Green papaya salad

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Green papaya salad
2013 Tam Lao.jpg
A dish of green papaya salad made with papaya, yardlong beans, chili, pla ra, brined crab, hog plum and lime
Alternative namesTam maak hoong, bok l'hong, tam som, som tam and gỏi đu đủ
Place of originLaos, Northeastern Thailand (Isan)[citation needed]
Region or stateSoutheastern Asia
Main ingredientsPapaya

Green papaya salad, called tam som (Lao: ຕໍາສົ້ມ) or tam maak hoong (Lao: ຕໍາໝາກຫຸ່ງ, pronounced [tà᷆ːk.hūŋ]) is a spicy salad made from shredded unripe papaya. Originating from ethnic Lao people,[citation needed] it is also eaten throughout Southeast Asia.

Regional varieties include bok l'hong (Khmer: បុកល្ហុង, pronounced [ɓok lhoŋ]) of Cambodia[1] and gỏi đu đủ of Vietnam. Som tam (Thai: ส้มตำ, pronounced [sôm tām]), the Thai variation, was listed at number 46 on World's 50 most delicious foods[2] compiled by CNN Go in 2011[3] and 2018.[4]


Papaya and chili peppers were introduced in Southeast Asia by the Spanish and Portuguese explorers in the 1600s from the Americas.[5] Through trades with the Portuguese and other Europeans cultivation of non-native crops and ingredients quickly spread throughout Southeast Asia. Thailand being one of the entry points where the Europeans have traded and where the papaya was introduced to mainland Southeast Asia have led historian Sujit Wongthes, to speculate wrongly[citation needed] that the variant of tam som using papaya as the main ingredient probably originated in the communities of ethnic Chinese–Lao settlers living in the Chao Phraya plains of what is now Central Thailand—where it became known as som tam—during the early Rattanakosin period (late 18th to early 19th centuries). The new dish, along with the papaya, then spread to today's Northeast Thailand (Isan) following the construction of the Northeastern railway line during the turn of the 19th–20th centuries, and became more popular after the opening of Mittraphap Road in 1957 helped bring new papaya cultivars into the region. The dish has since become widely adopted by the ethnic Lao people of both Isan and Laos. Likewise, the hot flavour also spread to Isan and Laos from Central Thailand, which had been introduced to chilli peppers first.[6]

By the time Jean-Baptiste Pallegoix arrived as a missionary to Bangkok; the papaya and chilli peppers were already fully integrated in the Lao territory and the Southeast Asian food culture as a whole.[7][8][9][10][11]

According to cultural anthropologist Penny Van Esterik, during the 1950s and 1960s, green papaya salad was rarely known among the Central Thais and could only be found where there are small gatherings of Lao or Northeasterners:

In the 1950s and 1960s glutinous rice, roast chicken, larb, somtam (papaya salad), and other Lao favorites were available in Bangkok only around the boxing stadium where northeastern boxers and fans gathered to eat and drink before and after boxing matches. Lao food could also be found outside construction sites in mobile food carts providing construction workers from the northeast with their regional foods and beside gas stations serving long-distance bus drivers.[12]

Van Esterik also noted that "[i]n attempting to include northeastern food in a standardized national cuisine, middle-class Bangkok selected and modified the taste of a few dishes—grilled chicken, somtam, larb—by reducing the chili peppers and increasing the sugar, and ignored other dishes such as fermented fish and insects."[12] According to professor Sirijit Sunanta these dishes were then represented as "Thai food" when presented to the world.[13]


Unripe papaya is sliced into thin strips during preparation.

The dish combines the five main basic tastes of the local cuisine: sourness of the lime, spiciness of the chili, saltness and savoriness of the fish sauce, and sweetness of palm sugar. The ingredients are mixed and pounded in a mortar. As the name tam som suggests, sourness is a dominant taste; however, the more specific Lao name tam maak hoong literally means "pounded papaya". In Khmer, the name bok l'hong also means "pounded papaya". In Thai, the name som tam is simply a reversal of the Lao name. However, other pounded salads in Thailand are consistent with the Lao naming convention in which the word tam ("pounded") is listed first.

