Thai Green Papaya Salad


A mild short circuit away from Pinoy food results in a favorite Thai side dish… a green papaya salad with a wonderful and substantial, peanut, chili, garlic and lime dressing. I have always ordered this salad at local Thai restaurants to mixed results… sometimes they are good, sometimes they are quite awful. Good for me equals serious flavor. Almost over the top. Nothing subtle. No punches pulled. It is spicy, pungent, salty and sour all at the same time. The papaya is actually just a foil or bearer of the intense flavors that enrobe it. This is the first time I have made it at home, and it was a fantastic version… So you too, can do this at home and make a huge salad for very little money and it is the perfect accompaniment for grilled or fried pork or fish.


The experiment was inspired by an episode of “Chef in Black,” which featured a stunning example of the salad. But I had to refer to my favorite Thai cookbook “thai food” by David Thompson for more guidance. This recipe is essentially Mr. Thompson’s, but altered based on the ingredients I had and the portion I needed. Like many dishes prevalent on the streets of Southeast Asia, measurements are somewhat relative or even arbitrary; each vendor has his/her own version, and you can feel free to tinker with the volumes of ingredients to achieve the taste (really more about balance) you prefer.


Shred 1/2 of a medium sized green papaya, yielding roughly 1.5-2.0 cups. In a mortar and pestle, add two cloves of garlic, peeled, 5 siling labuyo or bird’s eye chillies, and 1/2 teaspoon of kosher salt and start mashing away until you have achieved a rough paste. Then add two tablespoons of roasted unsalted peanuts (PHP20 or less from those nut vendors at local groceries), a teaspoon of lime or dayap juice and about 1 tablespoon of hibe or dried shrimp and mash away again until you get a very chunky peanut buttery looking mixture. Add one native tomato cut up and about 30 1-inch pieces of sitaw or long beans and bruise these slightly. Add all of this to the shredded papaya and bruise it all just a bit more. Add two tablespoons of tamarind paste (thinned if too viscous), the juice of half a lime, 2 tablespoons or less of patis or fish sauce and 2 tablespoons of brown or palm sugar and toss to mix well. Taste and adjust seasonings if necessary.


Serve at room temperature or cold with grilled or fried pork or fish and enjoy! This is really easy to make and utterly delicious to eat. It should pack a powerful flavor profile and pop in your mouth, mixing brilliantly with fatty pork. Now that I have figured out it is so easy to do at home, I think we will be enjoying this dish much more often… (Note: the papaya I used here was already beginning to ripen, perhaps it would have been best 2-3 days earlier; but the resulting dish was still delicious…)


21 Responses

  1. yum! i remember the version they serve in southern thailand. together with the papaya, they also add in some (raw!) kangkong shoots and string beans (sitao). that version tasted really heavenly – sour, spicy, tangy and a bit sweet. i begged to be shown how to make it, after which i never ate that version of papaya salad again! apparently, they put in some raw (!!!) talangka (freshwater pygmy crabs) that has been marinated overnight in a jar of fish sauce. hello lung ang liver flukes. eek!

    i still love papaya salad, but only those without the raw talangka. it is best to use the really green papayas, so you ge them really crunchy.

  2. Papaya salad is very good. Makes me wonder why we did not invent anything close to it. Very unripe papaya must be used to have that nice fresh green color. Lime is not very easy to find here in Manila. Thai and Vietnamese chefs have been using calamansi with good results.

  3. Ten years ago, we lived in Bangkok for 14 months and got to enjoy Thai food. This is officially called “Som Tam” in Thai. However, it is also called “Papaya Pok Pok” — referring to the sound made while you pound the ingredients.

  4. Shouldn’t you salt the grated papaya for an hour then squeeze and drain to remove some of the papain and sometimes “itchy” after taste?

  5. Hi MM, pardon my ignorance but what exactly do you mean when you say “bruise” it? Thanks in advance for enlightening me. :)

  6. bagito, just pound on it a bit, but don’t overdo it. Essentially, you want some of it to look beaten up, but other parts not. The fruit strands will literally appear to be bruised, though shouldn’t discolor like a human’s bruise… :) sister, no need to soak in salt; though I do that for acharra to remove excess water content. In Thailand, the vendors shred this holding the papaya in one hand and a sharp knife in the other, hacking away to make an incredibly good shred. The papaya is then immediately added to their mortar and pestle and the salad made just after you order it. Yum. Lex, yes, greener is better, but this peanut sauce colors the green papaya orangey nevertheless. As for lime, our limes in the groceries and markets here are essentially green lemons. For dayap, it is more difficult to find… though I have a small bush in our yard and it does bear fruit once in a while… champorado, yes, for more authentic versions the roe of the little crabs are added for more flavor…

  7. Do you blanch the green papapa shreds first to remove the waxy texture?
    The Northern Thai/Isan province style of somtam does include the pickled river crabs for added saltiness and added flavor. Eat it with the sticky rice, and kamayan style for one of the best meals anywhere in Thailand. I like my somtam really spicy!

