Som tam is a spicy salad made from shredded unripe papaya. Probably originating from ethnic Lao peoples living in present-day Thailand, it is also eaten throughout Southeast Asia. Locally known in Cambodia as bok l'hong ,in Laos as tam som or the more specific name tam maak hoong , in Thailand as som tam ,and in Vietnam as gỏi đu đủ. Som tam, the Thai variation, was listed at number 46 on World's 50 most delicious foods compiled by CNN Go in 2011.
The dish is often served with fresh local vegetables on the side to ease the effect of the chilli, such as long beans, sliced cabbage or cucumber. And to make the meal complete, it goes well with sticky rice. Marinated charcoal-grilled chicken, or maybe some grilled marinated catfish are also popular accompaniments to a satisfying meal.
This green papaya salad is particularly popular in in the northeast of Thailand, in Issan, where it originated. The dish was made without any palm sugar as food from Issan was known for its strong spicy flavours, not for sweetness, combining preserved crab, pla ra (fermented fish), tamarind juice, beans, and salt. It wasn’t until the dish gained popularity and spread to Bangkok that sugar, along with other ingredients, were added, as many people from Issan started tomove to the capital city for work.
Since then, the dish has evolved into different versions, and almost every Thai has their opinion on what makes the best som tam, often ordering it tailored to their tastes. Some like it sweeter, others saltier, and yet others prefer it more sour. But it’s the balancing of these three flavours, along with the freshness of the ingredients that give the dish the powerful and rather addictive punch that it’s famed for.