Despite the use of papaya, which one may think of as sweet, this salad is actually savory. When not yet ripe, papaya does not have a tangy flavor. The texture is crisp and firm, sometimes to the point of crunchiness. It is this that allows the fruit to withstand being beaten in the mortar.

In Laos, green papaya salad is one of the traditional staples of the Lao. Pounded salads in Laos all fall under the parent category of tam som, which may or may not contain green papaya, however, when no specific type of tam som is mentioned, it is generally understood to refer to green papaya salad. For absolute clarity, however, the name tam maak hoong may be used, since this name means "pounded papaya".

In Thailand, it is customary that a customer ask the preparer to make the dish suited to his or her tastes. To specifically refer to the original style of papaya salad as prepared in Laos or Isan, it is known as ส้มตำลาว or som tam Lao or simply as tam Lao and the dish as prepared in central Thailand may be referred to as som tam Thai.[14]

Traditionally, the local variety of green papaya salad in the streets of Bangkok is very hot due to the addition of a fistful of chopped hot bird's eye chili. However, with its rising popularity among tourists, it is now often served not as spicy as it used to be in the past.

Additional ingredients[edit]

Street vendor from Isan pounding green papaya salad in Bangkok
Green papaya salad, grilled chicken and sticky rice is a popular combination in Laos and Thailand.

Together with the papaya, some or most of the following secondary items are added and pounded in the mortar with the pestle:

Green papaya salad is often served with glutinous rice and kai yang/ping gai (grilled chicken). It can also be eaten with fresh rice noodles (Lao: sen khao poon / Thai: khanom chin) or simply as a snack by itself with, for instance, crispy pork rinds. The dish is often accompanied by raw green vegetables such as water spinach and white cabbage wedges on the side to mitigate the spiciness of the dish.


It is believed by some Laotians to have originated in Laos, from where it was exported into Cambodia, Thailand and Vietnam.[17] Variations of the dish are found throughout Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam and as well as in the West, where it is more commonly known by its Thai name.[18][19]

A non-spicy green papaya salad version also exists in Laos, Vietnam and Thailand, which is much sweeter; it often contains crushed peanuts and is less likely to have padaek or brined crab.[20] Dried brine shrimp are used in this Central Thai version. There are also versions that make use of unripe mangoes, apples, cucumbers, carrots and other firm vegetables or unripe fruit. Besides using varieties of fruits or vegetables as the main ingredient a popular option is to use vermicelli rice noodle wherein the dish is known as tam sua.

Instead of papaya, other ingredients can be used as the main ingredient. Popular variations in Laos and Thailand include:

  • Tam maak taeng / Tam taengkwa, with cucumber, usually the small variety
  • Tam maak muang / Tam mamuang, with green and unripe mango
  • Tam maak kuai / Tam kluai, with banana, while still green and unripe
  • Tam krathon, with santol, while still hard and unripe
  • Tam hua pli, with banana flower
  • Tam mayom, with Malay gooseberry
  • Tam som o, with pomelo
  • Tam mu yo, with mu yo sausage
  • Tam phonlamai ruam, with mixed fruit
  • Khao man som tam, with coconut rice
  • Tam Thaad, Tam Thaad is a papaya salad that has many ingredients present in the same tray instead of the dish for more convenient to eat in group and it can also give a feeling of better taste.


See also[edit]


