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The Global Table: Thai Som Tam
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The Global Table: Thai Som Tam

As you might have figured out by now, a big part of traveling is food. Food is powerful. It is the great connector—shaping our memories and cultivating community. Friends and strangers alike share their cultural traditions, their favorite foods, and their most treasured recipes.

You probably have your own story about how food has impacted your life. Maybe it’s the experience of sharing a family meal or a time when you tried something new (and delicious).

Surely, you’ll have some unforgettable meals on one of Rustic Pathways’ high school summer travel programs, but if you can’t wait for your trip to begin, here’s a recipe you can prepare at home.

Rustic Pathways students chop long beans on Intro to Community Service in Thailand. www.rusticpathways.com Credit: Rustic Pathways Copyright: © 2016 Rustic Pathways Usage with express permission only.

In 2007, I was 15 and traveling on my first Rustic Pathways trip to Thailand and Laos. I was discovering the magic of an Isan sunset, the excitement of the local market, and the quiet of the rice fields. During the day, we participated in service and adventure activities; in the evenings, we gathered for a meal over conversation and games.

One of the reasons I wanted to go to Southeast Asia in the first place was the food. I love Thai  food. I grew up eating it at this little spot not far from my home in St. Louis. My family would go there often and order a variety of dishes—pad see ew, larb, green curry, pumpkin curry, tom yum, pak boong, and my favorite, som tam. You can imagine my excitement when I saw som tam on the table one of my first nights in Southeast Asia.

Som tam, green papaya salad, is one of the most popularly eaten dishes in Thailand and Laos. It’s characterized by the fresh crunch of green papaya, the tanginess of the dressing, and the heat of thai chilies. Perfectly refreshing on a hot summer day.

Just like all Thai recipes, the ingredients listed and the quantities are a guide. If you don’t like super spicy things, use fewer chilies. If you’re vegetarian or vegan, omit the fish sauce. If you have a nut allergy, skip the peanuts.

Freshly prepared som tam on Hill Tribe Service and Elephant Conservation. www.rusticpathways.com Credit: Rustic Pathways Copyright: © 2017 Rustic Pathways Usage with express permission only.

Som Tam

Prep time: 30 minutes or less (no cooking needed!)
Servings: 4, as a side

Ingredients
2 cloves of garlic, peeled
4 thai chilies (more or less for desired heat)
2 tablespoons roasted peanuts, shelled and crushed
1 tablespoon fish sauce
1 tablespoon palm sugar (or brown sugar)
1-2 small roma tomatoes
3 cups slivered green papaya
Juice of 1 lime, or three tablespoons

To garnish
Green beans
Green cabbage
Lime wedges

  • Peel the skin off your green papaya. Julienne, or use a cheese grater, to shave the papaya until you measure 3 cups.
  • Chop your peeled garlic and chilies until the garlic is minced and the chilies are reduced to small bits.
    Mix palm sugar, fish sauce, and lime juice in a small bowl until the palm sugar is dissolved. Add the peanuts, garlic, and chilies to the sauce to make the dressing. Slice the tomato into chunks and toss into dressing, making sure to coat.
  • The last step is to toss the green papaya with the dressing, mixing it all together until all the flavors combine. Make sure all the green papaya is coated with the dressing and the salad is evenly mixed.
  • Garnish with chopped green beans, a wedge of green cabbage, and extra lime wedges for those who like it extra tangy.

Follow along with The Global Table for more food tips, stories, and recipes.

About the Author

Naomi Tao

Creative Lead and Graphic Designer

Born in London and raised in St. Louis, Naomi learned the importance of global citizenship and community building at an early age. Her passion for these things and her love of travel led her to Rustic —first as a student and again in 2013 after graduating from the University of Southern California with degrees in fine art and marketing. When Naomi is not managing the Rustic Pathways brand or packing her bags for yet another adventure, you can find her learning about sustainable agriculture, cultivating fruits and vegetables in her garden, or catering intimate dinner parties for family and new friends.