Eternal smile and lights! This will be the atmosphere this week on 196 flavors! We are indeed heading to the land of eternal smile, Thailand, for the festival of Loy Krathong that is also called the festival of lights.
What is said about Thai people is apparently true: they always smile even when things go wrong! It is true that this positive attitude has a way of quickly putting you at ease, which is probably why the majority of people who have visited Thailand come back thrilled about the country!
Loy Krathong was born 700 years ago in the kingdom of Sukhothai. Sukhothai is located about halfway between Bangkok and Chiang Mai in northern Thailand. At the end of the harvest season, farmers had organized a party where they launched floating candles to thank the god of water. Loy means float and Krathong is a small raft.
The legend says that Nang Noppamas, a beautiful woman with an exceptional charm, was the first person to have created a krathong decorated with banana leaves in the shape of a lotus flower.
One evening when she accompanied the royal court of Lithai for a walk around the city, she noticed that people were floating lanterns of all shapes on the surface of the water. On the way back to the palace, Nang designed a floating lantern that had the form of a lotus flower and presented it to the king with several poems she recited. When he saw the Nang Noppamas’s creation, he decreed that Loy Krathong be celebrated every year.
Noppamas is for Thais what Venus is to beauty for the ancient Greeks. And a way to immortalize Noppamas was to create a beauty pageant, the Noppamas contest, which takes place mainly in Sukhothai but also around the country.
Loy Krathong is held on the night of the full moon of the 12th month of the traditional Thai lunar calendar, a time when the sky is clear and bright. In the western calendar, this date typically falls at the beginning of November, and this year, it will be the 6th.
Today, it will be the no less famous recipe of som tam salad (ส้มตำ) also known as the green papaya salad.
Som tam is native to Northeastern Thailand. The cuisine of this region is of course heavily influenced by those of its neighbors, Laos and Cambodia. This salad can also be found in these countries under different names. Tam mak houng in Laos and bok l’hong in Cambodia. There are several versions of som tam in Thailand such as one with fermented fish or another one with pickled crab.
I chose to make the most famous som tam, namely the one with shrimp and peanuts.
This salad is composed of slices of green papaya that are mixed with garlic, palm sugar, cherry tomatoes, lime juice, fish sauce, shrimp, peanuts and hot pepper. The particularity of this salad is the presence of a three distinct flavors.
No umami flavor this week. However, this salad is sour (priao), sweet (wan) and salty (kem) at the same time. These three flavors are always found, although their intensity varies, depending on the proportions of lime, palm sugar and fish sauce. The harmony of the combination of these three tastes probably works thanks to chili. Indeed, a good and authentic som tam must be spicy (pet).
The name of som tam comes from the Isaan dialect: som means “sour” and tam means “hit” or “pound”. The name of this salad has to do with its traditional method of preparation that requires to pound and crush the sour mixture that accompanies the slices of green papaya with a mortar and pestle. Even today, the preparation of a good green papaya salad requires a pestle (sark). Thai cuisine experts believe that the som tam probably comes from Isaan and Laos, although today this salad has become more than a Thai than a Lao dish.
I made this salad on a Sunday afternoon. It was originally supposed to be our but as we started tasting it, my son Alexander and I finished it as an afternoon snack, and with a smile please!
I strongly recommend you that you try this fresh salad as quickly as you can don’t forget what the Thai proverb says:
Smiling at least three times a day makes medication useless!
- 1 green papaya (very firm and dark green)
- 6 oz. small fresh shrimps (or 4 teaspoons dried small shrimps)
- 3 carrots , coarsely grated
- 6 cherry tomatoes
- 2 tablespoons nam plaa sauce (or nuoc mam sauce)
- Juice of 3 limes
- 2 tablespoons palm sugar
- 6 tablespoons unsalted roasted peanuts , crushed
- 3 cloves garlic , crushed
- 1 tablespoon tamarind juice
- 3 red Thai chili peppers , coarsely chopped
- A few Thai cilantro leaves
- Peel and cut the papaya in half lengthwise. Remove the seeds.
- Rinse thoroughly with clean water to rid the fruit of its acidity. Grate papaya.
- Pound peppers and garlic with a pestle until reaching the consistency of a paste and mix with grated papaya and carrots
- Season with palm sugar, fish sauce, tamarind juice, and lemon juice.
- Add tomatoes and shrimps and mix well.
- Add peanuts and mix well again.