So, what is Som Tum Pak you might ask? It is in fact the original Thai name for green papaya salad, and it is one of the most common dishes you might encounter on your travels in Thailand, or here in the UK, in a good Thai restaurant.
Despite that papaya is generally used for sweet dishes, the Som Tum Pak is actually a savory dish. Besides the main ingredient, the green papaya, this delicious salad comes with a variety of fresh vegetables.
The combination of which can vary ever so slightly depending on where you get your Som Tum Pak. Moreover, it is very often possible to order it, to fit your specific taste.
Do you like it sweeter on more on the sour side? Spicy or not? I will get in to some of the popular styles below.
Out of curiosity, I ordered the Som Tum Pak because of the green papaya. What makes the green papaya different from the normal papaya then? Well, actually nothing at all except the ripeness! It's the same fruit, only for this recipe you need an unripe specimen of this otherwise sweet and juicy fruit.
Apparently, papaya is originally from Mexico. However, now it’s everywhere throughout the tropical parts of the globe. Meaning places such as South America, the Caribbean and Florida, over India, Southeast Asia, Malaysia and Australia. Moreover, the popularity of the papaya is on the rise. Definitely a popular summer fruit!
Som Tum Pak made its breakthrough in the street kitchens of Bangkok, possibly by immigrants from Laos.
Traditionally it comes with a generous amount of chili, however nowadays, tourists can also get a less spicy version, gentler to western stomachs.
Practical information on the Green Papaya
Many Asian stores actually sell pre-shredded green papaya, needed for this recipe. However, if you can only get a whole papaya, make sure to get an unripe one! A ripe one is not only too sweet for the dish, but also too soft for the preparation. The best way you can achieve the ‘noodle effect” is either with a spiralizer or a normal vegetable peeler.
The Thai mortar
The preparation of this dish, calls for a mortar. Preferably as big as possible. If you don’t have one, and are looking for one, go for a big sturdy one, made from stoneware or clay. Basically, you then smash up the ingredients on the mortar using a wooden pestle, in order to release flavours form the herbs and vegetables. It's a great way to get some anger out of the system, however for this dish, you just need to bruise the ingredients up. Not beat them to a pulp. Don’t overdo it!
The most common vegetables to use are green beans, carrots and cherry tomatoes. You can use whichever kind of cherry plum vine tomatoes you prefer. Be it bright red acidic ones, or the sweeter yellow ones. That is entirely up to you.
The same goes for the carrots. I sometimes like to give the dish a more colourful look by using different types of carrots. In many stores, you can now get the so called old carrot types. Meaning bright yellow, pale yellow and even purple! Of course, the normal orange ones will also do just fine.
Finally, beat some fresh chili in the mortar with the other ingredients. This is, of course, totally optional if you're not a fan of chili. You can also add other lovely veggies according to your taste. My suggestion would be to add a little spring onion, or some baby spinach leaves.
Add something extra on top of your salad
To complete the dish and if you're not vegan, you can top it off with some garlic roasted shrimps, cooked fish or even pork or beef. In Thailand, it is common to have the green papaya salad served with sticky rice, thereby creating an entire meal. However, you can also use the salad without and extras as a side for some grilled chicken or other meat.
To cultivate those vibrant Asian flavours, sprinkle your Som Tum Pak with some freshly chopped herbs. Coriander is the obvious choice for this dish, but if you are not keen on coriander, try with some watercress instead. Lime juice is an absolute must for this. You need the acidity to balance out the flavours. I also like to sprinkle some cashew nuts over the salad for a bit of extra crunch. Of course, the addition of the roasted peanuts is must!Print