This light and refreshing green papaya salad called Som Tam is a classic salad of Thailand. Learn to create an authentically flavored sweet-spicy-sour-salty Thai papaya salad easily at home with my recipe tips and tricks.

Papaya salad is served on a white oval plate with chopsticks on a napkin.

Green papaya salad always reminds me of Southeast Asian countries I have lived in and travelled to for many years.

I loved this refreshing salad so much that I almost always ordered it, along with Tom Yum soup (Tom Yum Goong), at restaurants.

I am not sure if it was the flavor or texture, but the salad always reminded me of the hot and humid summers in Southeast Asia. Come to think of it, it was always hot and humid, regardless of the season! And this salad was a refreshing antidote.

What is papaya salad?

Papaya salad, widely known as Som Tam (or Som Tum) in Thailand, is an exotic salad made with shredded unripened green papaya, snake beans, tomato, red chili, and dried shrimp.

The signature sweet-spicy-sour-salty fish sauce and lime juice dressing brings the refreshing taste to this crunchy-textured salad.

Papaya salad is known to have originated in the northeastern part of Thailand, but it can also be found throughout neighboring countries like Laos, Vietnam, and Cambodia. The Thai version, however, is probably the most well known.

 A plate of papaya salad is placed on a napkin with a pair of chopsticks

This zingy Thai papaya salad is a very flavorful salad with an exotic spicy kick.

Salad lover or not, it has the potential to get you hooked on Thai cuisine. It’s my favorite summertime salad. The refreshing taste and the crunchy texture is just perfect.

BTW, this green papaya salad is low carb and keto friendly.

What goes in Green Papaya salad

  • Green papaya — You will need to use unripened papaya. Make sure it has deep green color on the outside and is firm to the touch. Unripened papaya doesn’t have much flavor by itself, but it soaks up the savory, tangy dressing and turns it into delicious salad.

As papaya ripens, the skin turns yellow-orange and the fruit inside turns a deep orange, with little black seeds. When ripe, the fruit will be very soft, almost mushy, with very sweet taste.

Substitute: Green papaya is easily available in Asian markets these days. If you can’t find it, you can use green mango, which is another unripened fruit used in Thai salads, but which is usually only found in Asian stores. The next best option would be jicama, broccoli stem, carrot, radish, or green cabbage. (Try a mix of a few of them to find your favorite texture and taste.)

  • Snake beans — As the name implies, these are very long, snake-like green beans with a slightly scraggly texture on the surface. They are great to enjoy raw. They taste similar to green beans, so substitute with green beans if snake beans are not available.
  • Dried shrimp — another key ingredient to add umami (or savoriness) and a genuine Thai taste to the salad. They are tiny, little dried shrimps that are easily found in Asian stores.
  • Cherry tomato — Adds a vibrant color and a refreshing taste to the salad.
  • Cilantro — aromatic herb
  • Roasted peanut — adds more crunchiness and a nutty taste. Another necessary ingredient when making Thai green papaya salad
  • Fried shallot (optional) — savory addition to salad. You can find it easily in Asian market.
A bowl of papaya salad is tossed with two salad tossing spoons

Dressing for green papaya salad

The flavor balance of sweet-spicy-sour (tangy)-salty is the anchor of Thai cuisine, and this salad dressing is not an exception.

  • Fish sauce — It’s a pungent sauce, and it adds depth to the taste. Do not substitute with soy sauce because in doing so you will lose the complex, unmistakably Thai flavor.
  • Lime — must use fresh limes. No lemon!
  • Palm sugar — It’s sugar extracted from the palm tree. It has a pleasant caramel flavor. Palm sugar is a commonly used sweetener in many Southeast Asian cuisines. You should be able to find palm sugar at any Asian supermarket. Alternatively, you can even buy palm sugar on Amazon. Light brown sugar is a general substitute but I highly recommend using palm sugar. You can taste the difference.
  • Thai red chili (bird’s eye chili) — It’s very spicy chili so adjust the amount depending on your heat tolerance. Thai papaya salad is a slightly spicy salad, so if you want to enjoy authentic Thai salad, don’t be too shy.
  • Garlic — savory ingredient for salad

