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Som Tam Pla Ra

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Som tam pla ra is the perfect Thai salad for summer. Originating from Northeastern Thailand, Isan, it’s a funky version of green papaya salad with fermented fish sauce as a key ingredient.

Som tam pla ra, Isan papaya salad, served with fresh vegetables.

Some of my favorite Thai food are spicy Thai salads! I love myself an occasional mouth-burning pork larb and nam tok beef.

You can make all my Thai salad recipes as spicy or as mild as you like, simply adjust the amount of chilies or Thai chili flakes to your taste.

What is som tam pla ra

Som tam pla ra is a Northeastern Thai salad known for its bold flavors, made with shredded green papaya, fermented fish sauce (pla ra), chili, lime, and other ingredients. It’s a refreshing salad with a spicy, sour, and umami-rich dressing, a classic in Thai cuisine.

Thai papaya salad variations

Did you know papaya salad comes in many flavors? Each part of Thailand has its unique twist on som tam or som tum.

This recipe focuses on som tam pla ra from Northeastern Thailand. In the same region, we have tam sua, which is similar but includes rice vermicelli noodles.

Som tum Thai is popular everywhere, even in the West. It’s known for its addition of peanuts and balanced salty, sour, and spicy dressing.

Som tam pla ra on a white dish with a wooden fork and knife. Behind it are fresh vegetables and a small mortar and pestle.

Som tam pha mixes things up with ingredients like pickled vegetables, freshwater snails, bamboo, bean sprouts, and rice vermicelli.

Even Laos, the neighboring country of Thailand, has its own version: Lao papaya salad.

The great thing about Thai cooking is how you can change dishes to suit your taste. There’s never just one way to make something.

Fermented fish sauce

A word about the key ingredient, fermented fish sauce.

Pla ra is Thai for fermented fish sauce. Som tam pla ra means papaya salad with fermented fish sauce.

In Isan, we use pla ra in almost everything, my grandmother likes to add a big splash of it to all food, even fresh vegetables!

Hand presenting a small bottle of traditional Thai fermented fish sauce.

The making of this sauce involves pickling fish with salt and letting it ferment in a sealed container for up to a year.

I remember many people in Isan enjoyed making their own homemade fermented fish sauce back when I was a kid. These days, it can be found at local food markets in Thailand and Asian grocery stores.

If you’re new to it, it has quite a strong pungent smell that might surprise you at first, but it adds so much umami, so don’t skimp on it.

Ingredients

Ingredients can be sourced at Asian grocery stores and Asian markets.
The exact measurements are in the recipe card at the end of this post.


som tam pla ra ingredients
  • Unripe green papaya – Choose an unripe green papaya that is firm and deep green, available at Asian supermarkets and Asian markets.
  • Fresh red chilies – I used Thai Jinda chilies, feel free to use whatever you have on hand.
  • Dried chilies Opting for either fresh or dried chilies is fine, but adding both gives a spicier kick.
  • Tomatoes – Ripe tomatoes add a refreshing, juicy note.
  • Yardlong beans – Add yardlong beans for a crunchy texture.
  • Lime Add a sourness to the salad dressing. Make sure to use fresh lime juice.
  • Garlic – Enhances the taste and aroma.
  • Fish sauce – Adjust fish sauce carefully for a saltier flavor.
  • Fermented fish sauce – Fermented fish sauce is a must-have for authentic som tum pla ra.
  • Tamarind paste – Gives the dressing a unique tangy touch.
  • Palm sugar – Palm sugar adds a caramel-like sweetness that’s distinct from white and brown sugar.

How to make som tum pla ra

Prepped vegetables and shredded papaya in a bamboo dish.

Step 1: Cut the yardlong beans into medium pieces and slice the tomatoes. Shred the papaya.

Clay mortar with crushed garlic and chilies.

Step 2: Pound the dried and fresh chilies with garlic using a mortar and pestle.

Mortar and pestle with crushed spices and yard long beans.

Step 3: Mix the beans with the pounded ingredients in your mortar.

Clay mortar with yard long beans and salad dressing.

Step 4: Add fish sauce, fermented fish sauce, palm sugar, tamarind paste, lime juice, and lime peel. Blend well with your pestle.

Making som tam pla ra in a mortar and pestle with a large pink spoon on a wooden background.

Step 5: Add tomatoes and shredded papaya. Gently mix the dressing with the other ingredients. Serve immediately and enjoy!

Kitchenware

  • Knife or vegetable shredder for shredding your green papaya fruit
  • Cutting board and a sharp knife
  • Thai mortar and pestle

How to prepare papaya for salad

If you don’t know how to shred papaya, don’t worry, it’s simple. You just need a sharp vegetable peeler and a comfortable knife.

1. First, use the peeler to take off the green skin. It’s easy if the peeler is sharp. Then, cut off both ends of the fruit with your knife.

Peeler papaya on a cutting board.

2. To shred the papaya, hold it in one hand and make shallow chops with your knife in the other hand. Turn the papaya slowly as you chop.

Chopping green papaya with a knife.

3. After chopping, slice off the layers with your knife to make thin shreds. Alternatively, you can use a vegetable shredder. These shreds are perfect for soaking up flavors from the dressing.

Shredding green papaya with a knife.

Serving papaya salad with fermented fish sauce

In Thailand, this salad is typically enjoyed for lunch or dinner with Thai sticky rice and lots of fresh vegetables like tomatoes and yard long beans. Feel free to pair it with a refreshing drink like green Thai tea to temper the heat.

How to store

Enjoy any som tam salad right after you make it – it’s best when fresh. If you need to store it, put it in an airtight container in the fridge, but try to eat it within a day. The taste and texture won’t be the same after a while, so it’s better to finish it off quickly.

Authentic Thai salad recipes

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Som Tam Pla Ra

Som tam pla ra, Isan papaya salad, served with fresh vegetables.
This som tam pla ra recipe is easy and authentic, full of fresh vegetables and a tasty dressing.
Praew
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 5 minutes
Total Time 15 minutes
Cuisine Thai
Course Salad
Serving Size 2 people

Ingredients

  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 2 chilies add to taste
  • 4 dried chilies add to taste
  • 4 yard long beans
  • 2 tablespoons fish sauce
  • 2 tablespoons fermented fish sauce
  • 2 tablespoons tamarind paste
  • 1 tablespoon palm sugar
  • ½ lime
  • 1 large tomato or several small ones
  • 8.8 ounces shredded papaya

Instructions

  • Cut the yardlong beans into medium pieces and slice the tomatoes. Shred the papaya.
  • Pound the dried and fresh chilies with garlic using a mortar and pestle.
  • Mix the beans with the pounded ingredients in your mortar.
  • Add fish sauce, fermented fish sauce, palm sugar, tamarind paste, lime juice, and lime peel. Blend well with your pestle.
  • Add tomatoes and shredded papaya. Gently mix the dressing with the other ingredients. Serve immediately and enjoy!

Notes

  • Use the nutrition card in this recipe as a guideline.
  • You can find how to shred papaya in the recipe post.

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