Thai Inspired Papaya Salad (Som Tam)


I’ve had an obsession with Thai food ever since I discovered the cuisine years ago. The flavour profile is notoriously sour and sweet and boy is it spicy! Thai food, the way it is prepared, how the country’s natural fruits, foods and animals are used, shows just how much history the cuisine has. Thai food almost seems like an experience in itself; one of those meals you eat and are immediately transported to a matriarch’s kitchen in the Thailand countryside.

I have been playing around with Thai flavours for a while now and I have so much respect for the cuisine. Its intricacy is one I want to get to know more and more and one day I’ll do so in the motherland herself!

One of my absolute favourite dishes is the green papaya salad. Traditional green papaya salad is salty, spicy and a bit sweet. They add fish sauce and sometimes dried shrimp for the salty, chilis for the spicy and sugar for the sweet. Of course no Thai dish seems to be complete without a few leaves of Thai basil so that’s thrown in there as well. My recipe isn’t traditional though; I have no choice but to use what Jamaica has to offer and well, what I’ve got in my garden! I also do a bit of a ‘switcharoo’ because the papayas I use are never completely green although I have some perfectly green papayas on the tree.


I usually make this salad with the traditional green beans (string beans) but this time I went with an assortment of other vegetables.

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I started out by making a paste with the chili, garlic, salt and toasted almonds (peanuts are traditional but I’m allergic to the stuff) and the smell coming from the paste was unbelievable. It gets me excited about what I’ll be eating every time I make it! Making the paste is best done with a pestle and mortar, if you don’t have one, you seriously need to get one (it works magic in the kitchen) but in the mean time, mash the ingredients with a smooth rock wrapped in foil, until you get a paste.

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To the paste I added fish sauce (you can use vegan fish sauce if you desire), lime juice and honey (the sugar replacer). I let that hang out for a bit so the flavours can chat and get friendly.

I cut all the veges julienne in thin, long strips and tossed them with the salad then garnished with mint since I’ve got no Thai basil (in fact I’ve never seen it here before) and sat down to a light yet super flavour-packed meal. I must say, fish sauce has such a strong, deep taste and smell that when you are first working with it you might want to throw it out thinking it’s totally off. It’s not. It just smells really… pungent! Don’t worry though, it doesn’t taste that way, just trust in the beauty of Thai food and pour that fish sauce in!

I have this salad on its own but I’m thinking seafood would be a perfect accompaniment, some seared fish or grilled shrimp perhaps! If you wanna go super traditional, you can have it with sticky rice! No matter how you pair it though and even if you don’t, its a winner salad that’s sure to satisfy.

Try out the recipe below. Leave me a comment, let me know if you like it!

Thai Inspired Papaya Salad (Som Tam)

  • Servings: 2
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print


This salad is light but packs a punch in the flavour department. It’s great as an appetizer but I enjoy it for lunch and dinner too!


The dressing

2 cloves garlic

1 chili pepper or one bird pepper (I used the bird pepper)

2 tablespoons toasted almonds or peanuts (I used sliced almonds because that’s what I had in my pantry)

1 teaspoon salt

2 limes (one for garnish)

1 tablespoon honey

1 tablespoon fish sauce

The salad

1 green papaya (or slightly ripe, if you want that added sweetness)

1 medium carrot

1/2 of a medium red bell pepper

1/2 of a medium green bell pepper

2 medium tomatoes

mint, chopped (Thai basil, if you can find it)

extra toasted almonds or peanuts, for garnish


  1. In a pestle and mortar, smash the garlic, chili, almond and salt into a paste. Add the juice of 1 lime, the honey and the fish sauce. Mix it together and set aside.
  2. Slice all the vegetables (except tomatoes) thinly, lengthwise then cut into thin strips. Quarter the tomatoes lengthwise.
  3. In a bowl add the vegetables and pour over the dressing. Toss it to ensure all vegetables are coated with dressing.
  4. Plate by mounting the salad high and garnishing with chopped mint and toasted almonds.
  5. Serve with extra chilis and lime. Enjoy!

I hope you shine today!heart

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