What is the Difference between Laos & Thai Papaya Salad
The core difference between Thai green papaya salad and Laos green papaya salad is the liquid component of the recipe along with the topping.
Thai papaya salad, referred to as Som Tam, uses mainly fish sauce as the flavoring condiment and is generally topped with crushed roasted peanut.
Laos papaya salad, referred to as Tam Mak Hoong, uses fermented crab dip (nam pu) and padaek as flavoring condiments
The classic green papaya salad is loved throughout southeast Asia in various forms, but the two most popular are the Thai and Lao style papaya salad.
Padaek, sometimes known as padek, or Lao fish sauce or pla-ra in Thailand, is a traditional Lao condiment made from pickled or fermented fish that has been cured. It is thicker and more seasoned than the fish sauce more commonly seen throughout Thailand and Vietnam, often containing chunks of fish. The fermentation takes a long time, giving padaek an aroma similar to cheeses like Époisses.
Unlike other versions of fish sauce in Southeast Asia, padaek is made from freshwater fish, owing to the landlocked nature of the former kingdom of Lan Xang. Padaek is used in many dishes, most notably tam maak hoong, a spicy Lao papaya salad.
Beside the core difference above, there are still ways for you to differentiate Laos and Thai papaya salad.
Thai papaya salad is milder.
Thai papaya salad has a milder flavor than its Lao counterpart because it uses fish sauce as the dressing.
Lao papaya salad has more ingredients in the dressing.
Lao papaya salad has a much flavorful palette due to the incorporation of fermented fish sauce known as padaek and nam pu which is shrimp paste/sauce.
Thai papaya salad uses roasted peanuts and shrimp.
In the Thai variation of this recipe, roasted and crushed peanuts top the dish for another layer of texture. In some other recipes, cooked shrimp, or shrimp jerky is also used.
Both salads are references by different names in each country.
The most common name for Thai papaya salad is Som Tam. The most common name for Lao papaya salad is Tam Mak Hoong.
Thai papaya salad popularized the cuisine around the world.
The middle class in Bangkok, Thailand adapted the original recipe from Laos. They presented it to the world stage and put it on the map with the milder flavors as well as the additional textures of the roasted peanuts. This popularized the dish around the world including the west.
What ingredients do Thai and Lao papaya salad have in common?
The common ingredients between both salads are cherry tomatoes, lime juice, sugar, unripen green papaya, and Thai birds’ eye chilies.
Now, it is time to get deeper on the two variations.
Thai Green Papaya Salad
Thai green papaya salad is referred to as Som Tam. Som means sour and Tam refers to the pounding sounds from the mortar and pestle that is used to mix up the ingredients.
With western translations, you may find this dish listed as: som tum, som tam, sum tam, somtum, tam som.
Variations of Som Tam
Thai spicy papaya salad goes by many monikers, especially when you include the multitude of ways that it gets translated into western languages. In general, the various names mention characteristics of the dish or how the dish is made: sour, pounded, papaya salad.
Other names this dish goes by include:
Som Tam – This is the mild version of green papaya salad where the dressing is sweet and sour.
Som Tam Boo Pla Ra – This is the Lao version that uses fermented fish sauce and crab in the recipe. This is also known as Tam Mak Hoong.
Tam Ba – This translates to “jungle” which means that the salad includes a variety of ingredients which includes freshwater snails.
Tam Sua – This version includes fermented fish sauce as well as rice noodles.
Laos green papaya salad
Laos style green papaya salad is known as Tam Mak Hoong. Tam means crush and Mak Hoongreferences the green papaya.
Again, with western translations, you may find this dish in restaurants listed as: tham mak hoong, tam mak hung, tam mak hoong, thum mak huong, tum mak hoong and pretty much any variation of any of those words.
Laos papaya salad shares some of the main ingredients of its Thai counterpart, uses fermented crab dip (nam pu) and fermented fish sauce (padaek).
Variations of Tam Mak Hoong
This dish is known by a lot of different names, especially when you include the multitude of ways that it gets translated into English. In general, the various names mention characteristics of the dish or how the dish is made: sour, pounded, papaya salad.
Other names this dish goes by include:
Tum Ma Hoong
Tham Mak Huong
Tham Mak Hoong
Where did green papaya salad originate from?
Now, we believe you already realize the similarity of the two salads, hence, there comes 1 question: Where did the green papaya salad originated from?
Though, most of us knows about this salad first in Thailand or at Thai restaurants all around the world, green papaya salad actually originated from Laos. Between the 1970s and early 1990s, there were over 200,000 Lao refugees that made their way into Thailand due to the Vietnam War.
