Tasty Tuesdays – Som Tam
I have a few favorites when it comes to food here in Thailand, and today I’m sharing one of my top 2. This dish is called Som Tam. (Say ‘som’ with a long O sound; the T in ‘tam’ is more like a soft D, and the ‘a’ sounds like “ahh”… got it?)
Som Tam is a sweet-spicy light salad, and is considered a typical Thai picnic food. It is often eaten alongside some form of barbecued or grilled chicken, and blocks of sticky rice are used to soak up the extra juices in the salad. There are usually also plates of raw sliced cabbage, raw long beans (similar to green beans, but can be up to 2 feet in length and crisper), banana flowers, and any type of green sprouts.
The main ingredient in Som Tam is shredded green papaya. Although it is called a papaya, it is quite different from that which you are probably used to buying in the States. The green papaya is much larger, firmer, and is of course green. It has a texture similar to a firm potato, in that it is firm enough to shred, not easily bruised, yet has a crisp and slightly watery bite to it. (In the States, when I could not find green papaya, long shreds of carrot made a comparable substitute.) Depending on who is making the salad, there may also be a small amount of shredded carrot. Also included, are raw longbeans – cut into bite-sized pieces – small halved tomatoes, and roasted peanuts. Usually, there are tiny dried shrimp about the size of my thumbnail, but I prefer to order my Som Tam without them (they seem to always get stuck in my teeth). Again, depending on what region of Thailand you are in, there may also be whole crab or giant shrimp tossed in as well.
Sound pretty fresh, light, and rather tasty, right? The dressing is what gives this fresh concoction it’s punch, though. It’s simply a combination of your basic flavors, whose amounts can be adjusted to suit your personal taste.
- Salty – fish sauce – similar to soy sauce, but transparent and with a much lighter flavor
- Sweet – sugar – usually palm or brown
- Sour – lime juice – fresh squeezed, with rinds thrown in
- Spice – fresh garlic – whole cloves, peeled
- Heat – Thai chilies – remember, the smaller they are, the hotter they will be!
These ingredients are tossed and mashed together with mortar & pestle, followed by the salad ingredients themselves. The entire mixture is then pounded for about a minute to soften it up and blend the flavors. When you’re finished pounding it together, simply dump it out on a plate, grab a block of rice and some raw veggies, and you’re set. Buy a little bit of barbecued chicken or some grilled meat on a stick, and you’ve got the makings for the perfect picnic.