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Tam Sua (Papaya Salad With Vermicelli)

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Tam sua aka papaya salad with vermicelli is every Thai’s favorite spicy salad made so easily at home! Chewy noodles and crispy papaya tossed with an irresistible dressing that’s the perfect mix of spicy and savory. For those who crave traditional, bold flavors, this dish is a must-try.

Freshly made tam sua Thai papaya salad with vermicelli noodles, chilies, and lime served on a banana leaf.

Make sure to check out my other authentic recipes for papaya salad: the classic som tum Thai with peanuts, Lao papaya salad, and som tam pla ra with fermented fish sauce!

What is tam sua

Tam sua is a variation of traditional papaya salad, beloved for its addition of vermicelli noodles. Made with fresh ingredients like chilies, garlic, papaya shreds, and tamarind, it perfectly balances heat, sweetness, savory, and tang.

Papaya fruit

Papaya is a tropical fruit, known for its juicy orange flesh when ripe and green, firm texture when unripe. Rich in flavor and nutrients, it’s a versatile fruit popular in Asian salads and desserts.

Green, unripe papaya is a key ingredient for any green papaya salad. It grows on papaya trees, which are found in tropical regions.

Several flourishing papaya trees under tropical weather conditions, with the foreground tree showcasing hanging papaya fruits.
Grandma’s garden is full of papaya trees, and the one in front has lots of fruits ready for making tasty tam sua.

If you’re miles away from the tropics, don’t worry! Green papayas are there to grab at local Asian markets or Asian grocery stores.

Look for ones that are firm and have vibrant dark green skin. Always keep it cool in the fridge to maintain its freshness.

If you can, grab an extra fruit to let it ripen – you’ll be rewarded with a deliciously sweet fruit!

Close-up of spicy Thai papaya salad with vermicelli noodles, tomatoes, green beans, and chilies.

Right in front of our cozy house in the rice fields, we have our own papaya tree, growing some of the most beautiful papayas you’ve ever seen! It’s a daily reminder of simple joys and how fresh, home-grown produce is always best.

Papaya salad variations

Thai papaya salad is a dish with many delicious variations. Let’s explore the most popular types to find your perfect match.

Som tam poo pla ra

A personal favorite from my birthplace, Isan, som tam poo pla ra is a local hit. It’s beloved for its mix of crab and fermented fish sauce. This variation has a strong, unique, and pungent taste.

In Isan, crabs are everywhere during the rainy season, in both rice fields and scuttling across rural streets.

Locals, especially the older generation, love catching them and adding them to their mortar and pestle for authentic som tam poo pla ra.

Som tam pha

Som tam pha is loaded with a variety of ingredients like pickled vegetables, freshwater snails, bamboo, bean sprouts, and often rice vermicelli.

It’s a true taste of Thailand for those who love authentic Thai cuisine.

Som tum Thai

For those new to Thai salads or Thai food, som tum Thai is the way to go. It’s a gentle version of the traditional salad, the most popular one and often recommended to tourists in Thailand.

Close-up image of Som Tum Thai, featuring shredded papaya, sliced tomatoes, lime, and peanuts, artfully presented on a banana leaf in a bamboo dish.

This recipe for tam sua is similar to poo pla ra, but it skips the crabs and welcomes rice vermicelli.

How to prep papaya for salad

In traditional Thai cuisine, we chop our papaya using a sharp knife. This gives us thin papaya shreds that are excellent at soaking up all that delicious dressing. Here’s how:

Step-by-step images showing the process of shredding a green papaya: 1. Peeling the skin with a julienne peeler, 2. Slicing it open with a knife, 3. Creating thin, crisp strips.
  • Tools: Grab a vegetable peeler and a sharp knife.
  • Peel the papaya: Remove the skin with the vegetable peeler. It should peel off easily with a sharp peeler. For stubborn bits, and the tougher parts on both sides, use your knife.
  • Shredding the Papaya: Securely hold the papaya in one hand while you take a sharp knife in your dominant hand. With a firm, steady grip, begin to chop, gently rotating the papaya as you go. Remember, there’s no rush, especially if it’s your first time. If you’re not quite comfortable using a knife yet, no worries! A KIWI papaya salad shredder is the best alternative, used by many Thai people.
  • Slice off the layers: Once you’ve made the incisions, use your knife to slice off the thin layers of papaya. Keep repeating this process until you have a pile of papaya shreds.

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.


