Tum mark dang (literally ‘pounded cucumber’ in Lao) is another classic Lao spicy salad dish made in a similar way as tum mark hoong – with a Lao mortar and pestle, and a lot of love. Once you’ve mastered the art of making tum mark hoong, you should have no problems with making tum mark dang, although there are a few quirks worth noting when dealing with this particular fruit.
Firstly, cucumbers are very different to green papayas, and so should be treated as such. Cucumbers generally contain more liquid (especially the seed section), and tum mark dang will naturally have more liquid/sauce than a typical tum mark hoong. This is far from being a bad thing because the spicy sauce is prized and perfect to be mixed with cooked rice vermicelli noodles – which is often the case, making the tum mark dang and noodle blend/concoction a slippery/slurp-worthy dish.
Also, unlike green papayas (or carrots, or other firmer vegetables), when preparing cucumbers to make the salad, the convenience of using a julienne knife, like a kom-kom miracle zig zag knife does not apply. Instead, the simple yet effective old art of ‘fuk’ (rhymes with luck) and ‘soy’ needs to be applied.
Fuk and soy is the traditional method of using a sharp knife or cleaver (for the more confident/seasoned blade-wielding cooks/chef) to first repetitiously chop (fuk) the surface of the cucumber (or any tum som fruit or vegetable for that matter), and then thinly and evenly slice (soy) this same surface area into long thin julienne slivers. This method may look dangerous and cumbersome (and it is) – but with some experience, you’ll be chopping and slicing like a tum som pro in no time, and can apply this method to prepare other fruits and vegetables of your choice to make your very own old-school style, tailor-made tum som.
The secret to successfully chopping and slicing cucumbers with this method is simply experience, confidence, and a very sharp blade. When repetitiously chopping the cucumber, there’s a good chance that some slivers of cucumber will fly everywhere – so, performing this ritual with the bowl in the kitchen sink is recommended.
Because cucumbers are softer and more ‘watery’ (compared to green papayas), tum mark dang usually doesn’t keep as well as tum mark hoong, although both taste their best when freshly made. After saying this though, it’s usually not a problem because most tum som (including tum mark dang) – rain, hail or shine, usually gets polished off by its die-hard fans almost immediately, as they succumb to the somewhat torturous addiction of the trademark fiery tum som flavours. If need be though, keeping tum mark dang covered overnight in the fridge should be ok.
When making tum mark dang, there are several options to consider. Most varieties of cucumbers should work just fine for the dish, provided that it is fresh and firm, and can be chopped and sliced, and not too bitter nor too sweet. My cucumber of choice are Lebanese cucumbers, which are mildly sweet and easy to prepare. Home-grown, heirloom knobbly flavourful ones are also a good variation, and this dish really highlights the natural flavours of the fruit, enhanced with the other ingredients.
I prefer to leave the skin on the cucumber (for the added texture), although you can partially peel it if you like. I chose to not include the seed section in the salad because, as mentioned above, the salad is already watery enough without it. Instead, I like to serve the ‘seed logs’ as a side dish to help temper the fiery taste of the main dish when eating. Other options you can consider include omitting the garlic, adding preserved/salted crabs, msg, padaek sauce, or palm sugar, etc.
The flavours you’re aiming for in tum mark dang is very similar to that of tum mark hoong (and tum som in general), with the main difference being that the natural sweetness of cucumber shines through in tum mark dang. Basically, the distinctive flavours of tum som are spicy, salty, savoury, sour, and a little sweet – depending on the eaters’ palate. You can adjust this divine balance to suit your personal taste.
Although similar to tum mark hoong, the character of cucumbers render tum mark dang as distinctly different in both taste and texture. Like most tum som dishes, tum mark dang pairs perfectly with rice (khao neow/sticky rice or steamed/jasmine rice), and also cooked vermicelli. Enjoy it with your favourite meat dish, including grilled/bbq meats, dried beef/fish jerky, Lao sausages, pork crackling, etc. There are a lot of tum som hybrids out there, however, tum mark hoong and tum mark dang are the two original Lao classics. Enjoy your meal!
- 4 Lebanese cucumbers
- 10 Thai/bird's eye chilies (or as many as you like)
- 8 cherry (or grape tomatoes)
- 3 cloves of garlic
- 1 lemon or lime
- 1 Tbsp of fish sauce
- 1 tsp of shrimp paste
- 1 tsp of salt
- 1 tsp of sugar
- Prep all of your ingredients before you start. Wash the cucumbers, chilies, cherry tomatoes, and lemon. Remove the stems from chilies, slice the cherry tomatoes into halves, cut the lemon into wedges, peal and cut the root tip off the garlic cloves.
- Chop and slice the cucumbers into long thin julienne slivers. Do this by holding the cucumber in one hand, and with your other hand holding sharp knife or cleaver, carefully and quickly repetitiously chop the surface of the cucumber with vertical lines of about half a centimeter deep all around the cucumber. Then, carefully slice long slivers (of about half a centimeter deep) off the chopped surface of the cucumber. View photos for details. Please concentrate and be careful when doing this, especially if its your first time. It can be tricky and dangerous, but easy with some experience. Repeat for the other cucumbers. When all cucumbers are prepared, put them aside. Reserve the ‘seed logs’.
- Place the chilies, garlic cloves, salt, and sugar in the mortar and pound with the pestle to a rough consistency. Be careful to not splatter any into your eyes.
- Add the shrimp paste and gently mix/rub it in with the other ingredients with the tip of the pestle. Be careful to not splatter any of the liquid into your eyes when doing this!
- Add the slivers/strands of cucumber and gently pound and stir through with the pestle and a spoon, mixing all of the ingredients together.
- Add the cherry tomatoes, and continue to gently pound and stir through.
- Add the fish sauce, and squeeze in the lemon juice. Gently mix and stir the ingredients together with the pestle and a spoon. Taste the salad and sauce. What you're aiming for is a punchy, pungent, fiery blend of spicy, salty, savoury, sour, and a little sweet flavours.
- Transfer the salad and sauce neatly into a serving bowl or plate and serve with sticky rice, jasmine rice, rice vermicelli noodles, grilled/bbq meats, pork crackling, etc. Enjoy your meal!smile