  8. you, guys, make me crave for thai food now. i just made the thai mango and sticky rice dessert which my two sons love. i will try to make your recipe, market man, as soon as i am able to buy green papayas. i seldom see those in our stores here.

  9. i love papaya salad but have never prepared it @home. do you have to soak the dried shrimp?

  10. Champorado, if you want to use the talangka , just pour boiling water over it or blanch for like 10-15 seconds then remove. When we make burong talankga, we salt it for a day then do the boiling water thing to cook it a bit. It will still be black/grey with mushy insides. It will never make it to the salad coz we eat it with hot rice and calamansi. =)

  11. Thanks, MM! Now I can confidenty “bruise” fruits and veggies w/ no guilt. Hehe.

  12. Hi MM,

    One of our faves that we learned to eat in Bangkok when we lived there..had Som Tam anywhere from 5 star hotel to side stalls (authentic). You are right, papaya is as fresh and “naked”: no need to blanch, salt or anything because all the accompaniments cook and flavor it. Even the peanuts (raw or roasted) is just “chopped”–no need to turn it into paste. The talangka added is anywhere from raw (but dead) to “pickled” but never “cooked”. And it is the whole talangka, not roe. You may add not just sitaw but kangkong leaves as well and is usually served with cabbage. Most white foreigners (farang) only ask for 1-3 pieces of chili in their somtam. Thais give you a different level of awe and respect if you ask for “regular” and they will watch you finish it…

  13. Oh, yum! A recipe that I will definitely try! I used to buy my som tum at a stall at Salcedo Market but unfortunately the purveyor probably didn’t have enough sukis to keep her busines viable. Sayang. I even threw a fit once because the attendant sold my pre-ordered salad to someone else. Hah, now I can make my own at home! Thanks a million. MM!!!

    BTW, where in Manila can I buy palm sugar? I really like the taste of this.

  14. The restaurant Jatujak (1st floor, Megamall) serves a mean som tam. The papaya and peanuts provide the requisite satisfying crunch and the intense but balanced mix of hot, sour, and salty with just a hint of sweet hits the spot. My friend and I call this “rice intensive” food because it whets your appetite for rice. The great thing about Jatujak’s som tam is that, refrigerated, it retains its texture and flavor for days.

  15. MM, this salad looks delicious.. You mentioned tamarind paste in the recipe. May I know where I can get it? I’ve seen it used in some of the cooking shows on Lifestyle Network but I don’t know where to get it here in Manila. Thanks!!

  16. bedazzle, there is a small stall selling Thai goods near the Johnny Air Cargo outlet at megamall basement area. They have the tamarind paste. I believe the same vendor sometimes attends the bazaars at the Fort Tent once a month. Also, you might try Metro at Market!Market! or even Unimart or Cash & Carry, that sometimes have it. It comes in a small bottle. Alternatively, you can make some on your own. Just peel very ripe sampaloc and steep in hot water and mash the solids and pass through a sieve, then use the pulp you collect… you can ad a little sugar if you like. Freeze this and that means you can make this once, and use it a few times, to reduce the hassle. Gina, that is good to know, have to try that restaurant. I think I tried a branch of theirs at Mall of Asia once and it was pretty good. CecileJ, I happen to know the purveyor of the som tum at Salcedo, she is quite seriously ill and undergoing treatment, hence she had to stop her stall for several months… iya, I have seen it served with togue in some restaurants. dragon, I can understand the pain of chili factor. I lived in Indonesia for a few years and arrived a sili lighweight and left eating fried chicken with crushed chilis instead of ketchup! :)

  17. for tamarind paste and other thai ingredients.. you can get it from lolita’s stall in Farmer’s market cubao.

  18. Oh my, MM, please tell her that I hope she gets well soon! Her loyal sukis miss her!!!!



Subscribe To Updates

No spam, only notifications about new blog posts.