Green papaya salad

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(Redirected from Som tam)
Green papaya salad
2013 Tam Lao.jpg
Green papaya salad with yardlong beans, chili, pla ra, brined crab, hog plum and lime
Place of originLaos
Region or stateLaos
Associated cuisineXishuangbanna (China), Burmese, Cambodian, Lao, Thai, Vietnamese
Main ingredientsGreen papaya

Green papaya salad (Burmese: သင်္ဘောသီးသုပ်, Arakanese: ပဒကာသီးသုပ်, Khmer: បុកល្ហុង, Lao: ຕຳຫມາກຫຸ່ງ, Thai: ส้มตำ, and Vietnamese: gỏi đu đủ) is a spicy salad made from shredded unripe papaya. It was created by the Lao people[1][2][3][4] and is a popular national dish of Laos.[5][6][7] It also is a popular food in the neighbouring Northeastern region of Thailand and has gained its popularity in the country [8][9][10][11][12] and the rest of the continental Southeast Asia (Cambodia, Myanmar,[13] and Vietnam[14]), as well as Xishuangbanna (China).


Papaya and chili peppers were introduced to Southeast Asia by the Spanish and Portuguese explorers in the 17th century from the Americas.[15] Simon de la Loubère (1642-1729), a French diplomat, mentioned in his book that the cultivation of papaya was already widespread in Siam in 1693.[16][17] Although it is unknown when papayas entered Laos specifically, they had already been integrated into Lao culture by the time of Jean-Baptiste Pallegoix's visit in 1836.[18] Papaya, among other fruits, were cultivated in Cambodia by Chinese settlers who immigrated in the 1500s from Hainan, China.[19] The Lao name for papaya is mak hung and was likely derived from l'hun or lohung/rohung as papayas are called by Cambodians and Cambodian indigenous people living in provinces bordering the Southeastern region of Laos.[20] It is believed that green papaya salad, known as tam mak hung or tam som in Lao and as som tam in Thai, likely originated in Laos. [21]

Thai historian Sujit Wongthes has speculated that the green papaya salad originated in the communities of ethnic Chinese–Lao settlers living in what is now Central Thailand, who adopted the ancient Lao tradition of preparing salads from fruits, called tam som, to make salads from papayas. The new dish became known as som tam (the reversed order of tam som) during the early Rattanakosin period (late 18th to early 19th centuries) and, along with the papaya, then spread to today's Northeast Thailand following the construction of the Northeastern railway line during the turn of the 19th–20th centuries. The dish became more popular after the opening of Mittraphap Road in 1957, helping bring new papaya cultivars into the region, and 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.[22]

However, chilli peppers, like papayas,[18] were already fully integrated in the Lao territory by the time French explorer Henri Mouhot visited Laos, in 1861,[23] and also in the Lao traditional culinary recipes.[24][25][26] Furthermore, during the 1950s and 1960s, green papaya salad and other Lao dishes were rarely known in Bangkok and could only be found around the boxing stadium that gathered boxers and fans from Northeastern Thailand, as well as in mobile food carts outside construction sites with workers from Northeastern Thailand and gas stations serving long-distance bus drivers. Some people believe that som tam, today’s popular green papaya salad in Thailand, derived from the Lao tam som or tam mak hoong tradition that migrant workers from the Northeast had brought with them to Bangkok during the mid-1900s. [27][28] During the standardization of the Thai national cuisine, green papaya salad was among the Northeastern or Lao dishes to be included into the Thai national cuisine and modified by reducing the amount of chilli peppers and increasing the amount of sugar.[29]

Alternatively, others believe that som tam has evolved from a dish called "Pu Tam" (Thai: ปู่ตำ, lit.'Crab Salad') mentioned in a recipe by gourmet chef Plien Passakornwong in her 1908 cookbook. This dish shares similarities with modern-day som tam but does not include papaya as an ingredient.[30][31] The earliest known recipe for som tam in Thailand appeared in the Yaowapha cookbook series by Phra Chao Boromawong in 1935, which included "Som tam ton malakor" (Thai: ส้มตำต้นมะละกอ) or "Khao man som tam" (Thai: ข้าวมันส้มตำ). This recipe is similar to the som tam we know today and includes roasted peanuts and dried shrimp as key ingredients. It is often served with rice cooked in coconut milk.[32][30][31][33]


Unripe papaya being sliced into thin strips during preparation of the salad.

