Som tam: green papaya salad

Som tam: green papaya salad

Ben's BBQ Bible
Billy Law

I love the flavours of Thai food — the insatiable heat, and the distinctive combination of sweet, salty and sour. It’s like a sensory running of the bulls! Those machismo-destroying little bird’s eye and prik kii nuu (mouse-dropping) chillies can reduce a grown man to tears, but the exhilaration gets your endorphins rising.

I think the use of unripe fruit is so interesting, and often wonder what prompted people to use fruit in this way. The crunchy freshness of the green papaya adds such a great textural dimension to this salad. And believe me, with six chillies in this recipe, you’ll need it! Use fewer chillies if you prefer less heat.

Som tam is often served with one of my favourite barbecued chicken dishes, Gai yang, along with sticky rice. The salad has quite a liquid consistency, but the juices are lovely soaked up by the rice and chicken.


Quantity Ingredient
2 dark green papaya, peeled and grated
1 cup green beans, chopped into 2 cm lengths
6 green bird’s eye chillies
3 garlic cloves, peeled
25g dried shrimp, rinsed in hot water and drained
50g unsalted roasted peanuts
60ml lime juice
25ml fish sauce
10ml tamarind juice
2 ripe tomatoes, quartered


  1. Rinse the grated papaya in cold water and drain. Combine with the beans.
  2. Combine the chillies and garlic in a mortar, and pound to a paste.
  3. Separately, pound the shrimp with the peanuts. You want a crumbly texture, not a paste.
  4. Combine the lime juice, sh sauce and tamarind juice with the chilli and garlic. Check the seasoning: you may need to add more sh sauce or lime juice, as the salty and sour flavours need to be evenly balanced.
  5. Add the papaya and beans to the dressing, along with the tomatoes. Gently pound to just soften the papaya.
  6. To serve, top with the pounded shrimp and peanut.
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