International Recipes

Som Tam Isan
(Papaya Salad – Thai)

This is a typical isan (northeast) dish. It can be made with or without the plara (pickled mud fish). Potential cooks are warned: this ingredient smells foul! But it does taste nice.

Som tam is a basic "salad" style dish, eaten as a snack.

The pickled mud fish is sold in bottled form in AAsian markets: take some of the fish, add a little fish sauce, and place it in a muslin bag and squeeze as much fluid as possible from the fish. (You can use the fish themselves, but they are raw, albeit pickled, and their is some risk from parasites. If you use the fish paste itself , I suggest you first microwave it to ensure it is safe to eat! If you are squeemish then sterilize the liquor also. If really squeamish, the ingredient is optional.)

This is food for chili masochists in extremis: you can increase the proportion of chiles until this is a bowl of red fire, and it will still be authentic. On the other hand, you can reduce the chiles to just a hint is left and it will also still be authentic. The above 50:50 mix is about typical of the region.

If you wish you can decorate the salad with chopped roast peanuts, sliced green onions, and mint leaves. You could also include raw bean sprouts and sliced cucumber as side dishes. Thais generally eat lettuce or some cabbage related vegetable as a side dish also. (The normal way to eat it is to rip a piece of lettuce leaf, and take a mouthful of som tam in the leaf and eat it without knife, fork or spoon.) If you want to be a bit more western, use a standard salad or even an exotic such as a Waldorf Salad as a side dish.


  • 1 papaya (paw-paw) julienned
  • An equal quantity of red prik ki nu (birdseye or dynamite chiles)*
  • 8 to 10 cloves garlic, chopped coarsely,
  • 2 tomatoes, sliced thinly
  • 1/2 cup long beans, cut into 1-inch pieces (Thai long beans if possible)
  • Pinch of salt
  • 2 teaspoons fish sauce
  • 1/4 cup tamarind juice
  • Juice from 2 tablespoons pickled mud-fish

* These are normally de-stalked, cut in four lengthwise then in half crosswise.


  1. Sprinkle the julienned papaya with salt and let stand for half an hour or so, then squeeze and discard any fluid.
  2. Add the chili, and pound in a mortar and pestle.
  3. Add the remaining ingredients except the tomato, and pound until mixed and tender.
  4. Add the tomato, and serve with a bowl of sticky rice.

Posted by WingsFan91 at Recipe Goldmine 11/15/2001 4:45 pm.

Special thanks to Muoi Khuntilanont.

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