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Som Tum Recipe: Thai Papaya Salad | ส้มตำ


Som Tum Recipe: Thai Papaya Salad | ส้มตำ

Yesterday I got highlights done in my hair while learning how to make som tum, Thai papaya salad. It was the best haircut highlight session of my life.

Usually after I get the foil put in my head that makes me feel like a space alien, I have to sit still and pick up a dog-eared glamour magazine from a towering pile sitting on the table next to me, or I sit in the spinny chair and search for something else to talk about with my hairdresser like where she got the tattoo on her forearm.

But this time, while the foil stuck out of my head, I got to peel papaya while watching my Thai hairdresser crouched down, and bok-boking in her stone mortar and pestle shredded papaya, mini sour and sweet tomatoes, long green bean, Thai chilies, peanuts, fish sauce, sugar and lime.

After our som tum session, my highlights were set.

It all started when my friend from church told me she had a Thai hairdresser who is an accountant, but loves to cut hair out of her home as a hobby. The only Thai people Dom and I have met the past few years in America were servers or chefs at Thai restaurants, so I couldn’t wait to get my hair done and actually carry on a conversation with a Thai person other than my husband.

How to Make Som Tum: Thai Papaya Salad

We talked nonstop the whole time, especially after I found out she and her family had owned three Thai restaurants in the Austin area. Then we talked about our favorite Thai food to cook, and she gave me some Thai recipe ideas and told me the many things she grows in her backyard that made me want to live at her house: leomongrass, kaffir lime trees, Thai chili peppers, Thai basil, mint, and the list goes on.

Then after I asked her what she uses to peel her papaya for som tum, she was astonished I didn’t know what to use to peel the papaya. My hubby and I had attempted to make som tum once, but he shredded it old-school style using a knife to hit it in spots, and then shred it off that way, which wasn’t quite the consistency we like. Also, my hubby wouldn’t allow me to do it that way since I would most likely cut off my fingers in the process.

So once my foil was in she showed me to her kitchen where we went to town making som tum, which is her favorite dish, and it constantly lives in her fridge. Then after she finished washing and cutting my hair, she sent me home with a Ziploc bag full of som tum to give to Dom, moo palo sauce she made to make a pork with stewed egg Thai dish that Dom loves, some Thai chili peppers, cilantro root and lemongrass fresh from her backyard garden.

I can’t wait till my next hair appointment.

And until then, I’ve been perfecting my som tum skills. I discovered it’s super easy to make, once you have the right tools—or the right hairdresser.

The best tools are to have a stone mortar and pestle, but I just used my wooden one and it worked ok, and a special peeler. The one my Thai hairdresser used that I’m eagerly awaiting to arrive in the mail is the Kom Kom Miracle Knife. So once you have those, it’s so easy even my son Rocco can make som tum! Try it today, and let me know what you think!

How to Make Som Tum: Thai Papaya Salad


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How to Make Som Tum: Thai Papaya Salad

Som Tum Recipe: Thai Papaya Salad | ส้มตำ

  • Total Time: 25 minutes


You love Som Tum, but have you ever made it at home? Try making Thai Papaya Salad in your own kitchen using this recipe! It’s easier than you think!


  • 23 c. of unripe green papaya
  • 10 cherry tomatoes, cut in half
  • 1 c. long bean or green beans cut into 2 in. pieces
  • 5 garlic cloves
  • 36 thai chilies (depending on spicy tolerance)
  • fresh lime juice from 2-4 limes
  • 1.52 tbsp. fish sauce
  • 11.5 tbsp. sugar or palm sugar
  • handful of peanuts
  • 1/2 c of tiny dried shrimp (optional)
  • 23 servings of shrimp (optional)


  1. Peel the dark green skin off your papaya. Peel* the papaya into shoestring-like strips.
  2. In your mortar and pestle, pound the garlic and chilies until in small pieces and fragrant. Add in the long beans, lime, fish sauce and sugar to taste.
  3. Pound the beans until they have softened some, but still hold their shape, and then add in the papaya, tomatoes, peanuts and, if using, tiny dried shrimp. I like to use a spoon to scoop up the ingredients on the bottom to get them to the top when pounding. Just pound until the papaya is softened and everything is mixed up.
  4. Add more fish sauce, lime and sugar to taste. I like to have lime as the leading flavor with a savory, slight sweetness backing it up.
  5. If you are using shrimp, boil them for about 30 seconds until cooked and then mix them up into the dish at the end.
  6. Enjoy!!


You can find unripe, green papaya at the Asian market. Never make it with ripe papaya because it would be really weird and not work.

*The easiest way to peel a green papaya is to order a Kom Kom Miracle Knife, which my Thai hairdresser let me use, and it worked wonders.

But we didn’t have ours yet when I made this, so Dom used an old school Thai method to peel the papaya which is knocking it with a knife to make indentations, and then shredding it off.

If he hadn’t been there, I would have used just a vegetable peeler or tried a cheese grater, but it won’t be the exact consistency of traditional som tum, but still delicious!

  • Prep Time: 15 minutes
  • Cook Time: 10 minutes


  • Serving Size: 3-4


  • Felice

    I had this dish at a Thai restaurant in Japan (run by a Thai family) and they made it SUPER spicy! I made the mistake of challenging my friend to eat one of the hot chili’s in the salad… my mouth was numb and on fire for the rest of the night! It was still delicious though 🙂

    • Sherri Phengchard

      That’s awesome! I love how spicy it can be! It makes me feel at “home” in Thailand again whenever I make it mouth-numbing spicy!

  • Cayla

    I miss som tam! We try to make it with carrots sometimes because there are no papayas here =( Next time I will try your recipe and see how that turns out.

    • Sherri Phengchard

      Bummer you don’t have papayas in Iraq! That’s a great idea to try it with carrots though! Let me know how it goes!