  1. ^ Rivière, Joannès (2008). Cambodian Cooking: A humanitarian project in collaboration with Act for Cambodia. Periplus Editions. p. 29. ISBN 978-0-794-65039-1.
  2. ^ "The world's 50 best foods". CNN Travel.
  3. ^ "World's 50 most delicious foods". CNN GO. 21 July 2011. Archived from the original on 21 July 2011. Retrieved 11 October 2011. 46. Som tam, Thailand
  4. ^ "The world's 50 best foods". CNN Travel. 14 March 2018. Retrieved 9 March 2019.
  5. ^ Van Esterik, Penny (2008). Food Culture of Southeast Asia. Greenwood Press. p. 12. ISBN 978-0-313-34419-0.
  6. ^ "′มะละกอ′มีกำเนิดจากทวีปอเมริกา มาเป็น′ส้มตำ′ เริ่มมีในบางกอก - สุวรรณภูมิในอาเซียน" ['Papaya' - originated in the Americas, became 'som tam' in Bangkok]. Matichon (in Thai). 25 December 2014. Archived from the original on 4 March 2016. Retrieved 29 July 2017.
  7. ^ Callis, K. L., The History of Plant Use in Laos: Analysis of European Accounts of Plant Use for Primarily Religious and Medicinal Purposes. MSC Thesis, North Carolina State University, 2005
  8. ^ Pavie, Auguste, Lefèvre-Pontalis, Pierre. Mission Pavie, exploration de l'Indo-Chine: mémoires et documents, Volume 2, Part 2 Mission Pavie, exploration de l'Indo-Chine: mémoires et documents, Pierre Lefèvre-Pontalis. Paris: Ernest Leroux, 1894. Print
  9. ^ Pavie, Auguste, et al. Exploration De L'Indo-Chine: mémoires Et Documents. Ernest Leroux, 1894. Print
  10. ^ Massie, M. Dictionnaire Laotien. Ernest Leroux, 1894. Print
  11. ^ Garnier, Francis. Voyage d'exploration en Indochine, effectué pendant les anneés 1866, 1867 et 1868 par une commission française présidée par M. le capitaine de frégate, Doudart de Lagrée, 2 vols. Paris: Hachette et Cie, 1873. 454. Print
  12. ^ a b Van Esterik, Penny (1992): From Marco Polo to McDonald's: Thai cuisine in transition, Food and Foodways: Explorations in the History and Culture of Human Nourishment, 5:2, 177-193
  13. ^ Sunanta, Sirijit. 2005. The globalization of Thai cuisine. Paper presented at the Canadian Council for Southeast Asian Studies Conference, York University, 14–16 October, in Toronto, Canada
  14. ^ Maitreya (14 June 2009). "Lord of Suvarnabhumi". Retrieved 11 April 2015.
  15. ^ Ponchunchoovong, Samorn (2006). Species identification of Thai Rice-field Crab in the lower north-eastern region of Thailand.
  16. ^ Species identification of Thai Rice Field Crab Archived 28 March 2012 at the Wayback Machine
  17. ^ Jonathan H. X. Lee; Kathleen Nadeau, eds. (2010). Encyclopedia of Asian American Folklore and Folklife. ABC-CLIO. p. 733. ISBN 978-0-313-35066-5. A popular Laotian dish among Laotian American is green papaya salad, called tam mak hoong, seasoned with hot chili peppers. This is similar to the Thai green papaya salad. Some Laotians will argue that the papaya salad was invented in Laos and then exported to Cambodia, Thai, and Vietnam, where it was adopted.
  18. ^ "EatingAsia". Retrieved 11 April 2015.
  19. ^ "The tao of papaya". 5 January 2010. Retrieved 11 April 2015.
  20. ^ "Clay's Kitchen : Tam Ra Ahan Thai (Thai Recipes) ตำราอาหารไทย". Retrieved 11 April 2015.

Further reading[edit]

  • Cummings, Joe. (2000). World Food: Thailand. UK: Lonely Planet Publishers. pp. 157–8. ISBN 1-86450-026-3
  • Williams, China ‘’et al.’’. (). ‘’Southeast Asia on a Shoestring: Big Trips on Small Budgets.’’ Lonely Planet. p. 31. ISBN 1-74104-164-3
  • Brissenden, Rosemary. (2007). Southeast Asian food: Classic and Modern Dishes from Indonesia, Malaysia, .. Tuttle Publishing. pp. 434 – 439. ISBN 0-7946-0488-9
  • McDermoot, Nancie. (1992). Real Thai: The Best of Thailand’s Regional Cooking. Chronicle Books. pp. 121 – 146. ISBN 0-8118-0017-2

External links[edit]