The dish combines the five main basic tastes: sourness of the lime, the spiciness of the chili, saltiness and savoriness of the fish sauce, and sweetness of palm sugar. The ingredients are mixed and pounded in a mortar, which is reflected in the Khmer, Lao and Thai names for the dish that literally mean "pounded papaya".

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.

Traditionally, the local variety of green papaya salad in the streets of Bangkok is very spicy 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 less 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 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 to have originated in Laos, from where it was exported into Cambodia, Thailand and Vietnam.[35][3][4][better source needed] Variations of the dish are found throughout Thailand, Cambodia,[36] Vietnam and as well as in the West, where it is more commonly known by its Thai name.[citation needed]

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 fish paste or brined crab.[37] 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 noodles wherein the dish is known as tam sua.[38]

Instead of papaya, other ingredients can be used as the main ingredient. Popular variations in Laos and Thailand include the salad with:[citation needed]

  • Cucumber, usually the small variety (tam maak taeng, tam taengkwa)
  • Green and unripe mango (tam maak muang, tam mamuang)
  • Green and unripe bananas (tam maak kuai, tam kluai)
  • Hard and unripe santol (tam krathon)
  • Banana flowers (tam hua pli)
  • Malay gooseberry (tam mayom)
  • Pomelo (tam som o)
  • Mu yo sausage (tam mu yo)
  • Mixed fruit (tam phonlamai ruam)
  • Coconut rice (khao man som tam)


The Thai variation som tam has been listed at number 46 on World's 50 most delicious foods[39] compiled by CNN Go in 2011[40] and 2018.[41]


