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Papaya Salad Origins

Papaya salad is a spicy salad made from shredded unripe (green) papaya.  It is of Lao origin and became popular throughout Southeast Asia when it was introduced to central Thailand and the rest of the world by the Lao people seeking work in Bangkok.  Locally, it is referred to as Thum Mak Hoong.  Thum, meaning to pound with mortar and pestle (koke and sark).  Variations of the dish are found throughout Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, as well as in the West, where it is more commonly known by its Thai name, Som Thum.  Thum Mak Hoong is a staple for Laotians across the globe, often served with sticky rice and grilled chicken.  Despite the use of papaya, which one may think of as sweet, this salad is actually savory.  When not yet ripe, papaya has a slightly tangy flavor.  The texture is crisp, firm and crunchy.  Although it is called papaya salad, this dish can also be made with almost any fruits or vegetables or even noodles.  This dish combines the four main tastes of Lao cuisines:  sour lime, sweetness, hot chili and salty fish sauce.

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