When I lived on the east coast, I often despaired over not being able to find fresh green papaya regularly in the supermarket. Now that I'm in Seattle and they have bins of freshly grated green papaya at Southeast Asian grocery stores like Viet-Wah, it's easy to take this luxury for granted. Som Tam, or green papaya salad, is one of my favorite Thai foods--it's so light and simple, yet hard to duplicate the real thing. This site is great because it shows you videos in English for a lot of popular recipes. This video shows you how to grate a green papaya by hand, if you are more industrious than I am, and assemble the salad. It is tricky finding exactly the right grater for this, though. Trust me, I have a drawer full of graters that do everything but julienne into thin strips, the result of experimental shopping. And another thing, for this recipe you can increase or decrease the amount of shrimp paste you use, depending on how funky you like it. The increased funk factor makes it a bit more "Lao style," but if you aim to please everyone you may want to reduce the funkiness a little bit.
Salad Recipe: Green Papaya Salad
1-4 fresh Thai chilies
1 garlic cloves
3 cups shredded green papaya (watch video: Shredding Green Papaya)
1/2 cup sliced tomatoes
1 tablespoon fish sauce
1 tablespoon shrimp paste
3 tablespoons squeezed lime
1 tablespoon palm sugar (optional)
2 tablespoons dried shrimp (optional)
Using the Thai / Lao Mortar & Pestle Set, crush chilies and garlic until they are separated. Add the rest of the ingredients in the mortar. Using the pestle to crush and a tablespoon to stir, mix all the ingredients in the mortar. When the sugar and shrimp paste are dissolved the papaya salad is ready to be served.
The Thai & Lao Food video shows the traditional method. Some Thai / Lao restaurants toss all the ingredients into a large bowl. In my opinion, for an authentic texture, the tomatoes need to be crushed in a Thai / Lao Mortar & Pestle Set.