Chef's Recipes

David Thompson: Green papaya salad (Som dtam malakor)

Australian Gourmet Traveller Thai recipe for green papaya salad (Som dtam malakor) by David Thompson.

By David Thompson
  • Serves 2
David Thompson: Green papaya salad (Som dtam malakor)
David Thompson: Green papaya salad (Som dtam malakor)

"There are many versions of this spicy north-eastern vegetable salad that is traditionally made, crushed and dressed in a wooden pestle and mortar: cucumber, green mango, green beans, pineapple or white guava are some options. The salad can be flavoured with salted land crabs, dried prawns or fermented fish (plaa raa). The traditional way to shred a papaya, as seen on the streets of Bangkok, is to hold it in one hand while it is cut and shredded vigorously with a large, sharp knife held in the other hand. Every so often the knife is used to pare away the papaya, yielding a somewhat coarse, uneven shred. Many home cooks, however, use a hand-held grater. It is certainly easier and faster but the uniform cut means the papaya loses some of its rustic appeal. A special pestle and mortar is used for making this salad: the terracotta mortar is deep and conical with tall sides that prevent splattering, and the pestle is made of wood. A more regular granite one will do, but beware of the tomatoes! Green papaya salad is always eaten with rice: steamed sticky rice or occasionally jasmine rice dressed with coconut cream and sugar. A stall selling grilled pork or sweet pork can usually be found nearby - it is the perfect companion."


  • 3 garlic cloves
  • 2 tbsp roasted peanuts, coarsely crushed
  • 2 tbsp dried prawns, rinsed and drained
  • 2 slices or small wedges of lime (optional)
  • 6 cherry tomatoes, quartered
  • 2 snake beans, cut into 1 cm lengths
  • 4-6 bird’s eye chillies (scuds), to taste
  • 2 cups shredded green papaya, from about 1 small papaya
  • 3-4 tbsp shaved palm sugar, to taste
  • 2-3 tbsp fish sauce
  • 2-3 tbsp lime juice
  • 1 tbsp tamarind water


  • 1
    Using a pestle and mortar, pound the garlic with the salt then add the peanuts and dried prawns and pound to a coarse paste. Add the lime (if using), bruising it with the pestle, then add the cherry tomatoes and beans to the mortar and carefully work everything together. Next add the bird’s eye chillies, barely crushing them. The more they are pounded, the hotter the dish – and how hot you want it is up to you. Add them earlier if you’re after revenge.
  • 2
    Finally, add the green papaya and lightly bruise with the pestle, while turning and tossing the mixture with a large spoon held in your other hand. Season the salad with palm sugar, fish sauce, lime juice and tamarind water. It should taste sweet, sour, hot and salty.
  • 3
    Place about 1 cup of steamed rice on each plate. Spoon over the green papaya salad and eat with fresh raw vegetables, such as cabbage, green beans and betel leaves.


Note This recipe is from Thai Street Food by David Thompson, published by Penguin Lantern ($100, hbk), and appeared in the November 2009 issue of Australian Gourmet Traveller. The specialty ingredients used in these recipes are available from Asian supermarkets and Asian greengrocers. David Thompson's recipes are reproduced here without Gourmet Traveller style changes.

  • Author: David Thompson