From the Tree: Som Tam Thai Salad

Posted at December 1, 2011 by 0 Comment

This blustery wind, flustery frost and all-round general winteryness has most of Edinburgh craving comfort foods. Sausages, spuds, soups: the stodgier the better. But what if, for a minute, you could transport yourself to a balmy, summer-time island and feast on fresh fruit, fish straight from the sea, and cocktails sipped out of coconuts.

I very recently did just that, and spent 10 glorious days on Phuket in Thailand. Arriving back in Edinburgh after all the aforementioned luxuries was a bit of a shock and despite that the cold weather has kicked in my cravings for crumble and custard again, I can’t shake the taste for a few of the Eastern dishes I tried when there.

So with the #TFGE theme being “From the Tree” this month, and with Thailand still fresh on my tastebuds, I present my first offering to the Total Food Geeks Edinburgh blog: Som Tam, or Spicy Greeny Papaya Salad.

Taken, and eaten, at a beach front café at Karon Beach, Phuket.

I must admit, for most of the holiday whenever I saw the basic description of ‘spicy papaya salad’ on the menu, I avoided ordering it. I imagined square cubes of papaya, and whilst not adverse to the flavour, would rather have fruit as dessert than large chunks of it with my chicken.

So I was surprised, and quite irritated with myself, when I ordered it on my final day and what appeared was something that looked like noodles, peppered with green beans, carrots, cherry tomatoes, peanuts, and the most delicious delicately spiced, clear dressing. It was served in the traditional way, alongside sticky white rice and some grilled chicken.

The flavours are light, the spice was pleasant and not over-powering, and the peanuts gave it a bit more meat. The papaya itself had almost no flavour; it was more the texture – the satisfying juicy crunch – that made me think I would happily replace my regular noodles alongside a Thai stir fry with this every time.

I must admit I have not had a chance to make it myself yet, but as it is my new food crush and really does come “From the Tree” I wanted to share with all fellow food geeks. I shall perhaps update with a post once I try it myself, but after some research I have discovered you can order it from at least one Thai place in Edinburgh (ThaiPod ThaiPad) which I will be sure to try very soon

For now, here is an accurate recipe from another fellow foodie blog, She Simmers, from what my perceptive tastebuds could garner:

The Raw Stuff

  • One green papaya, shredded
  • Six cherry tomatoes, halved
  • A handful of peanuts
  • A handful of fresh green beans, sliced length-ways
  • One birds eye chilli
  • Lime juice
  • Dried shrimp paste
  • Fish sauce, to taste
  • Garlic
  • Brown sugar, to taste


The Method

  1. The beauty, for me, of the Som Tam salad is that the papaya is shredded and looks similar to noodles, rather than cubed. Perhaps the trickiest part is to shred the papaya. The blog I am referencing suggests a kiwi peeler, which looks like it will be added to my Christmas list asap!Peel the papaya then shred it into thin, noodle-like pieces.
  2. To make the dressing, grind the chillies and garlic together with a pestel and mortar. Then add the shrimp paste and sugar, continue grinding.
  3. The recipe suggests also grinding the peanuts until they’re broken a little. The salad I had in Thailand served them whole, and my preference would be to do the same – but it is your choice.
  4. Add the papaya and slightly bash it until it is slightly bruised, so it can absorb the flavours.
  5. Add a wee bit of fish sauce and lime juice, and mix and keep adding to your personal taste.
  6. Transfer to a bowl, mix in the halves cherry tomatoes and peanuts (if you didn’t decide to bash them up a little) and mix all together. No cooking, no other fuss, that’s it done.
  7. Serve alongside any other Thai dish you prefer. For me it would be the grilled chicken thigh (still with bone and skin intact) and a nice leafy side-salad and a few more tomatoes because they taste like summer.

(Recipe taken and adapted slightly to memory of taste from She Simmers, with many thanks.)

I shall make this soon and post my cooking efforts up, but for now perhaps enjoy a crispy, crunchy, fresh taste From the Tree amidst all the mulled wine, mince pies and gravy-soaked comfort foods. Kob Kun Man.

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About Jenny

I spend most of my days walking, eating and drinking around Edinburgh as the Yelp Edinburgh Community Manager! This puts me in the very fortunate position to seek out new foodie places to try and then share them on Yelp! I moved to Edinburgh in January 2011, having studied and worked in Glasgow for 7 years, and am already in love with the foodie-fuelled Capital. Eating out is a hobby and passion of mine, usually combined with talking about food. I like to keep a bit of balance with running and yoga, a lover of online social trends and geek-chic. I geek out over: Rare steak, Rioja and Margaritas Twitter: @jenniferlovatt Blog: www.jenlovesit.com

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