The green papaya salad is a very popular dish in Southeast Asia and its popularity is growing across the world. There are as many variations to the green papaya salad recipe as there are its fans. To the Lao people, it is known as “tum mark hoong” (which translates to “pounded papaya”). It is one of the signature dishes of Laos. 1
In Lao, this dish is also known as “tum som” (which translates to “pounded sour”). However, tum som is a collective term that refers to all “pounded sour” salad dishes, including green papaya, snake bean, carrot, cucumber and vermicelli. In Thai, the collective term for pounded sour salads is som tum (“sour pounded”) instead of tum som.
There is a distinction between the Lao and Thai recipes. The addition of padaek/padek (traditional fermented Lao fish sauce) in the Lao recipe gives tum mark hoong a distinctive umami flavour, aroma and colour.
The following recipe is based on my many years of eating tum mark hoong from many different cooks (Lao and non-Lao) and even though I did not use padaek (I need to ask my mum for some and try to make my own), I am still pretty happy to call it a Lao recipe.
Essentially, the recipe is quite traditional. Although, sometimes I do wonder what a traditional tum mark hoong recipe really is? Because some cooks add msg, garlic and palm sugar, for example and some don’t. Either way, many tum mark hoong makers would agree that you can vary and mix up the recipe as you please and adjust the ingredients, flavours and intensity to suit your own palate.
That’s enough jibba jabba. Here’s the recipe for my Lao spicy green papaya salad, aka tum mark hoong. Please enjoy with care and moderation. Bon appetit and sern sap! bigsmile
- 1 green papaya or papaw (you only need half for this recipe)
- 10 hot chilies (or as many as you like - you'll need at least 1)
- 6 cherry or grape tomatoes (halved)
- 2 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 cooking. Wash and peel half of the green papaya. After you’ve peeled the papaya and before shredding it, wash it again to remove any excess sap. Shred/julienne half of the papaya with the miracle knife, or a cleaver/knife. Be very careful.
- Peel the garlic cloves, wash the chilies, slice the lemon/lime into wedges, halve the cherry tomatoes.
- Start by pounding the garlic, chilies, salt, sugar and shrimp paste with the mortar and pestle. It's good to have some texture in the mixture.
- Add a handful of the shredded papaya and halved cherry tomatoes into the mortar, and gently pound them into the mixture. Turn and fold the mixture with a spoon, at the same time pound them together with the pestle. Don’t pound the cherry tomatoes too much because you want some of them to keep their shape and still be plump and juicy.
- Add the remaining shredded papaya, fish sauce, and squeeze in the lemon/lime juice. Continue to pound and turn the mixture together. After squeezing out the lemon juice, I like to peel the lemon flesh off its skin and add it into the mix. You might want to use a knife or spoon to do this. Continue to pound and turn the mixture evenly together.
- Taste the salad and sauce, and adjust the flavour to suit your preference. What you're aiming for is a punchy balance of spicy, salty, sour, sweet and umami flavours!
- Transfer the salad mix into a bowl/plate and serve with sticky rice, grilled chicken/meat, pork crackle, a wedge of cabbage, lettuce or other salad greens. Enjoy!
You can also add 1 shredded carrot into the salad. This will provide a lovely orange contrast and sweet carrot flavour to the dish.
Other vegetables you can add are radish, snake/long beans, and Thai/kermit eggplants.
Did you know?
1. The hottest chili is Smokin Ed’s ‘Carolina Reaper’, grown by The PuckerButt Pepper Company (USA), which rates at an average of 1,569,300 Scoville Heat Units (SHU), according to tests conducted by Winthrop University in South Carolina, USA, throughout 2012. The Scoville Unit (SHU) scale is a method of quantifying a substance’s “spiciness”, through determining the concentration of the chemical compounds responsible for the sensation, which are named capsaicinoids. 2 To give an indication of the Carolina Reaper’s spiciness, a Jalapeno can score anything between 2,500 to 8,000 SHU on the scale. 3
2. There’s a difference between papaya and papaw (also spelt pawpaw). Papaya has an orange-red coloured flesh and yellow-orange coloured skin, with a sweet flavour. Papaw is a rounder and larger fruit, with distinct yellow flesh and pale orange skin, slightly more savoury in taste. 4
- There are several variations to the Lao pronunciation and English spelling of tum mark hoong. In Laos, there are at least two main Lao accents that I know of; Vientiane and Luang Prabang. There are also other languages in Laos which further contribute to the different pronunciation and spelling of certain words. ↩
- Reference: http://www.guinnessworldrecords.com. ↩
- Reference: http://www.guinnessworldrecords.com. ↩
- Thus, from this description, it appears that the fruit that I used to make the tum mark hoong in the recipe above is actually a papaw! Reference: http://www.australianpapaya.com.au. ↩