One time I asked my students, “Who doesn’t like som tam?” They all giggled and looked around the classroom curiously. No hands? “Everyone likes som tam?” I asked, this time in Thai. “Yep, everyone likes som tam,” they told me.
I first discovered som tam after a few weeks of living in Thailand. One day, after Thai class some of our ajans (ajan means teacher in Thai) took us out to lunch to a food stand with a grass roof and people packed into tables and hovering over the counter. My first som tam stand. The ajans ordered for us and we were greeted by a variety of Thai dishes and a few variations of som tam. Oh, the delicious som tam, with flavors sweet and sour, spicy and salty, like a punch in the mouth with deliciousness.
Since then I’ve had many a som tam and today I wanted another. This presented a bit of a challenge considering all the trusty som tam stands in my area have up and vanished. While in town today I made it a point to find a som tam stand. I biked, and circled, and biked, and looked and then I see some signs- containers of ingredients filling the table, lots of people, and is that a mortar and pestal? Tell me it’s a mortar and pestal. Oh sweet delight, it is a mortar and pestal! I’ve found the som tam stand.
The sign advertised about fifteen different kinds of som tam, som tam with sour mango, som tam with pork rinds, som tam with salty hard boiled egg. I stuck to my usual, som tam thai, hold the mini crab, dried shrimp bits and chili peppers.
Ain’t she a beauty? “Now, Kelsi,” you ask “what is som tam?” Glad you inquired. Som tam is usually called papaya salad when translated into English. The som tam I ordered had shavings of unripened papaya, tomato slices, lime bits, green beans and peanuts. The som tam is mashed and mixed in the mortar and pestal with a variety of juices and seasonings that render a delicious sauce. This one probably has fish sauce, lime juice, and a sugar paste, which I think comes from palm fruit. And more likely than not, there’s a heaping scoop of MSG in there as well. The thing about som tam is that no two are ever the same. Everyone makes it differently, adding different amounts of flavor or different ingredients to the pile. Sometimes it’s fishy, sometimes sour, sometimes sweet, sometimes spicy, but usually delicious.
Here’s the som tam served with it’s usual sides, sticky rice and raw veggies to cut the spice. I ordered mine without chili peppers so there’s no need for this, but I won’t turn down a good cucumber. Usually, there’s also some grilled chicken around when people are eating som tam, but since I was eating alone I stuck with the basics.
After lunch I went to the market and noticed that my favorite Mysterious Gelatinous Canom (MGC) cart was open. I call them Mysterious Gelatinous Canoms because A. they all have mysterious flavors and when they’re sold wrapped up I don’t always know what I’m buying, B. they tend to have a gelatinous texture, C. Canom is the Thai word for snack. They all look so good, which to choose, which to chose?
What will it be?
Ok, clearly MGC 1 and my bike basket did not get along. It was so pretty and delicate when I bought it. The green one is sweet sticky rice with other mysterious flavors. One of which I think is sugar cane juice. I forgot that the rice is usually little hard in this one, which I don’t like. The white MGC is my favorite of all the MGCs. It has a compacted sticky rice bottom, a creamy coconut top, red bean and of course a myriad of other mysterious flavors.