Green papaya salad with salted field crab

Green papaya salad with salted field crab

Som tum pla ra

Street Food Asia
4–6 As part o f a shared me al
Alan Benson

Here’s a classic northern Thai salad that is fairly well known. But what you may not know is that there are different versions, not just one. One of the most unusual – and also my favourite – is this one, though it packs a flavour punch which might be an acquired taste for some. You should definitely try it, however. In Thailand when you order som tum from a street or market stall, all the ingredients are muddled fresh right in front of you, in a traditional clay mortar using a wooden pestle. They’re gently bruised, rather than pounded, and the sound this makes is distinctive and rather like drumming. The process is interactive too – the idea is, you tell them how many chillies you want (two? five? ten?) and then taste as they mix your som tum, letting them know if you want it more sour, spicy or fish-saucy. They’ll adjust the flavour balance to your individual preference and you should feel free to do that with this recipe as well. Here, you’ve got the standard green papaya, snake beans and cherry tomatoes but also some salted crab and acacia seeds together with a pungent dressing based on fermented anchovy sauce (which is a bit like shrimp paste, only stronger). The crabs are small crabs from rice paddy fields and they’re fermented whole in salted water. In Thailand, cooks use the salty preserving brine as a seasoning sauce in their cooking, so nothing gets wasted.


Quantity Ingredient
1 garlic clove, sliced
1 tablespoon unsalted roasted peanuts
4 bird’s eye chillies
4 snake beans, cut into 3 cm lengths
2 salted rice field crabs, (see glossary)
1 tablespoon shaved palm sugar (jaggery)
5 cherry tomatoes, cut in half
1 teaspoon acacia seeds, (see glossary)
200g green papaya, shredded
2 tablespoons Tamarind water
1/2 tablespoon mam nem (fermented anchovy sauce; see glossary)
1/2 lime, juiced
1 tablespoon fish sauce
lime wedges, to serve


  1. Using a large mortar and pestle, pound the garlic to a paste. Add the peanuts and chillies and pound until mixed with the garlic.
  2. Now add the snake beans and salted crab, gently pounding while adding the palm sugar, tomatoes, acacia seeds and papaya. Continue gently pounding and mixing with a spoon at the same time.
  3. Next add the tamarind water, mam nem, lime juice and fish sauce. Lightly pound and mix for a further minute, for all the flavours to infuse.
  4. Transfer to a bowl and serve straight away with the lime wedges.

South-East Asian
Street Food
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