|Place of origin||Thailand|
|Variations||Yam, tam, lap, phla|
|Similar dishes||Burmese salads, Vietnamese salads|
Salads that are internationally known as Thai salads, with a few exceptions, fall into four main methods of preparation. In Thai cuisine these are called yam, tam, lap and phla. A few additional dishes can also be regarded as being a salad.
Thai salads often do not have raw vegetables or fruit as their main ingredient but use minced meat, seafood or noodles instead. Similar to salads in the West, these dishes often have a souring agent, usually lime juice, and feature the addition of fresh herbs and other greens in their preparation. Thai salads are not served as entrées but normally eaten as one of the main dishes in a Thai buffet-style meal, together with rice (depending on the region this can be glutinous rice or non-glutinous rice) or the Thai rice noodle called khanom chin. Specialised khao tom kui (plain rice congee) restaurants also serve a wide variety of Thai salads of the yam type as side dishes. Many Thai salads, for instance the famous som tam, are also eaten as a meal or snack on their own.
Yam (ยำ, Thai pronunciation: [jām]) literally means "mix" but in Thai cuisine it normally refers to a type of salad-like dishes in the culinary repertoire of Thailand. Yam can be made with a wide variety of ingredients as its main ingredient and nearly any type of protein, vegetable, fruit, herb, spice, and noodle, or combinations thereof, is possible. The main ingredient can be raw, pickled, fermented, sun-dried, smoked, steamed, parboiled, boiled, grilled, baked, stir-fried or deep-fried, or combinations thereof. Besides the main ingredient, the basic recipe of a yam will nearly always contain sliced fresh shallots or onions, fish sauce, lime juice, sugar, and fresh or dried chillies. When herbs are used, it is usually Chinese celery, sometimes in combination with other fresh herbs such as spearmint, coriander leaves, spring onions and culantro. Very often, sliced tomatoes are also added in, or finely sliced fresh spices such as lemongrass, ginger, galangal, or khamin khao (lit. "white turmeric").
Examples of yam style salads are yam nuea yang with sliced grilled beef, yam khai dao with fried egg, yam tale with mixed seafood, yam mu yo with a pork sausage resembling liverwurst, or yam wunsen with glass noodles. Some yam salads can use only herbs, spices and nuts as their main ingredient, such as yam takhrai met mamuang himaphan with sliced lemongrass and cashew nuts, or with stir-fried vegetables, such as water mimosa in yam phak krachet. Depending on the salad, anything from crispy fried onions, crunchy nuts or seeds, to toasted coconut flakes can also be added to the mix to enhance the flavours, colours and textures. Also, in many yam salads where the main ingredient is not meat, cooked minced pork can be added for extra savouriness, as often happens in yam wunsen (glass noodle salad). After one look at the menu of a khao tom kui (plain rice congee) restaurant, it is clear that nearly any ingredient that one can imagine can be used to make a yam style salad. To name a few: yam khai khem (salted duck eggs), yam kung chiang (dry Chinese sweet pork sausage), yam mu krop (Chinese crispy pork), and yam phak kat dong (Chinese pickled cabbage). These yam that are eaten with plain rice congee tend to remain more simple in their preparation, containing only the basic "dressing" of lime juice, raw onion or shallot, chillies, sugar and fish sauce in addition to the main ingredient, with only some celery added where needed.
A few types of yam need special mention as they differ somewhat from the basic recipe as mentioned above:
Main article: Green papaya salad
The most famous, and for many also the original, tam (ตำ, pronounced [tām]), lit. "pounded") style salad is som tam, made from unripe papaya. The basic dressing for a som tam-style salad contains garlic, palm sugar, lime juice, bird's-eye chillies, dried shrimp and fish sauce. This dressing is slightly pounded and mixed together inside an earthenware mortar using a wooden pestle. With certain kinds of tam, some or all of the additional ingredients will also be pounded slightly if this helps to release the flavours. Though with dishes such as tam phonla mai (fruit) or tam mu yo (a sausage similar to liverwurst), the main ingredients are simply mixed in with the dressing. Many types of tam salads will also contain (sliced) tomatoes.
Northern Thai tam are quite different altogether. Most of these dishes do not use any lime or tamarind juice, nor any vinegar in their dressing, thereby lacking the sour element seen in many salads. Tam makhuea for instance, is made from mashed grilled eggplant, grilled shallots and garlic, roasted chillies, fish and shrimp paste and served with mint and boiled egg. It is somewhat similar to other eggplant salads from around the world such as baba ghanoush. Further removed from what would still be viewed as a salad in the West, is the northern Thai tam khanun, made with mashed boiled whole baby jackfruit, dried chillies, minced pork stir-fried with a chilli paste, cherry tomatoes, fresh kaffir lime leaves, and coriander leaves. Another traditional salad from northern Thailand is tam khai mot daeng, made with the eggs of the red ant. Phak phai (Vietnamese mint) is one of the more unusual herbs used in this salad. A tam style salad from northern Thailand that is also famous in the rest of Thailand, is tam som-o (pomelo salad), in which the slightly pounded flesh of a pomelo is mixed with garlic, sliced lemongrass, and a thick pungent black paste (nam pu) made from boiling down the juices and meat of rice-paddy crabs.
Main article: Larb
Lap or larb (ลาบ, pronounced [lâːp]) is one of the internationally most well-known salads from Laos. The spicy, sweet and very tart style of lap from Laos and northeastern Thailand is made with a dressing of lime juice, fish sauce, ground dried chillies, sugar and, very importantly, khao khua, ground dry roasted glutinous rice which gives this salad its specific nutty flavour. Coriander leaves and chopped spring onions finish off the dish. Lap is most commonly made with minced pork or minced chicken, but in Thailand, lap pla, with fish, is also popular. Nam tok is a derivative of lap where the meat is sliced and not minced.
Northern Thai lap is a very different type of dish. As with the northern Thai tam, no souring agent is used in these dishes. Especially the versions using stir-fried minced meat (lap khua) more resemble a "normal" meat dish than a salad; but, as with salads, different ingredients, including fresh herbs and spices, are freshly mixed together to form the dish. Other versions of this northern Thai speciality use raw meat or fish.
Phla (พล่า, pronounced [pʰlâː]) style salads can be made with a variety of proteins but not thoroughly cooked (rare to medium). Popularly used are pork (phla mu), prawns (phla kung) or beef (phla nuea). The basic dressing is very much the same as a yam but with a difference. In addition to the fish sauce, lime juice, chillies, and shallots or onions, a phla style salad will also always contain large amounts of thinly sliced lemongrass and mint. Additional fresh herbs, such as coriander leaves, can also be added to the mix. Some versions are made with grilled pork or beef, other versions will also have nam phrik phao, a sweet roasted chilli paste, mixed in with the dressing. This last version is popular with squid (phla pla muek) and with prawns.
The following dishes can also be regarded as salads:
Although not really a salad as it doesn't involve mixing ingredients into a specific dish, the Thai tradition of serving a selection of fresh and boiled greens (often vegetables but also raw tree leaves, steamed mushrooms, or cooked pumpkin) together with a saucer or bowl of nam phrik (Thai chilli paste), fits one of the usual characteristics of a salad, being cold vegetables with a "sauce" as an accompaniment to a meal.