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Green papaya salad
2013 Tam Lao.jpg
Green papaya salad with yardlong beans, chili, pla ra, brined crab, hog plum and lime
Place of originLaos, Northeastern Thailand[1][2][3][better source needed]
Region or stateSoutheastern Asia
Associated national cuisineBurmese, Cambodian, Lao, Thai, Vietnamese
Main ingredientsGreen papaya

Green papaya salad (Khmer: បុកល្ហុង, Lao: ຕຳຫມາກຫຸ່ງ and Thai: ส้มตำ) is a spicy salad made from shredded unripe papaya. It was possibly created by the Lao people but is eaten throughout Continental Southeast Asia (Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand, and Vietnam), and considered a national dish in both Laos and Thailand.[4][5]

CNN included a variation on their list of the World's 50 most delicious foods.[6][7][8]


Papaya and chili peppers were introduced to Southeast Asia by the Spanish and Portuguese explorers in the 17th century from the Americas.[9] Although it is unknown when papayas entered Laos specifically, they had already been integrated into Lao culture by the time of Jean-Baptiste Pallegoix's visit in 1836.[10]

Thai historian Sujit Wongthes has speculated that the green papaya salad originated in the communities of ethnic Chinese–Lao settlers living in what is now Central Thailand, who adopted the ancient Lao tradition of preparing salads from fruits, called tam som, to make salads from papayas. The new dish became known as som tam during the early Rattanakosin period (late 18th to early 19th centuries) and, along with the papaya, then spread to today's Northeast Thailand following the construction of the Northeastern railway line during the turn of the 19th–20th centuries. The dish became more popular after the opening of Mittraphap Road in 1957, helping bring new papaya cultivars into the region, and has since become widely adopted by the ethnic Lao people of both Isan and Laos. Likewise, the hot flavour also spread to Isan and Laos from Central Thailand, which had been introduced to chilli peppers first.[11]

However, chilli peppers, like papayas,[10] were already fully integrated in the Lao territory by the time French explorer Henri Mouhot visited Laos, in 1861,[12] and also in the Lao traditional culinary recipes.[13] Furthermore, during the 1950s and 1960s, green papaya salad and other Lao dishes were rarely known in Bangkok and could only be found around the boxing stadium that gathered boxers and fans from Northeastern Thailand, as well as in mobile food carts outside construction sites with workers from Northeastern Thailand and gas stations serving long-distance bus drivers. During the standardization of the Thai national cuisine, green papaya salad was among the Northeastern or Lao dishes to be included into the Thai national cuisine and modified by reducing the amount of chilli peppers and increasing the amount of sugar.[14] Green papaya salad is considered a national dish in both Laos and Thailand.[4][5]


Unripe papaya being sliced into thin strips during preparation of the salad.
Unripe papaya being sliced into thin strips during preparation of the salad.
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The dish combines the five main basic tastes: sourness of the lime, the spiciness of the chili, saltiness and savoriness of the fish sauce, and sweetness of palm sugar. The ingredients are mixed and pounded in a mortar, which is reflected in the Khmer, Lao and Thai names for the dish that literally mean "pounded papaya".

In Laos, green papaya salad is one of the traditional staples of the Lao. Pounded salads in Laos all fall under the parent category of tam som, which may or may not contain green papaya, however, when no specific type of tam som is mentioned, it is generally understood to refer to green papaya salad. For absolute clarity, however, the name tam maak hoong may be used, since this name means "pounded papaya".

In Thailand, it is customary that a customer ask the preparer to make the dish suited to his or her tastes. To specifically refer to the original style of papaya salad as prepared in Laos or Isan, it is known as ส้มตำลาว or som tam Lao or simply as tam Lao and the dish as prepared in central Thailand may be referred to as som tam Thai.

Traditionally, the local variety of green papaya salad in the streets of Bangkok is very spicy due to the addition of a fistful of chopped hot bird's eye chili. However, with its rising popularity among tourists, it is now often served less spicy as it used to be in the past.

Additional ingredients

Street vendor from Isan pounding green papaya salad in Bangkok
Street vendor from Isan pounding green papaya salad in Bangkok
Green papaya salad, grilled chicken and sticky rice is a popular combination in Laos and Thailand.
Green papaya salad, grilled chicken and sticky rice is a popular combination in Laos and Thailand.

Together with the papaya, some or most of the following secondary items are added and pounded in the mortar with the pestle:

Green papaya salad is often served with glutinous rice and kai yang/ping gai (grilled chicken). It can also be eaten with fresh rice noodles or simply as a snack by itself with, for instance, crispy pork rinds. The dish is often accompanied by raw green vegetables such as water spinach and white cabbage wedges on the side to mitigate the spiciness of the dish.