Ingredients for tam sua laid out on bamboo plates including shredded green papaya, rice vermicelli, tomatoes, and condiments with a mortar and pestle.
  • Rice vermicelli – Rice vermicelli, also known as sen khao poon, are perfect for a vermicelli noodle salad as they easily absorb the rich flavors of the dressing while still remain their chewy texture. The noodles are round and thin, similar to spaghetti. They’re made by pushing a dough made of rice through a round mold into boiling water.
  • Green papaya – Green papaya offers a crispy texture that perfectly absorbs the dressing. You can get them at Asian grocery stores and larger supermarkets.
  • Fermented fish sauce – A staple in Isan and Laos, fermented fish sauce adds a rich umami and a distinct flavor. Don’t be off put by its smell if it’s your first time using it.
  • Tamarind paste – A staple in Thai cooking, tamarind paste adds a sour flavor and a sweet note. It’s derived from the fruit of the tamarind tree and is essential for that authentic flavor.
  • Palm sugar – Harvested from the sap of palm trees, this sweetener adds a caramel-like sweetness. It’s a healthier alternative than regular sugar, adding a rich sweetness to tam sua, essential for balancing out the spicy and sour flavors.
  • Fish sauce – Made from fermented fish, fish sauce known for its pungent aroma and salty, savory flavor.
  • Lime – Essential for a zesty, tangy note. Lime is essential in papaya salad, some Thai people prefer the sour flavor to be predominant, but I prefer a nice balance of flavors.
  • Bean sprouts
  • Tomatoes
  • Culantro
  • Chilies – Use Thai bird’s eye chilies or Jinda chilies. For a mild salad, use a mild chili pepper or remove the seeds.
  • Garlic

How to make rice vermicelli papaya salad

Step-by-step preparation of tam sua in a mortar: crushing chilies and garlic, mixing in sauces, adding tomatoes, blending with shredded papaya, and finally combining all ingredients for the salad.

1. Prep your vegetables: Finely slice the culantro leaves, quarter the lime, and chop the tomatoes into quarters or smaller, based on size.

2. Shred the papaya: Peel the green papaya and thinly shred it into slivers.

3. Crush the base: In a mortar, pound the garlic and chilies until they’re broken down.

4. Add the dressing: Add fish sauce, fermented fish sauce, tamarind paste, palm sugar, and squeeze in the lime juice, tossing the lime peels into the mix. Use the pestle to mash and mix until palm sugar is dissolved.

5. Mix in tomatoes: Drop in the tomatoes and gently stir.

6. Add papaya: Add the shredded papaya to the mortar, mixing thoroughly to ensure every slice is flavor-soaked.

7. Toss in noodles: Carefully mix in the rice vermicelli, use a rice spoon to help if needed.

8. Add remaining ingredients: Mix in the culantro and bean sprouts, then serve immediately.

Kitchen tools

  • Clay mortar and wooden pestle
  • Cutting board and chef’s knife
  • Measuring spoons and cups

How to serve this Asian noodle salad

Tam sua is often enjoyed as a side dish with other main meals or alongside other side dishes:

  • As a main with Thai sticky rice and vegetables: For a complete meal, serve this Thai noodle salad with rice and a variety of raw vegetables like yardlong beans, Thai eggplants, lettuce, and cucumbers.
  • Thai chicken wings: Serve with a side of grilled chicken for an Isan-style meal.
  • Meaty sides: Serve with hat yai fried chicken or moo dad deaw (Thai pork jerky).

How to store

Som tam with vermicelli is best enjoyed fresh. The vermicelli noodles and papaya shreds will soak up the dressing over time and might become soggy.

In case you do have leftovers, store them in an airtight container in the refrigerator and consume within a day.

Frequently asked questions

Is this recipe gluten-free?

Tam sua is naturally gluten-free. However, make sure to double-check the labeling of your store-bought sauces for gluten-free labels.

Is this salad vegan?

No, this salad is made with fish sauce and fermented fish sauce.

Can I make this ahead of time?

No, tam sua is best enjoyed immediately after making it, as the texture of the papaya shreds and noodles can become soggy over time.

More authentic Thai salad recipes you’ll love

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Tam Sua (Papaya Salad With Vermicelli)

Tam sua, Thai papaya salad, with vermicelli noodles, chilies, and lime.
This tam sua recipe is a refreshing and spicy papaya salad with vermicelli noodles, perfect for an easy and delicious Thai meal.
Praew
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 5 minutes
Total Time 15 minutes
Cuisine Thai
Course Salad, Side Dish
Serving Size 3 people

Ingredients

  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 2 chilies to taste
  • 3 tablespoons fermented fish sauce
  • 2 tablespoons fish sauce
  • 2 tablespoons tamarind paste
  • 1 tablespoon palm sugar
  • 1 lime
  • 1 ounce small tomatoes sliced
  • 5.3 ounces green papaya shredded
  • 7 ounces fresh rice vermicelli see notes
  • 5 culantro chopped
  • a handful of bean sprouts

Instructions

  • Finely slice the culantro leaves, quarter the lime, and chop the tomatoes into quarters or smaller, based on size.
  • Peel the green papaya and thinly shred it into slivers.
  • In a mortar, pound the garlic and chilies until they’re broken down.
  • Add fish sauce, fermented fish sauce, tamarind paste, palm sugar, and squeeze in the lime juice, tossing the lime peels into the mix. Use the pestle to mash and mix until palm sugar is dissolved.
  • Drop in the tomatoes and gently stir.
  • Add the shredded papaya to the mortar, mixing thoroughly to ensure every slice is flavor-soaked.
  • Carefully mix in the rice vermicelli, use a rice spoon to help if needed.
  • Mix in the culantro and bean sprouts, then serve immediately.

Notes

  • Use the nutrition card in this recipe as a guideline.
  • Fresh rice vermicelli: The 7 oz of fresh rice vermicelli used in this recipe is equivalent to the weight of dry vermicelli noodles once they are cooked.

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