Green Papaya Salad

I go to London regularly, mostly for work occiasionally for pure frivolity, other times to see my osteopath.

Whatever the reasons for my visits I like to try and pop back to old haunts – favourite cafes, quick cut-throughs and the odd shop. It gives me an opportunity to pick up bits that are much more difficult to find here on the coast. So I go to a favourite coffee shop and buy their monthly special, I may pop into an Italian deli but I always seem to pay a visit to some of the grocery shops in China Town.

I might pick up firm tofu for frying, sheets of wonton wrappers, jars of sauces and spices, but it is their fresh produce sections that has me searching out favourites and looking for what is at it’s best  - fresh curry leaves, highly pungent and aromatic (the leaves are picked off once at home and are frozen for later use), bags of oriental greens and beans for times when the slugs and snails are doing their best to demolish my gardening efforts. And occasionally I’ll wander in and something will grab my attention – yes a green papaya.

Green Papaya Salad

Green Papaya salad is a quintessential Thai salad – hot and sour, sweet and crunchy. Perfect as a starter, on it’s own, a light lunch, you name it.

What I’ve done here is combined recipes from three of my favourite cooks – Mai Kaidee, Rick Stein and David Thompson. Mai’s version is vegetarian so doesn’t use the fish sauce, she uses soy or seasoning sauce instead – you choose.

From a whole green papaya I made two batches of this salad – the papaya kept well in the fridge wrapped in some cling film or if you are Australian Glad Wrap – I love that name!

  • Peel and halve a green papaya, and then scoop out and discard the seeds.
  • Slice / grate a green papaya. If you have a mandolin then now’s the time to use it
  • Put it in a pestle and mortar and bash it gently
  • Now add –
    • 1 tsp each of chopped chilli and garlic
    • 1 tbsp of roasted cashew nuts or peanuts, roughly chopped
    • 4 cherry tomatoes, halved
    • 2 tsp of sugar (palm if you have it)
    • Juice of 1 lime
    • 1 tbsp fish sauce or soy/seasoning sauce
    • 1 tbsp Tamarind water or 1 small tsp of paste
    • About 6 green beans, halved lengthways
    • Mix and bash it all again, check the taste and serve

What to do if you don’t have green papaya?

I’ve been trying to find alternatives to green papaya – I’ve used white cabbage which is good, but different, also the same with carrot. I’d like to try using white turnip as that seems to come up as an alternative – but as I’ve only just sown the seeds it will be a while before I get to taste it! Do you have any suggestions or alternatives, I’d love to hear them as I do love this salad but can’t always get green papaya.

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47 thoughts on “Green Papaya Salad

  1. “Som tum” is one of my favorite Thai dishes. Yes, green papaya can be difficult to find, and I find cabbage is a good alternative as well (probably because it’s usually served with a side of cabbage and sticky rice)

    • I see your thinking Tandy, and to be honest I have no idea. The green papaya is a bit fleshy (if you see what I mean) whereas cabbage is much harder and doesn’t take in the flavours as well. So maybe it’s worth a try, especially if you can get hold of green mangoes easily and cheaply.

  2. I have never seen any green papaya for sale here – so it is nice to know what you can use for alternatives. The salad looks lovely. I think I will try it with white turnip :)

  3. Fabulous salad. I´d have to do it with cabbage but the flavours sound amazing. China Town is always on my list for stopping off and stocking up in the UK! And seeing that first shot of your pestle and mortar reminds me that this week I dropped my marble pestle and broke it so need to find a replacement :(

    • What a shame about your lovely pestle and mortar! We managed to drop our marble one on the tube thingy whilst still in Bangkok, luckily it wasn’t too bad and we could glue it back together when we got home :)

  4. I, too, have not seen green papaya, Claire, in any of my normal haunts. Your recipe, though, has me tempted to go searching a few of the nearby Asian markets for papaya. OK, I’ll confess. I really enjoy going to those markets and welcome any excuse to go to one. With a little luck, I won’t find any until my 3rd or 4th stop. ;)

    • Any excuse eh John :) to be honest Im usually in a real rush when I go to Soho/China Town so I don’t get to linger as much as I’d like, but it is worth trying the recipe if you find it as it is so distinct and so absolutely Thai

  5. I have not tried green papaya! The recipe is intriguing and now I will be off on a papaya quest! I always enjoy your recipes, exceptional flavor yet easy to prepare:)

  6. so glad you can find a green papaya in london, we grow them and love the classic Thai salad …. our papayas never quite ripen to sweetness (too far south) so we eat them green in this mouth-tingling manner!

  7. This is my favorite Thai salad, made with fish sauce. It’s often served with shrimp (prawns) and some people put tiny dried shrimp in the dressing, mashed up in your mortar. When I was at college (university) I had a roommate from Thailand. She taught me to make this with carrots because green papaya was not then available in Santa Barbara. I’ll have to try it with baby turnips next winter or spring. I have also used the dressing on chunks of melon in the summer.

    • How fantastic that you had a roommate to teach you this great dish. And yes I’ve had it with those tiny dried shrimp in, and it does take it to another level. I was wondering about trying it with kohl rabi, but as the first batch of seedlings were mown down by slugs, and I’ve only just sowed the 2nd batch I will have to wait for a while. And now you have planted a great idea, using melon – I’m imagining the sweetness of the melon with the sourness of the dressing.

  8. It’s so interesting all the different ways food can be used – especially when someone is clever enough (or hungry enough) to expand beyond the “ripe” options and into the “underripe” or “overripe” possibilities as well! Thanks for sharing the recipe, we may just have to try it!

    • I always wonder who was the first to try these things out – you know like rapid boiling beans for 10 minutes and not 5? I love Thai flavours so this salad is a perfect one for me, I hope you do get to try it :)

  9. It is even hard for me to find green papaya living in Hong Kong. I guess we will all just have to visit Thailand more often. That sounds like a great alternative/substitute!

    • Oooo you’re back from your trip!! And I would never have thought green papaya was hard to find in HK, it seems odd to me, but as you say a perfect excuse to visit Thailand, not that we need one ;)

  10. What a delicious salad! It sounds light for summer but with a little kick to it. I like the idea of serving it as a starter. I have never noticed green papayas before, but now I’ll look. There is a very prominent Asian community in the greater Los Angeles area and I don’t think I could ever exhaust the number of unique and very particular markets in our city alone! Papayas are a definite import, so I will look the other way with my “eating local” rule. I’m not a perfectionist :-) Debra

    • Hi Debra, I know what you mean about a local rule, I don’t have it in the same sense as you, othewise I wouldn’t get to eat citrus. I do try and stick to Europe, but then coconuts, mangoes and the odd delicacy and in I charge!
      it sounds like there will be a general papaya quest going on, happy hunting :)

  11. This is my favorite Thai salad too, but haven’t thought of making it as haven’t seen green papaya. Maybe I need to work at that a bit harder…will be well worth the search if I find it, and still no waste of time if I don’t! :)

  12. Claire, A green papaya IS hard to find, but it is so worth it! This is hands down my favorite Thai salad!
    Q: I grew white turnips for the first time this year. They started out sweet and then suddenly turned very bitter. Any clue as to what the cause could be?
    Thanks for the great substitution ideas! ~ Lynda

    • It is easily my favourite Thai salad too!
      Shame about the turnips Linda – I wonder if it was a case of getting old / too dry / stressed. I know that things can get bitter when they get old – like greens and it is a brassica, so I’m wondering if they got old and grumpy?! I’m hoping mine make it past the seedling stage befor ethe slugs and bugs get to them first!!

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