Thai Green Papaya Salad for travelling light

I try and travel as light as possible, miniaturizing everything as much as possible. Even my knickers.

I never take full-sized toiletries, try to have 2 in 1 shower gel and shampoo and no longer know how to pack a suitcase with clothes, keeping to a capsule wardrobe that is usually black.

So in packing for the Lebanon trip back in May when all I had to put in the suitcase was my clothes, they almost got lost in it, and I still didn’t wear all of them. I’d asked, “what do you wear in Beirut,” and my aunt had said “you can never be too overdressed”. My eyes bulged. I took FIVE pairs of shoes for the outfits. Despite having more shoes than Pierre has bicycles, and Pierre has a lot of them, and the fact I only wear about two pairs of my shoes.

Why do I prefer to travel so light? Usually because I like to weigh my suitcase down with kitchen gadgets rather than shoes (on that occasion it was more zaa’tar, sumac and loukoum – turkish delight about 4 kilos, plus rose syrup and petal confit…but that’s another story).

When heading for the UK, with a 20 kg check-in allowance I usually put a suitcase in a suitcase and stuff both full on the way back, maxing out that weight allowance. And not with clothes. Cookbooks, groceries and the latest not particularly useful but wonderfully gimmicky gadget from Lakeland.

This time on the way there though, I stuffed it with Som Tam, or Thai green papaya salad. Deconstructed. Well it’s a nice light salad. Sometimes I could almost happily chomp away on a bowl of it rather than chocolate. Almost.

(Think I need to reduce the size of the photo)

However not knowing if I’d find a green papaya in the Yeovil Tesco I dashed out before leaving for the airport to get one from my local Thai/Japanese store. But it being August: congés annuel and vacances oblige, it was closed of course. Luckily the mini Tang Freres store opposite was open. I also grabbed a small pot of shrimp paste, which has to be one of the stinkiest things you can get in an Asian grocery. That and fish sauce, which I knew I could get in the UK.

My suitcase weighed in at 19.4 kg filled with ingredients for Som Tam (prelude to the next post), gifts from Lebanon for the family and outfits with colour for FBC 2011 this weekend. Like I indicated I’m a lightweight champion.

Green Papaya Salad (Som Tam)

(Ok so I forgot the peanuts and basil!)

Som Tam is one of the classic starters to any Thai meal. It has a slight sweetness over a tangy slightly sour base. A host of deep pungent flavours that probably shouldn’t go well together but when they mingle over crunchy strips of green papaya sprinkled with crushed peanut… Wow. When you fork the firm green papaya strips into your mouth you give your taste buds an oh yeah baby moment.

You can also add prawns, and eat it with a bowl of sticky rice.

Makes a large bowl of Som Tam as a starter for about 4, or a main for 2


For the vinaigrette
– 2 cloves garlic (or 1 tbsp of a cheat’s chopped garlic or paste)
– juice of 1 lime
– 3 tbsps fish sauce (nam pla) (3 tbsps soy sauce if vegetarian)
– 2 tbsps brown sugar
– 1 tbsp liquid honey (or to taste)
– 1 tsp shrimp paste (or a tspful of a bean sauce if vegetarian)
– 1 Thai red chili (or a pinch of chili flakes)

For the salad:
– A small green papaya (make sure there are no bad parts when buying. Green mango works well too)
– 1/2 cucumber
– 2 tomatoes
– A handful of bean sprouts
– A small handful of fresh coriander
– A small handful of fresh basil (if you can get Thai basil, all the better)
– 3 tbsps peanuts, crushed


1. First mix all the vinaigrette ingredients together in a jar and shake well. Leave aside for the flavours to mingle.
2. Prepare the papaya by peeling it, cutting it open and scooping the seeds into a compost bin preferably, and shredding it in a food processor on a coarse setting. Or with a coarse grater, but beware it doesn’t bite you. Add to a large bowl.
3. Slice the cucumber into matchsticks. Add to the bowl.
4. Cut up the tomato into small pieces. Up to you if you keep the pips. Add to the bowl.
5. Add the bean sprouts to the bowl.
5. Strip the coriander leaves from the stalks and coarsely chop the leaves (keep the stalks if you’re making a Thai Green curry). Tear the basil leaves. Scatter both over the contents of the bowl.
6. Pour over the vinaigrette and mix well.
7. Serve and sprinkle the peanuts over each serving.


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