Tam Lao (Papaya Salad)
1 c papaya, julienned
1 tb nam pla (fish sauce)
1 tb nam tan paep (palm sugar)
1 tb plara (pickled mudfish)
2 tb nam manao (lime juice)
3-4 cherry tomatoes
1-2 makheua pro (Thai eggplants - or aubergine, cut into small pieces)
1 tb kratiem (garlic), roughly chopped
up to 30 prik ki nu daeng (red bird's-eye chillies), sliced
Posted By: Colonel I.F. Khuntilanont-Philpott
There is a joke to the effect that the dish called som tam is hot, but tam
som is hotter, and tam lao the hottest of all. (These being the name of the
dish in Bangkok and the Isan respectively, and a variant common to rural
people in the Isan).
Be that as it may, this is the version common in the countryside of the
Isan. Virtually everything about the variants of som tam is 'optional',
except for the papaya. I would also point out that in the Isan the mud fish
and the crab are typically raw, which leads to common warnings from the
Thai government about hepatitis (from the crab), and intestinal parasites
(from the mudfish). In line with this the following preparation is designed
to avoid that problem.
The number of chillies to include in the dish is the first order of
business when ordering the meal - foreigners being well advised to say
'none' since the mortar and pestle aren't washed out between preparations
and there is generally enough chilli juice left in the bottom for foreign
tastes. Locals may sometimes order up to 30 chillies in a single portion,
which renders the tam lao blood red, and has an affect in the mouth similar
to fire! If making it at home I would suggest you start by trying 2 or 3
When not actually preparing the dish, vendors advertise their services by
sitting julienning the papaya: they hold it in one hand whilst 'whacking'
it with a cleaver in the other, pausing occasionally to shave off a layer
of julienned fruit. This technique is even more remarkable when you see
them carrying on a conversation with a neighbouring stall holder and not
looking at the papaya as the razor sharp cleaver reduces it to a nubbin in
their hand! I suggest that in the interests of safety you do not try to
emulate this technique: slice off a thin piece of papaya, then cut it into
matchstick sized pieces in a more normal fashion! The papaya should be
crispy and firm in texture.
The crabs used in Thailand are small river crabs, about an inch across the
body. If these are not available you can use any form of crabmeat.
Plara is available (packed in mud) in small jars from Asian grocers.
Stir fry the crab, and then break it up and sprinkle liberally with
vinegar, and season with freshly cracked black pepper. Allow to stand for
about 1 hour before using.
Next julienne the papaya, and place it in a mortar and pestle.
Boil the mudfish in a quarter cup of water for 2-3 minutes, then transfer
to a muslin bag and squeeze out as much juice as possible. (You may also
include the fish, but this is not recommended, see warning above).
Finally quarter the tomatoes and the eggplant, and put all the ingredients
in a mortar and pestle and pound to soften and bring out the juices.
Serve with a selection of fresh raw vegetables.
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