Som Dtum Tai (Green Papaya Salad) with Deep Fried Mackerel and Sticky Rice

Any trip to Thailand would be remiss without having at least one plate of Som Dtum. Som Dtum literally translated means “pounded sour” with the word “dtum” being onomatopoeia for the sound created by the mortar and pestle when the dish is being prepared. As with many of the world’s greatest dishes, Som Dtum began as a peasant food, which used the limited range of ingredients available in the region. Thailand is world renowned for utilizing very intense and contrasting flavors, and Som Dtum encompasses nearly all these flavors into a concentrated salad that is absolutely bursting with flavor. There are as many versions of Som Dtum as their are villages in Thailand, and some can be far too strong for the typical western palate. These more “fragrant” versions use ingredients such as fermented crab (Bpu Kem) and fermented fish paste (Pla Ra). These ingredients are an extremely acquired taste, one I am definitely yet to acquire. The most popular version amongs foreign travelers is Som Dtum Tai, and will be the focus here. DSC_2744  Som Dtum is traditionally eaten with glutinous rice (sticky rice) which is eaten by hand and used to soak up the liquids that come from the salad. Another popular accompaniment is Gai Yang, which is Thailand’s answer to barbecued chicken. I chose to buy some fresh mackerel from the local street market and deep fry it to accompany my plate. What follows is a recipe for Som Dtum Tai. Some ingredients may be rather difficult to acquire depending where you are. Green papayas in particular are quite uncommon, and can be substituted by green mango, or even cucumber.  

Som Dtum Tai
Serves 4
Sweet, Sour, Savory, Spicy
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Prep Time
30 min
Cook Time
5 min
Total Time
35 min
Prep Time
30 min
Cook Time
5 min
Total Time
35 min
143 calories
26 g
0 g
4 g
4 g
1 g
318 g
558 g
18 g
0 g
3 g
Nutrition Facts
Serving Size
Amount Per Serving
Calories 143
Calories from Fat 34
% Daily Value *
Total Fat 4g
Saturated Fat 1g
Trans Fat 0g
Polyunsaturated Fat 1g
Monounsaturated Fat 2g
Cholesterol 0mg
Sodium 558mg
Total Carbohydrates 26g
Dietary Fiber 5g
Sugars 18g
Protein 4g
Vitamin A
Vitamin C
* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2,000 calorie diet. Your Daily Values may be higher or lower depending on your calorie needs.
  1. 1 pound green papaya
  2. 2 Thai chilies (add more pepper if you want it hotter!)
  3. 1 large clove of garlic
  4. 2 strings long bean ( or green beans, cut into 1 inch lengths)
  5. 3 tablespoon roasted peanut
  6. 5 cherry tomatoes, quartered
  7. 1 tablespoon palm sugar (or brown sugar)
  8. 2 tablespoons lime juice
  9. 1 1/2 tablespoons fish sauce (nam pla)
  10. 1 teaspoon chopped dried shrimp
  1. Peel the papaya.
  2. Holding the papaya vertically, contniually tap with a sharp knife while spinning the papaya to create vertical incisions.
  3. Using a vegetable peeler, peel downwards to create thin shreds of papaya.
  4. Quarter the cherry tomatoes.
  5. Thinly slice the thai chilis (wear gloves to avoid getting any on your hands).
  6. Toast the peanuts in a dry skillet on high heat until slightly scorched.
  7. Put all the vegetables into a large mortar an pestle and add the sugar, juice, and remaining ingredients while constantly pounding to infuse the papaya with the combined liquid.
  1. If you do not have a mortar and pestle, a reasonable substitute is a large mixing bowl and potato masher or similar utensil.
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