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Not green papaya salad

September 29, 2010
Papaya salad

Thai papaya salad

It’s a strange thing that although I live in the Middle East I never seem to be able to buy really ripe fresh figs. The ones that drip juice from moist, luscious flesh – like one I ate picked from a tree in….Devon (UK), I kid you not. The ones we seem to get are dry and woolly and go straight from unripe to inedible, bypassing the ripe stage completely and the same goes for peaches and nectarines. You wouldn’t have thought it would be that difficult to find an unripe fruit then would you? But my search for a green papaya has turned into a saga worthy of Miss Marple.  The problem with these little devils is although they look deep green and hard on the outside a sharp knife reveals their true interior – peachy pink.

Why was I on the hunt for this elusive fruit?  Let me tell you.

Papaya salad

Shredded papaya, bean sprouts and spring onions

I was super-excited as I drove down the Beach road last Thursday evening for my first food blogger gathering in Dubai.  Organised by the lovely Arva of I live in a Frying Pan (a whirlwind of enthusiasm and energy) nine of us met at the International Centre for Culinary Arts for a session of Thai cookery.  Although most of us had never met before we donned aprons and unattractive hair nets, rolled up our sleeves and got stuck in – our interest in food breaking down all barriers immediately.  It was a cooking marathon of three hours guided by Ashwini and Manju who led us through the menu (see below).  I think they were a bit bemused by the amount of times we all whipped out our cameras to record each stage .  We ended the evening by tucking into the feast we had prepared and it tasted so good. I’m sure there will be many accounts of this experience (see UAE links on the right) all with a different perspective and flavour.

The dishes we made were really delicious and we learnt a lot about the balance of sweet, sharp and hot flavours in Thai food.  The scent of it is so irresistible, your nostrils seem to stretch when the air is full of Kaffir lime and coriander.  I couldn’t wait make the salad again at home – hence the search for a green papaya, but in the end had to settle for a not very ripe pink one.  Not really authentic, but my husband and house-guest approved heartily by emptying the bowl.  Do try it.

Papaya salad

Great contrasts of flavours and texture

Green Papaya Salad (Som Tam) – recipe adapted from International Centre of Culinary Arts Dubai


1 small green papaya (or barely ripe pink one)
1/2 cup glazed cashews *
1 cup bean sprouts
6-8 cherry tomatoes
1 red chilli, minced or finely diced
3 spring onions
1/2 cup fresh basil (preferably Thai basil)
Handful of fresh coriander


2 tablespoons oil (e.g. groundnut)
2 tablespoons fish sauce
3 tablespoon fresh lime juice (preferably from Kafir limes)
1 tablespoon honey

  1. *To glaze the cashew nuts, heat a small non-stick pan and toss the nuts with a couple of tablespoons of brown sugar and chilli flakes to taste. Remove from the heat as soon as the sugar melts. Turn onto lightly oiled waxed paper.
  2. Mix the ingredients for the dressing together by whisking in a bowl or shaking in a jar.
  3. Cut the papaya and spring onion into fine, matchstick-sized strips.
  4. Combine the papaya, spring onion, chilli, bean sprouts, most of the tomatoes and basil and toss with the dressing.
  5. Lightly add most of the cashews.
  6. To serve place in individual bowls or on a serving platter and sprinkle with the remaining basil leaves, fresh coriander, glazed cashew nuts and tomatoes. Serve immediately.

Serves 4

The full menu: Green papaya salad, shrimp on lemongrass sticks with peanut dip, stir-fried rice noodles with vegetables, Thai red fish curry, crispy beef in honey, pandana and coconut custard.

  1. Tricia Evans permalink
    September 29, 2010 7:48 am

    Interesting blog post Sally, & great photos…I may even try that recipe myself (or much more likely get Cena my Housekeeper to try it out for us). Thanks.

  2. September 29, 2010 8:23 am

    It’s a lovely recipe – fresh, sharp, sweet and a bit spicy.

  3. September 29, 2010 8:53 am

    Deeelish! You made it, that’s awesome! We should ask chef Ashwini where he got those raw papayas from….

    (ps. thanks for the sweet comments, just glad you came!)

  4. September 29, 2010 8:58 am

    Hi Sally

    I’ve had great peaches from Baker & Spice in Souk Al Bahar, might be worth a try!

  5. September 29, 2010 9:02 am

    Thanks for the local shopping feedback. Researching this a bit more online I don’t think it’s incorrect to use a slightly pink papaya – Sunflower supermarket is probably the best source of them but I didn’t have time to go to Karama. It tasted very good with the pink version. I will try Baker & Spice – in fact I’ve been meaning to go for ages. Good excuse. Thanks for the comments.

  6. October 1, 2010 12:43 am

    Oh that is interesting that you can’t get a good fig in Dubai, I wouldn’t have guessed it. I love green papaya salad, it’s one of my favorites from when I was growing up. This looks like a great recipe!

  7. October 8, 2010 12:56 am

    This looks and sounds pretty darn delicious (and healthy)!

    • October 9, 2010 12:34 pm

      Thanks Ricardo – it tastes like it!


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