Sunday, August 23, 2009

The Perfect Meal! (and a papaya salad recipe)

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After a week in Beijing, we headed off to Thailand. Our first stop was Bangkok. Both of us had traveled their separately - me 12 years previous, and Justin 5 years ago. I remembered Bangkok being a big city, but also quaint and fun, full of sparkling temples and saffron robed monks.

Well! I was in for a shock. We landed about 9pm and took a taxi into the city. Justin had a guesthouse card for a place to stay near the fabled tourist haunt of Kho San Road. I was not prepared for what I saw there - hoards of tourists, thumping music, and stand after stand selling T-shirts to said tourists. Really! This couldn't be Thailand!

After a quick street stall meal of watermelon and pad thai we headed to bed - I was already venting about when we could leave the city for someplace quieter. Yes... I am apparently that old now. The next day things improved as we wandered the city, rode the river taxi and explored the culinary offers. The best moment came when we finally found our perfect meal!

Bbqed chicken, papaya salad, sticky rice and a cold drink!

The woman behind me is grilling up the chicken and pounding the papaya salad. It was heaven! I had already fallen in love with this meal at our favorite restaurant Pok Pok. This one was even tastier AND only $3! And it was in Thailand! It was perfect and delicious.

Papaya Salad isn't hard to prepare once you have all the ingredients lined up and prepared. I have tried the pre-shredded green papaya from the market - soaking in large tubs in the refrigerator section - but it isn't as good. Peel and rinse the green papaya. I used a mandoline on the finest shred to cut it up, but you could also use a large grater. Avoid the little seeds. One word of warning: If you are allergic to latex don't eat papaya. They are related.

Pull out your mortar and pestle, but a wooden spoon and a metal bowl will work in a pinch. The key is to pound the salad together, bruising the papaya and working together the flavors. In Thailand this salad is made in huge mortar and pestles. I have a small one and this recipe reflects that.

Also, this recipe calls for palm sugar. In Thailand palm sugar is a sticky, gooey honey like substance. Here it is sold in hard cakes. I made a syrup out of it to use for this salad.

Palm Sugar Syrup
Melt 2 cakes with about a cup of water. Simmer about 15 minutes until it is all melted. Keep in the fridge to use as needed.

Papaya Salad or Som Tam
(Recipe from Grandma's Thai Kitchen, Chiang Mai cooking school) The key to this salad is to play with the flavor balance until it is how YOU like it. Sweeter? Spicier? More Sour? Tinker away.

10 small, peeled cloves of garlic
2-5 small thai bird chiles, red (HOT!!!) or green (hot)
2-3 tablespoons small dried shrimp (Look for cream or pale pink shrimp, not bright pink, a sign of dye. )
5-6 yard long beans, broken into 3 inch sections. (You can sub a large handful of other green beans)
10 cherry tomatoes halved, or 1 large roma quartered
4 cups shredded green papaya (Put in a metal or wooden bowl)
6 tablespoons fish sauce (or more or less)
6 tablespoons palm sugar syrup (or more or less)
juice of at least 1/2 a lime. Might want more
3 tablespoons of roasted peanuts.

1. In a mortar and pestle, or bowl work together the garlic, chilies, shrimp, beans and tomatoes until a all the parts are broken up and begin to create a paste. About 2 minutes.
2. Add 1/2 the fish sauce, sugar, and lime juice. If it can fit, throw in some of the papaya as well. Pound for another minute or so.
3. Pour the contents of the mortar and pestle and the remaining fish sauce, sugar and lime over the papaya. Using a wooden spoon pound the dressing and papaya together. Try to bruise the papaya. Work for about 5 minutes.
4. Taste. Adjust flavors to your liking.
5. Move to a pretty plate. Sprinkle with peanuts.

Serve with bbqed chicken, sticky rice and cold beer. :)


  1. I can't believe you weren't enthralled by the thumping music and the boobie shirts. Yay for Westernization!