Som Tam (Green Papaya Salad)

I’ve always loved Thai Green Papaya Salad (Som Tam), but I’ve had to set aside my cravings for the simple reason that you couldn’t source green papaya in Cape Town…that is, until now! Having spotted a gap in the market, the New Asian Spice Supermarket in Sea Point has thankfully started stocking them. Supply is often erratic, as there’s only one farm in the whole of South Africa that produces these under-ripened gems, but regardless of sporadic supply at least they are finally available locally. And so, in an instant, an obsession was reborn!

Other than sourcing green papaya, there are two key elements essential to making the salad. The first is the need for a large pestle and mortar, the second is shredding the papaya correctly. The latter can either be done by hand, using a sharp knife to cut into the papaya and then using a vegetable peeler to shred the flesh; or with a mandolin, using a fine shredding attachment. Personally I use a mandolin; while less authentic, it gets the job done in half the time!

The epitome of the classic Thai sweet vs. sour dish, Som Tam delivers a tangy, sweet punch with a texture and crunch that is incredibly refreshing. Hot, fragrant and balanced, for many this is Thailand on a plate. Although delicious served with just some plain rice, or as part of a larger Thai banquet, if you want to partner the som tam with something really authentic, try it with Candied Pork and Coconut Rice – spectacular!

For more delicious Thai recipes please click here, or if you need tips on stocking your Thai Pantry please click here.

Som Tam (Green Papaya Salad): Serves 2

  • 2 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
  • 2 tbsp. roasted peanuts (unsalted), coarsely crushed
  • 2 tbsp. dried prawns (soaked in hot water for 20 minutes), drained
  • 4 cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 4 green beans, cut into 1 cm lengths
  • 2-4 bird’s eye chillies, to taste
  • 2 cups shredded green papaya


  • 3 tbsp. palm sugar, shaved
  • 2 tbsp. fish sauce
  • 2 tbsp. lime juice
  • 1 tbsp. tamarind water

Method: The Dressing

  1. Combine all the dressing ingredients into a microwave-proof bowl
  2. Cook on a high heat for 1 minute, or until the palm sugar is completely dissolved
  3. Allow to cool completely

Method: The Salad

  1. Using a pestle and mortar, pound the garlic with a pinch of salt
  2. Add the peanuts and dried prawns, pound to a coarse paste.
  3. Next add the cherry tomatoes and beans, pound gently (the tomatoes may “explode”!)
  4. Add the bird’s eye chillies, continue to pound gently
  5. Finally, add the green papaya and lightly bruise, all the while turning and tossing the mixture with a spoon held in your other hand.
  6. Moisten the salad with the dressing
  7. Combine thoroughly before serving immediately

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