New Year celebration was just over. A lot of Thai people took holidays abroad with their families. Many returned to their hometowns. Certainly, food is an important part of the celebration in Thailand. There is one dish that would not be absent on the table. That dish is the popular “Som Tum” or Green Papaya Salad.

No one knows exactly when Som Tum appeared on Thai diet. Most people presume that it originated in Laos and later spread to Thailand’s northeastern region a long time ago. Indeed, many countries in Southeast Asia  also have similar dishes in their local cuisine. It may have different names but it shares the same cooking method which is “Tum” or pounding the shredded green papaya with herbs and other ingredients.

In Thailand, this dish has a long history dating back to the reign of King Rama V (1868 – 1910). It was one of the dishes served in the palace of some royal family members who were related to the Laos’ royal family by marriage with the Thai princes. In the northeast part of Thailand, Som Tum is also known as “Tum Som” or “Tum Maak Hung”, which is similar to what it is called in Laos.

The popularity and publicity of Som Tum among the new generation of Thais may come from a folk song written by HRH Mahachakri Sirindhon while she was a student at Chitlada Palace School in 1970. The song portrays the ingredients and the cooking process of Som Tum. The song became popular in Thailand.

Som Tum 4

With its nutritional values and low calories, it is usually included in the weight watchers’ menu.  The main ingredients consist of garlic, chilly, palm sugar, lime juice, fish sauce, crushed peanuts, tomatoes and dried salty shrimp and, of course, raw papaya chopped and sliced into thin strips.  Another popular version includes preserved fish or ‘Pla Ra’ and salted black crab. Fresh vegetables are also eaten side dishes to mitigate the spiciness.  It is really a ‘low carb’ diet for everyone!

However, for those who are not worried about their weight, we recommend Som Tum with steamed sticky rice or in Thai, “Khao Niew”, and grilled chicken or “Gai Yang”.  These two side dishes are always ordered together with Som Tum to make it a perfect meal.

Som Tum 3

Som Tum and its buddies Gai Yang and Khao Niew are top listed menu items in mostThai food restaurants.  You can find Som Tum being sold by street vendors, in  shopping malls’ food centers as well as at many fine Thai restaurants.  Some restaurants specialize in Som Tum such as Baan Som Tum that offers a variety of Som Tum dishes.

Som Tum 1

From a simple dish from Thailand’s Isan region, Som Tum has been adapted and developed into many varieties with differing ingredients. It has even been listed as one of the world’s 50 most delicious foods by CNN Go.  We can say that Som Tum is a food for everyone and can be found everywhere, from street vendors to the best Thai restaurants.  The popularity of Som Tum transcends borders and is today available in Thai restaurants around the world.  For me, it is really a universal food indeed.