Som tum is the perfect culinary harmony of the spiciness of chili, the saltiness of fish sauce, the sweetness of palm sugar and the sourness of lemon.

Som tum, or papaya salad (papaya salad), is a specialty not to be missed when talking about Thai cuisine. It has appeared many times in rankings of the world’s most worth-trying dishes. Som tum is registered by the Thai Department of Cultural Promotion as a national intangible cultural heritage dish. Google also honors this dish.

Som means “sour”, tum means “pound”. This is also the correct mixing technique, when Thai people use a pestle and mortar to pound the spices evenly into the salad. Thai food is famous for combining salty, sweet, spicy, sour and bitter – papaya salad brings together all those flavors.

Walk down any bustling street in Thailand and you’ll hear the rhythmic pounding of wooden pestles against clay mortars, as vendors prepare this dish.

Each region has its own version of som tum, visitors will surely be surprised every time they eat green papaya salad in different places in Thailand. A special version is som tum crab. This type of crab is essentially a whole live salted crab, and each portion of som tam usually has about 2-3 crabs. Besides, Thai people also use other alternative ingredients such as squid, fresh or dried shrimp instead of crab, and green mango or cucumber instead of papaya.

There are many variations of Thai som tum: tam phonla mai ruam (fruit); som tam huapli (banana flower); tam mu yo (silk sausage), tam mamuang pla haeng thot (green mango salad, dried anchovies), tam maphrao on sen mi krop (soft coconut pulp and crispy fried noodles)…

Som tum is eaten with seafood. Thai people can eat papaya salad at any time of the day, whether for breakfast, lunch or dinner, even as a snack.

Papaya salad is often eaten with sticky rice, grilled chicken or vermicelli and raw vegetables.

In fact, green papaya salad is not only available in Thailand but is also popular in Southeast Asian countries. Vietnam has papaya salad with dried beef, Laotians have tam maak hung (pictured) and Cambodians have bok l’hong.