a large spoon ready by your side to use for scraping and flipping the ingredients over.
4. Lightly pound the garlic and chilis. Do not turn it into a paste.
5. Add the Thai eggplants and green beans and roughly pound them with the wooden pestle. Again, do not crush the ingredients too much here, just a slight pounding, enough to slightly bruise the veggies.
6. Shave the palm sugar if you are using the round cubes rather than the melted paste.
7. Add the palm sugar, tomatoes, tamarind sauce, dried shrimp, and 2 slices of lime wedges.
8. Add the shredded papaya, shredded carrot, fish sauce, and the rest of the lime juice. Lightly pound everything together one last time here, using a large spoon to scoop, turn, and flip the ingredients around to try to get an even amount of pounding.
9. Taste the finished salad and adjust accordingly, if needed add more sugar, lime juice, or fish sauce and pounding it one last time before serving. Sprinkle crushed peanuts on top before serving if desired. That’s it! Enjoy!
Thai papaya salad is best enjoyed immediately while all the flavors are still fresh. I do not recommend having any leftovers at all! (: Well, you won't want to anyway, trust me. Green papayas are abundant right now at Asian Markets, so let’s go grab some ingredients to make this famous Thai dish.Print