It is believed to have originated in Laos, from where it was exported into Cambodia, Thailand and Vietnam.[1][2][3][better source needed] Variations of the dish are found throughout Thailand, Cambodia,[16] Vietnam and as well as in the West, where it is more commonly known by its Thai name.[citation needed]

A non-spicy green papaya salad version also exists in Laos, Vietnam and Thailand, which is much sweeter; it often contains crushed peanuts and is less likely to have fish paste or brined crab.[17] Dried brine shrimp are used in this Central Thai version. There are also versions that make use of unripe mangoes, apples, cucumbers, carrots and other firm vegetables or unripe fruit. Besides using varieties of fruits or vegetables as the main ingredient a popular option is to use vermicelli rice noodles wherein the dish is known as tam sua.[citation needed]

Instead of papaya, other ingredients can be used as the main ingredient. Popular variations in Laos and Thailand include the salad with:[citation needed]


The Thai variation som tam has been listed at number 46 on World's 50 most delicious foods[6] compiled by CNN Go in 2011[7] and 2018.[8]


See also


  1. ^ a b Jonathan H. X. Lee; Kathleen Nadeau, eds. (2010). Encyclopedia of Asian American Folklore and Folklife. ABC-CLIO. p. 733. ISBN 978-0-313-35066-5. Some Laotians will argue that the papaya salad was invented in Laos and then exported to Cambodia, Thai, and Vietnam, where it was adopted.
  2. ^ a b Iverson, Kelly (9 May 2017). "A Brief History of Som Tum, Thailand's Popular Green Papaya Salad". Culture Trip. Retrieved 26 May 2021.
  3. ^ a b "The Curious History of Som Tum (Papaya Salad)". Thai Ginger. 24 August 2020. Retrieved 26 May 2021.
  4. ^ a b "Papaya salad with shrimp, Laos". Deutsche Welle.
  5. ^ a b "Best somtum places in Bangkok". Time Out Bangkok. Retrieved 20 August 2022.
  6. ^ a b "The world's 50 best foods". CNN Travel.
  7. ^ a b "World's 50 most delicious foods". CNN GO. 21 July 2011. Archived from the original on 21 July 2011. Retrieved 11 October 2011. 46. Som tam, Thailand
  8. ^ a b "The world's 50 best foods". CNN Travel. 14 March 2018. Retrieved 9 March 2019.
  9. ^ Van Esterik, Penny (2008). Food Culture of Southeast Asia. Greenwood Press. p. 12. ISBN 978-0-313-34419-0.
  10. ^ a b Callis, Kristine Lee (2005). The History of Plant Use in Laos: Analysis of European Accounts of Plant Use for Primarily Religious and Medicinal Purposes (PDF). North Carolina State University. pp. 43–44.
  11. ^ "′มะละกอ′มีกำเนิดจากทวีปอเมริกา มาเป็น′ส้มตำ′ เริ่มมีในบางกอก - สุวรรณภูมิในอาเซียน" ['Papaya' - originated in the Americas, became 'som tam' in Bangkok]. Matichon (in Thai). 25 December 2014. Archived from the original on 4 March 2016. Retrieved 29 July 2017.
  12. ^ Mouhot, Henri, and Ferdinand de. Lanoye. Voyage Dans Les Royaumes De Siam, De Cambodge, De Laos Et Autres Parties Centrales De L'Indo-Chine: Relation Extraite Du Journal Et De La Correspondance De L'auteur. Hachette, 1868. 322. Print
  13. ^ Estrade, Docteur (1895). Manuel de conversation, franco-laotiens: prononciation en français avec signes conventionnel, transcription de tous les termes en caractères laotiens., deuxieme edition. pp. 25–26.
  14. ^ Van Esterik, Penny (1992). "From Marco Polo to McDonald's: Thai cuisine in transition" (PDF). Food and Foodways: Explorations in the History and Culture of Human Nourishment. 5 (2): 177–193.
  15. ^ Ponchunchoovong, Samorn (2006). Species identification of Thai Rice-field Crab in the lower north-eastern region of Thailand.
  16. ^ Rivière, Joannès (2008). Cambodian Cooking: A humanitarian project in collaboration with Act for Cambodia. Periplus Editions. p. 29. ISBN 978-0-794-65039-1.
  17. ^ "Clay's Kitchen : Tam Ra Ahan Thai (Thai Recipes) ตำราอาหารไทย". Retrieved 11 April 2015.

Further reading