As both cultures melded together, this specific dish was adapted by the Thai. The middle class in Bangkok adapted the recipe to remove what was deemed as “low class” ingredients like fermented fish sauces and pastes. Instead of using padaek and nam pu, a substitute of fish sauce was used as well as making the dish slightly sweeter. This lowered the overpowering flavors of padaek and nam pu, which made it more popular for those that had not yet acquired the Lao palette.
This Bangkok variation was then introduced to the world and added on a global scale by being added on an international menu of things to try while in Thailand.
Which green papaya salad is better: Thai or Lao style?
This is a very tough question. First, we need to bear in mind that these variations are absolutely delicious.
If you have not acquired the Lao palette to appreciate the umami of fermented fish sauce and shrimp paste, I would recommend the Thai style green papaya salad.
If you want a bursting of flavor and the combination of sweet, sour, bitterness and saltiness, Lao style definitely has more depth of flavor that you won’t find in the Thai style.
Adapting and adjusting papaya salad recipe
Making papaya salad requires several main ingredients, but overall, you can adjust the ingredients as you please. Essentially, you can adapt the flavors and intensity to suit your own taste buds. If you want it sweeter, add more sugar. If you want it more spicy, add a few more Thai chilies. If you want a deeper and richer taste, add more padaek.
There are other variations that include adding shredded carrots that provide a beautiful presentation contrast and sweetened flavor to the dish. You can also add radish, long beans, and eggplants into the dish itself when they are usually just are placed as accompaniments.
Vegetarian and Vegan Adaptation for Papaya Salad
For a vegetarian spicy green papaya salad, substitute the fish sauce with soy sauce.
The beauty about papaya salad is that it is so easy to make your own and adjust.
Authentic recipe for Papaya Salad
First, watch the below video to have the general idea of how to make Thai Som Tam.
1 green unripen papaya
15 cherry tomatoes, halved
2 garlic cloves
3 Thai bird eye chiles (If you want it spicier, just add 1 or 2 more)
1 tablespoon of palm sugar
1 tablespoon of MSG (optional)
1/2 of a lime, juiced
1 tablespoon of padaek, fermented fish sauce
1 tablespoon of nam pu, shrimp paste
These ingredients make the stronger flavor of Laos style.
1 carrot, shredded
2 tablespoons of filtered fish sauce
1/2 cup of dried shrimp
1 cup of green long beans, chopped into 1-inch lengths
2 Thai/kermit egg plants, cut into wedges
Thai basil, washed
Prepared sticky rice
Pork crackle rinds, also known as chicharron
Directions for making green papaya salad
Prepare the papaya by thoroughly washing the outside.
Peel the papaya with a peeler and ensure you wash the sap off as much as possible.
Next, start making cuts into the peeled papaya at 1/8 inch intervals and use the Julienne Zig Zag blade to shred the papaya flesh (if you don’t have a blade, you can just use a knife to cut the papaya perpendicular to the cuts to create long thin shreds).
When you start seeing the immature seeds of the papaya salad, stop and move to the next part of the papaya and repeat the shredding process. Discard and remove any seeds that may accidentally get into your bowl. Set aside.
Get the mortar and pestle. Add in and pound the garlic, sugar, and Thai chile peppers together. Hint: As you start pounding, use one hand to cover the mortar opening as you pound. Pound carefully so that the Thai chiles don’t go flying (avoiding your face and eyes).
Now, it is time to add the sauce. For Laos style, add shrimp paste and padaek. Try not to spill the padaek because it has a very pungent smell. Next, add the lime juice and pinch of MSG (optional).
If you are making Thai style, just add fish sauce. Try to first pour it into a cup or a spoon so that you can control the amount of fish sauce that you use.
Add the cherry tomatoes and lightly pound, allow the juices from the tomatoes to be released. Take care not not pound the tomatoes too much because you want to keep slightly keep their shape and be plump and juicy.
Add some dried shrimp if you are making Thai style
Continue pounding, gently.
Lastly, add in the shredded papaya, mix it in the mortar with a spoon.
The result should be a delicious meld of sweet, sour, salty and hot in your mouth!
What is green papaya salad served with?
This resulting salad is a medley of so many flavors and textures, which makes it a delicious snack on especially on a hot summer day!
Serve this additive dish with any of these accompaniments:
Khao Niew – Sticky Rice
Long green beans
Miniature egg plants
Pork crackle and rinds
Grilled pork or chicken
Lao minced meat (larb)
FAQs about Green papaya salad
Can green papaya salad induce labor?