Recipe Tips

  1. Since it is a salad, you don’t need to cook anything, but you do need to whack some things!
  2. Unripe green papaya and snake beans (or green beans) can both be fibrous and hard to chew. By pounding the strands of papaya, you can tenderize it and help it soak up the dressing and become more flavorful.
  3. Many traditional Thai cooks use a large mortar, but you can use a zip bag and a meat hammer (or rolling pin) instead to replicate the pounding job. Smart, huh?
  4. To make the salad dressing, you will need to whack the fresh red chilies and garlic in a small mortar with a pestle, or use a mini-blender to get a similar result. I recommend getting a small stone mortar and pestle if you enjoy cooking Southeast Asian food. It is a handy kitchen tool to make salad dressing easily.
  5. For the hardened palm sugar, I usually shave off thin slivers of the sugar with a knife and add it to the mortar, then pound it together with other salad ingredients. The sugar will dissolve fast when it gets mixed with fish sauce and lime juice.

How to make green papaya salad

  • Cut unripe papaya in half lengthwise. Peel and remove the seeds inside. Shred the papaya, using a mandolin or vegetable julienne peeler, into thin strands.
  • Put papaya stands in a large zip bag and pound with a meat hammer or rolling pin until slightly soft and tender, turning the bag back and forth.
  • Add the snake beans slices to the bag and continue to pound until beans are soft and slightly bruised. Set them aside.
  • In a small mortar, put garlic and chili and pound until they become a chunky paste.
  • Shave off palm sugar thinly with a knife and add it to the garlic chili paste. Add dried shrimp and continue pounding until shrimp are bruised.
  • Add fish sauce, lime juice and stir everything in a grinding motion with a pestle until the sugar is dissolved. Taste and adjust the flavor according to your preference.
  • In a large bowl, combine papaya, snake beans, tomato, cilantro, and half of peanuts. Pour the dressing over the salad and toss everything well. Sprinkle the remaining crushed peanuts and fried shallot (if using) on top. Serve immediately.
A plate of papaya salad garnished tomato and crushed peanuts are served with chopsticks on a napkin

What to serve with green papaya salad

Papaya salad is great to enjoy alone or with rice for a light meal. It also makes a great appetizer before the main course.

More Asian salad ideas

If you enjoy Asian salad, especially from Southeast Asian cuisine, you might like these recipes below;

Papaya salad is served on a white oval plate with chopsticks on a napkin.

Classic Thai Green Papaya Salad (Som Tam)

Learn to create an authentically flavored Thai papaya salad with sweet-spicy-sour-salty dressing. Making it at home is easy and no cooking is required.
5 from 1 rating

Ingredients

  • 4 cup shredded unripe papaya
  • 6 snake beans or 12 green beans, cut into 2-inch pieces
  • 10 cherry tomatoes, sliced in half
  • 1/4 cup roasted peanuts, crushed
  • 2 tbsp cilantro, chopped
  • 2 tbsp fried shallot, optional

For salad dressing

Instructions 

  • Put papaya stands in a large zip bag and pound with a meat hammer or rolling pin until slightly soft and tender, turning the bag back and forth.
  • Add the snake beans slices to the bag and continue to pound until beans are soft and slightly bruised. Set them aside.
  • To make salad dressing; put garlic and chili in a small mortar and pound until they become a chunky paste. Shave off palm sugar thinly with a knife and add it to the garlic chili paste. Add dried shrimp and continue pounding until shrimp are bruised.
  • Add fish sauce, lime juice and stir everything in a grinding motion with a pestle until the sugar is dissolved. Taste and adjust the flavor according to your preference.
  • To complete salad; combine papaya, snake beans, tomato, cilantro, and half of peanuts in a large bowl. Pour the dressing over the salad and toss everything well. Sprinkle the remaining crushed peanuts and fried shallot (if using) on top. Serve immediately.

Notes

To shred unripe papaya; Cut papaya in half lengthwise. Peel papaya and remove the seeds. Shred the papaya, using a mandolin or vegetable julienne peeler, into thin strands, about 1/8 inch thick.
Calories: 154kcal, Carbohydrates: 27g, Protein: 4g, Fat: 5g, Saturated Fat: 1g, Polyunsaturated Fat: 2g, Monounsaturated Fat: 2g, Sodium: 775mg, Potassium: 486mg, Fiber: 4g, Sugar: 17g, Vitamin A: 1576IU, Vitamin C: 103mg, Calcium: 53mg, Iron: 1mg
Did you make this recipe?Tag @beyondkimchee on Instagram. I love to see your masterpiece.