As a Thai native, I cannot help but boast about the amazing culinary scene of my country. From the sour and spicy Tom Yum soup to the sweet and creamy Mango Sticky Rice, the list of delicious dishes goes on and on. But today, I want to share with you a personal favorite – the Som Tam salad.
Som Tam, also known as Papaya Salad, is a quintessential dish that can be found in every corner of Thailand. It is a refreshing blend of shredded green papaya, tomatoes, peanuts, and a sweet and sour dressing made of sugar, lime, and fish sauce. And let's not forget the kick of spiciness from the chili peppers!
The first time I had Som Tam, I was hesitant to try it since I am not a big fan of spice. But oh boy, was I mistaken! Som Tam is more than just a salad. It's a burst of flavors and textures in every bite – the crunchiness of the papaya, the juiciness of the tomatoes, the nuttiness of the peanuts, and the tanginess of the dressing. And the heat? It gradually builds up, making you crave for more.
The Origin of Som Tam Salad
As a young woman from Thailand, I take great pride in the culinary traditions of my country. One of the most popular and delicious dishes in Thailand is Som Tam Salad. Also known as "Green Papaya Salad," Som Tam Salad is a refreshing and zesty combination of sweet, sour, and spicy flavors that are sure to tantalize your taste buds.
Historically, the ingredients used in Som Tam Salad were limited to the local and seasonal produce of Isan. However, as the dish's popularity spread throughout Thailand (and eventually the world), variations of the dish have emerged, incorporating different ingredients depending on the region and the cook's preferences.
Key Ingredients in Som Tam Salad
Despite variations in Som Tam Salad ingredients, there are several key components common to most recipes. The first and most essential ingredient is unripe papaya. The firm and slightly sour papaya is sliced or shredded, then pounded in a mortar and pestle until it becomes tender and easy to eat.
Another ingredient that gives Som Tam Salad its distinctive flavor is the chili pepper. The fiery heat of the chili is balanced out by a combination of sweet and sour flavors from other ingredients, like sugar and lime juice.
Aromatic herbs like cilantro and Thai basil, as well as crunchy nuts like peanuts or cashews, are also commonly used in Som Tam Salad, adding a refreshing texture and depth of flavor to the dish.
How to Prepare Som Tam Salad
To prepare Som Tam Salad, start by washing and peeling an unripe papaya. Using a sharp knife or a mandolin, slice the papaya into thin matchstick-like strips. Then, place them in a mortar and pound them lightly with a pestle until they become tender.
Next, add chili peppers, garlic, and green beans to the mortar and continue pounding until the ingredients are well combined. At this point, you can add other ingredients such as tomatoes, carrots, and shrimp to the mix.
Finally, add a tablespoon of sugar, a tablespoon of fish sauce, and the juice of one or two limes to the mortar. Continue pounding until all ingredients are well combined and the flavors have melded. Once done, transfer the salad to a serving plate and top it with a sprinkle of roasted peanuts, fresh herbs, and additional chili peppers if desired.
Where to find the Best Som Tam Salad in Thailand
If you're visiting Thailand, you'll find no shortage of delicious Som Tam Salad options. However, some of the best places to try the dish are in the Northeastern region of Isan.
If you're in Bangkok, head to the famous restaurant Som Tam Nua, located in the bustling area of Siam Square. Here you'll find a variety of Som Tam Salad dishes, including the classic papaya version, as well as options made with mango, coconut, and other unique ingredients.
In Chiang Mai, try the Som Tam Salad at Sababa Restaurant, a charming eatery located in the city's Old Town. They offer a unique take on the dish, incorporating cherry tomatoes and green apples for a refreshing twist.
Health Benefits of Som Tam Salad
Som Tam Salad is not only delicious but also incredibly healthy. Unripe papaya, the main ingredient in the dish, is packed with vitamins and minerals, including vitamin C, folate, and potassium. The chili peppers used in the salad can also provide health benefits, such as reducing inflammation and improving metabolism.
Another ingredient commonly found in Som Tam Salad, peanuts, is an excellent source of monounsaturated fats, which can lower bad cholesterol levels, reducing the overall risk of heart disease.
In conclusion, if you're a foodie and haven't yet tried Som Tam Salad, you're missing out on a culinary delight that is both healthy and delicious. It is easy to prepare and perfect for anyone looking to add some bold, zesty flavors to their meals.
Whether you're in Thailand or elsewhere in the world, you're sure to find a restaurant or recipe that will satisfy your craving for Som Tam Salad. So why wait? Head to your local grocery store, grab some papaya, chilies, and other ingredients, and start making your own version of this beloved Thai dish today.