One fun myth about green papaya salad is that it can induce labor! This a wives' tale that is shared due to the spicy characteristic of Lao papaya salad.
Is papaya salad safe during pregnancy?
Papaya salad is safe for pregnancy if you eat the Thai version which does not include padaek, but rather fish sauce as the dressing. Lao style papaya salad includes fermented fish sauce, which I would not recommend during pregnancy due to the nature of how it is prepared (fish that sits in a brine and ferments for long periods of time).
What kind of papaya do you use for papaya salad?
In general, papaya is seen as a tender orange tropical fruit. The green papaya that is used in this salad recipe are immature papayas that have not began the ripening process. When these papayas are green, they have a beautiful white flesh that is often tinged green and provides a neutral, yet crunchy flavor that makes them perfect for any type of salad.
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In Laos, food is the most important activity throughout the day. In the local language, it is quite common for people to greet each other by immediately asking, “Have you eaten food?” (“Kin khao laeo bor?”). Food is often the topic of many conversations, especially when eating and sharing dishes between friends and family. Additionally, Lao people take great passion in sharing traditional dishes with curious travelers.
Laotian dishes are very similar to Thailand and Vietnam in terms of flavor and ingredients, which often consist of fresh herb, spices, noodles, and rice. Khao niaw (sticky rice) is a staple food among the Laotians. Traditionally steamed in a cone-shaped bamboo basket, the rice is then placed in a covered basket, where it is eaten by hand alongside spicy soup, and meat-based dishes. Eating in Laos is also a communal activity, where dishes are shared by all at the table.
Laos street food is vibrant, colorful, packed with herbs and chilies, and the combinations of ingredients are guaranteed to thrill your taste-buds.
From Luang Prabang to Vientiane, you will not believe how complex, yet refreshing at the same time, the scene of Laos street food can be.
From scrumptious sweets to deliciously charred meat-on-a-stick, each afternoon around dust multitudes of food carts converge to Vientiane’s kerbsides peddling cheap and flavorful eats to the hungry masses.
The street food scene of Luang Prabang will attract you at the first sight once you step into the colorful night market. The smell, the taste, or the various dishes on offers all combine to make it something you cannot deny.
If you have already traveled to Laos, you will realize that it is one of the highlighted dishes of your trip.
Larb is basically a salad - made out of meat. (So, like, the best KIND of salad, right?). It’s a meat salad from Laos that has made its way into Thailand and other areas of Southeast Asia, as well as many countries in the world.
Like other dishes in Southeast Asian cooking, the dish combines savory flavors with fresh ones - fresh herbs like cilantro, scallions, and mint, and fresh lime juice. The addition of toasted ground rice also adds texture and nuttiness to the final dish.
Sticky rice is the staple food of any Laotian meal. It is called “khao niew” and made from glutinous rice. It contains a higher sugar level than normal rice, which gives it its stickiness.
Despite the name (glutinous rice), Laotian sticky rice is gluten free and therefore great for people with celiac. Sticky rice is steamed and traditionally served in small cute bamboo baskets in Laos called “lao aep khao”.
Sticky rice is a traditional Lao and Thai base dish that is served and paired another delicious main meal. You typically do not eat sticky rice on its own unless it’s been transformed into a dessert that is doused in coconut milk or sugar (if you’ve had Lao food, what I’m referring to here is purple rice).
Sticky rice is a transparent and opaque rice that requires soaking overnight for preparations. Once cooked, the rice “sticks” to each other, and you use your hands to eat the rice by forming delicious little balls of rice and putting it into your mouth!
Experiencing all that Lao cuisine has to offer is not an experience for the faint of heart. Laos’ famous fermented fish sauce, padek, has a distinct fragrance. Insects ranging from silkworms to ants and crickets can be found on many menus. Raw and cooked meats from all manner of animals are grilled and served on a stick or sautéed and served with rice.
Ah, while we are learning about Laos traditional dishes, why don't we take a break and take a bite of Laos food history and culture.
In case you want to move directly to the dishes that you prefer, just navigate via the below table of content.
Fresh herbs, hearty soups and powerful, funky fish flavors are just a few of the hallmarks of Laotian food, a cuisine that isn’t widely represented in the world but is showcased at a number of excellent restaurants in some big cities like NYC, Seattle, London, Sydney, or Melbourne.
Papaya salad, beef jerky, sticky rice and laap, or larb, are examples of typical Laotian dishes - there’s a commonality with Northern Thai food that frequently causes the two cuisines to be lumped together. Lao food, though, has unique characteristics that give it a flavor all its own.
Below is our recommended list of restaurants in Laos & some big cities where you can really enjoy the authentic Laos food.
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