A recent (and very unscientific) survey taken via Twitter by Epic Asia Travel asked subscribers: What is your favorite Thai street food? A seemingly simple questions, but in actuality, this query is very, very difficult to answer. Why? Because there are so many kinds of street food in Thailand that you could probably eat a different dish everyday for the rest of your life and still never have tried everything. There’s an abundance of street meats on a stick, fruits, hot and spicy soups, fried vegetables, glutinous sweets and tangy juice drinks. One of the greatest pleasures about traveling in Thailand is the street food, which is why this questions is really not so easy to answer.
Despite the depth of possible answers to this query, the overwhelming answer to the best street food in Thailand was: Som Tam, also known as spicy green papaya salad. Respondents to this question sure do know what they’re talking about because spicy green papaya salad is truly fresh and incredibly delicious. Vendors usually charge anywhere between 20-40 Baht for a heaping pile of freshly shredded green papaya pounded with spices, palm sugar, chilis, lime juice, shrimp and a number of other zesty ingredients.
Som Tam can be eaten alone for a quick and healthy snack on the go, or it can accompany a larger meal. Traditionally (especially in the Isan
region), Som Tam is eaten with sticky rice, BBQ chicken and some spicy chili sauce. When ordered from a street-side cart, the vendor whips it up fresh on the spot. The green papaya is shredded and all the ingredients go into a large mortar. With the pestle the vendor pounds the many flavors together until it forms one delicious mound of papaya salad. After the dish is plated, the vendor usually sprinkles the Som Tam with a heavy dose of crushed peanuts to add extra flavor and texture.
All street vendors who sell Som Tam in Thailand have their own recipe and they all differ slightly from one another. Despite their differences, most have several of the same key ingredients including: shredded green papaya, cut cherry tomatoes, fresh green beans, lime juice, fish sauce, palm sugar, peanuts, dried
shrimp, whole chilis, shrimp paste and garlic. Some papaya salad vendors add dried shrimp and some add whole crabs (shells and all) to add flavor and texture to the mix.