See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Laotian Food Is The International Cuisine You've Been Missing". Huffpost (published 6 December 2015). 5 February 2015. Retrieved 18 January 2023.
  2. ^ "The Tao of Papaya/". Las Vegas Weekly. 5 January 2010. Retrieved 28 February 2013.
  3. ^ a b Iverson, Kelly (9 May 2017). "A Brief History of Som Tum, Thailand's Popular Green Papaya Salad". Culture Trip. Retrieved 26 May 2021.
  4. ^ a b "The Curious History of Som Tum (Papaya Salad)". Thai Ginger. 24 August 2020. Retrieved 26 May 2021.
  5. ^ "10 National Dishes from Southeast Asia". Go Backpacking (published 22 October 2021). 24 October 2011. Retrieved 18 January 2023.
  6. ^ Schulz, Daniela; Drescher, Stephanie (24 May 2017). "Papaya salad with shrimp, Laos". Deutsche Welle. Retrieved 21 June 2021.
  7. ^ "Southeast Asian Cuisine: What to Eat in Southeast Asia and Where to Find It". tripsavvy. 26 June 2019. Retrieved 18 January 2023.
  8. ^ Ian (n.d.). "The Som Tum Thai Story". Retrieved 6 April 2023.
  9. ^ "Som Tam, the Ori-gins and Recipe/". n.d. Retrieved 6 April 2023.
  10. ^ Team Expique (15 September 2022). "The Ultimate Guide to Som Tum (Papaya Salad)". Expique. Retrieved 7 April 2023.
  11. ^ "Som Tam Recipe (Thai Green Papaya Salad) from Chef David Thompson". Top Asian Chefs. 6 April 2023. Retrieved 6 April 2023.
  12. ^ "Best somtum places in Bangkok". Time Out Bangkok. Retrieved 20 August 2022.
  13. ^ Robert, Claudia Saw Lwin; Pe, Win; Hutton, Wendy (4 February 2014). The Food of Myanmar: Authentic Recipes from the Land of the Golden Pagodas. Tuttle Publishing. ISBN 978-1-4629-1368-8.
  14. ^ Thida Koeut (24 January 2023), Papaya Salad Recipe: How to Make Green Papaya Salad (Cambodian Version)
  15. ^ Van Esterik, Penny (2008). Food Culture of Southeast Asia. Greenwood Press. p. 12. ISBN 978-0-313-34419-0.
  16. ^ de La Loubère, Simon (1693). A New Historical Relation of the Kingdom of Siam A Description of the principal Fruits of Siam. Translated by A.P.
  17. ^ Bernard Maloney (October 1999), Environmental Reconstruction at Ayutthaya, Southeast Asian Archaeology Newsletter
  18. ^ a b Callis, Kristine Lee (2005). The History of Plant Use in Laos: Analysis of European Accounts of Plant Use for Primarily Religious and Medicinal Purposes (PDF). North Carolina State University. pp. 43–44.
  19. ^ Poilane, Eugene (1965). "Les arbres fruitiers d'Indochine" (PDF). Journal d'agriculture traditionnelle et de botanique appliquée. 12 (6–8): 250.
  20. ^ Vidal, J.-E; Martel, Gabrielle; Lewitz, Saveros (1969). "Notes ethnobotaniques sur quelques plantes en usage au Cambodge" (PDF). Bulletin de l'École Française d'Extrême-Orient. 55: 192. doi:10.3406/befeo.1969.4862.
  21. ^ "Som Tam (papaya salad)". Thailand Life. n.d. Retrieved 7 March 2023.
  22. ^ "′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.
  23. ^ Mouhot, Henri, and Ferdinand de. Lanoye. Voyage Dans Les Royaumes De Siam, De Cambodge, De Laos Et Autres Parties Centrales De L'Indo-Chine: Relation Extraite Du Journal Et De La Correspondance De L'auteur. Hachette, 1868. 322. Print
  24. ^ Estrade, Docteur (1895). Manuel de conversation, franco-laotiens: prononciation en français avec signes conventionnel, transcription de tous les termes en caractères laotiens., deuxieme edition. Dictionnaire et guide franco-laotien. pp. 25–26. hdl:2027/hvd.32044088603329.
  25. ^ Carné, Louis de; Carné, Louis-Joseph-Marie de (1872). Voyage En Indo-Chine Et Dans L'empire Chinois. Paris: E. Dentu. E. Dentu. pp. 86, 91. hdl:2027/hvd.32044055336309.
  26. ^ Massie, Victor-Alphonse (1894). Dictionnaire français-laotien: Mission Pavie, exploration de l' indochine (Latin characters).
  27. ^ ธงชัย ลิขิตพรสวรรค์ (1 May 2022). "สืบที่มา "ส้มตำ" เข้ากรุงเทพฯ เมื่อไหร่-คนกรุงสมัยก่อนกินส้มตำที่ไหน[Investigate the origin of "Som tum", a popular menu to Bangkok. Where did the old city people eat papaya salad?]". ศิลปวัฒนธรรม (in Thai). pp. 5–9. Retrieved 28 March 2023.
  28. ^ "Lao Papaya Salad". Laos Life. n.d. Retrieved 28 March 2023.
  29. ^ Van Esterik, Penny (1992). "From Marco Polo to McDonald's: Thai cuisine in transition" (PDF). Food and Foodways: Explorations in the History and Culture of Human Nourishment. 5 (2): 177–193.
  30. ^ a b แม่ครัวหัวป่าก์. 1908. p. 98.
  31. ^ a b ธงชัย ลิขิตพรสวรรค์ (25 July 2020). "สืบที่มา "ส้มตำ" เข้ากรุงเทพฯ เมื่อไหร่-คนกรุงสมัยก่อนกินส้มตำที่ไหน". ศิลปวัฒนธรรม (in Thai).
  32. ^ Yaowaphapong Sanit HRH Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn (1884–1934), ตำหรับสายเยาวภา: บอกวิธีปรุงอาหารคาวหวาน มีภาพประกอบ (in Thai), Thammasat University, p. 25, 116
  33. ^ คมกฤช อุ่ยเต็กเค่ง (1 February 2021), "ลอ-กอ-ยอก" ปักษ์ใต้ก็มีส้มตำที่ไม่ได้มาจากกรุงเทพฯ หรืออีสาน (in Thai)
  34. ^ Ponchunchoovong, Samorn (2006). Species identification of Thai Rice-field Crab in the lower north-eastern region of Thailand.
  35. ^ 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. Some Laotians will argue that the papaya salad was invented in Laos and then exported to Cambodia, Thai, and Vietnam, where it was adopted.
  36. ^ Rivière, Joannès (2008). Cambodian Cooking: A humanitarian project in collaboration with Act for Cambodia. Periplus Editions. p. 29. ISBN 978-0-794-65039-1.
  37. ^ "Clay's Kitchen : Tam Ra Ahan Thai (Thai Recipes) ตำราอาหารไทย". Retrieved 11 April 2015.
  38. ^ "Green Papaya Salad Recipe: 6 Papaya Salad Variations". MasterClass. 1 August 2022. Retrieved 19 May 2023.
  39. ^ "The world's 50 best foods". CNN Travel. 12 July 2017.
  40. ^ "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
  41. ^ "The world's 50 best foods". CNN Travel. 14 March 2018. Retrieved 9 March 2019.

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