Som Tom is one of the most popular of all Thai salads. It is often eaten with sticky rice as a whole meal along with cabbage leaves. The flavours of Som Tom vary greatly depending on which region of Thailand you are eating.
In Isan/Isaan/Esarn, the Northeast Plains area of Thailand Papaya Salad will usually include an oblong nut fruit whole that gives a slight touch of bitterness to the salad which is a typical taste of the area. This bitterness is a balance with the sweet, hot, salty, sour, and is also very popular in neighbouring Laos.
The cuisine of Laos and Isan share many similarities as does the language. Many of these people are a mixture of Thai/Laos and have been for generations.
Salted crab is used in Som Tom in the Northeast as well in Som Tom instead of dried shrimp. These small crabs are fresh water crabs from the Mekong River. Green papaya salad with dried shrimp and peanuts is called Som Tom Thai. The green papaya salad with salted crab is called Som Tom Pbooh.
Som Tom is said to be the most popular dish for Thai woman and I can see why. The exciting flavours are so satisfying and healthy if you don't eat much sticky rice.
(Som Tom Thai)
6 garlic cloves
2 to 6 Thai Chiles to your taste
1/4 cup dried shrimp
3 tbsp. fish sauce
3 tbsp. palm sugar
2 tbsp. lime juice
1 peeled and shredded green papaya* (about 4 cups)
4 small tomatoes cut into wedges
*optional julienned carrots and or green beans
Eaten on the side: cabbage, lettuce and leaves of chaphlu
Optional side - steamed sticky rice
Place the first three ingredients into a mortar and pound furiously with the pestle to create a paste. Then add fish sauce, lime juice, and palm sugar, and continue to pound.
Add the papaya and carrots and or green beans if being used, and gently pound to incorporate the sauce. Add tomatoes and lighty toss.
Serve with cabbage wedges, chaphlu and other sliced vegetables of choice and sticky rice to eat along with the papaya salad.
If green papaya can not be found you can use green mngo, or even kolrobi and carrots shreded.