In this salad, the papaya—still green and unripe—is treated more like a vegetable than a fruit.
While variations of this dish are found all over Southeast Asia, green papaya salad most likely originated in Laos, and then spread to the rest of the area via settlers in modern-day Thailand. It’s more commonly served as a street food than in restaurants, and it can easily be tweaked according to each diner’s taste—particularly in regards to the spice level from the chilies.
Green papaya salad is an excellent introduction to Southeast Asian food because it clearly demonstrates the five main tastes of the local cuisine: salty, sweet, hot, sour, and savory—which isn’t the same as salty. Popularized in recent years as “umami,” the savory taste is often found in fermented foods, which add a rich depth of flavor and signature funk. Here, it comes courtesy of fish sauce.
While fish sauce can be off-putting to uninitiated palates—the smell even more than the flavor—please give it a try in this recipe. And be thankful that Epicurious brings us a Cambodian version of green papaya salad, rather than a traditional Laotian recipe. In Laos, cooks use fermented fish paste, which is funkier and more pungent. Even we have limits.
You can watch the experts prepare this dish—and share some helpful ingredient tips—in a film following the recipe, and download an easy-to-print PDF.
- 1 (1- to 1 1/4-pound) green papaya
- 1 large tomato, chopped
- 2 ounce Asian-style beef jerky (optional), cut into fine julienne
- 2 large garlic cloves, minced
- 1 to 3 small (1-inch) fresh Asian chiles such as bird or Thai, minced
- 1 tablespoon minced peeled galangal or fresh ginger
- 4 1/2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
- 1 1/2 tablespoons Asian fish sauce
- 1 1/2 tablespoons sugar
Accompaniment: soft-leaf lettuce
- Peel and seed papaya. Cut into large pieces and then julienne.
- Combine with tomato, jerky, garlic, chiles, and galangal in a large bowl.
- Stir together lime juice, fish sauce, and sugar in a small bowl until sugar is dissolved and toss with papaya mixture.
- Mound salad on a platter and serve with lettuce leaves for wrapping.
Follow along with the experts at Epicurious in this film:
Sample the fresh flavors of Southeast Asian cuisine when you join us for Ancient Kingdoms: Thailand, Laos, Cambodia & Vietnam.