This green papaya salad is light and refreshing with amazing umami flavors. It’s inspired by Thai and Lao style papaya salads and is perfect to serve alongside rice and meat dishes.
This papaya salad recipe is a family recipe of our video producer, Pachee. We’re grateful to be able to learn authentic Hmong/Thai cooking from one of our very own!
Pachee’s Papaya Salad
I’m so excited to share with you one of my favorite family dishes — papaya salad! Growing up my mom would make a large papaya salad for gatherings and celebrations, so the dish always brings up so many wonderful family memories.
Papaya salad is sweet, sour, spicy and salty, with a crunch from the papaya and amazing umami flavors from the fermented fish sauce and shrimp paste. It can be prepared in multiple ways depending on what your background is. There are Lao and Thai styles, and while they differ slightly, both are equally as delicious!
Lao style papaya salad involves more ingredients that contain fermented fish sauce and the use of shrimp paste. In other words, my family and I call it “dirty” papaya because the papaya sauce is brown.
Thai style papaya salad uses slightly fewer ingredients. It contains fish sauce and dried shrimp. My family and I like to call this “clean” papaya because the sauce is a lighter clear color.
My mom prepares this papaya salad inspired by both Lao and Thai styles, so you’ll find shrimp paste and dried shrimp in the ingredient list here. But that’s also what makes papaya salad so unique — you can put your own spin on it depending on what style you’re cooking and what your taste preferences are.
I can’t wait for you to try this salad, and hope you enjoy it as much as my family and I do.
What is Papaya salad?
Papaya salad is a Southeast Asian dish that often features shredded unripe green papayas, fermented fish sauce, shrimp paste, and Thai chili peppers, but additional ingredients can vary depending on the style and origin.
What does papaya salad taste like?
Papaya salad is sweet, sour, salty and spicy — a delicious combination thanks to the light and refreshing flavors of papaya and cherry tomatoes, the umami flavors from fermented fish sauce and shrimp paste, spicy flavors from Thai chili peppers and salty dried shrimp and Som Tom powder.
where can i find ingredients for this salad?
Pachee recommends stopping by your local Asian grocery store to source ingredients for this papaya salad.
Is this papaya salad spicy?
Yes! Thai chili peppers are quite spicy, and since these peppers are smashed into the salad, their spicy flavor truly infuses throughout the dish.
Ingredients for Papaya Salad
- Unripe green papaya: can’t have papaya salad without papaya. We’re using an unripe green papaya as is traditional for this dish.
- Dried shrimp: dried shrimp is traditional to a papaya salad and oh so integral to the flavor.
- Shrimp paste: also traditional to this dish — don’t skip this 😀
- Thai chili peppers: Thai chili peppers are a spicy pepper. You can make them less spicy by removing their seeds or omitting completely.
- Garlic cloves: use fresh garlic!
- Cherry tomatoes: fresh cherry tomatoes work best, but grape tomatoes will also do.
- Som Tam powder: this is the traditional seasoning powder for papaya salad.
- Papaya salad sauce: this fermented fish juice adds umami flavors to the salad.
- Fish sauce: fish sauce is savory and earthy and a great add to this sauce.
- Sugar: we used white sugar as the sweetener for this salad.
- Fresh lime juice: this papaya salad is finished off with fresh lime juice and it really balances out all of the flavors.
support your local asian grocery store!
Whenever making an Asian-inspired recipe like this one, we like to support our local Asian grocery store and we hope you’ll do the same thing!
Thai Chili Peppers –> Thai chili peppers are a spicier pepper, so you could always swap them for red pepper flakes or green/red jalapeños or omit the peppers completely.
Make it Sweeter –> Add sugar by the 1/4 teaspoon until you reach your desired sweetness.
Make it more Sour –> Add in a squeeze of fresh lime juice.
How to Make Papaya Salad
For the full recipe, scroll down to the recipe card for a list of ingredients and instructions.
Shred the papaya
Use a sharp vegetable peeler to peel the papaya skin and discard. Then, use the vegetable peeler to peel long strips of papaya into a large bowl. Peel off strips until you have about 3 cups of papaya peels.
Place dried shrimp, Thai chili peppers, garlic, shrimp paste, and Thai chili peppers into a papaya pot or a large deep bowl. Smash all ingredients together with a large wooden pestle or the end of a thick wooden spoon until they’re soft.
Why smash the ingredients? It helps the flavors spread!
Add remaining ingredients & Smash again
Add cherry tomatoes, Som Tam powder, papaya salad sauce, fish sauce, sugar, lime juice, and shredded papaya. Smash and mix everything together with the pestle, making sure shredded papaya is coated in the sauce.
Taste test & Enjoy
Taste your papaya salad, and add more of anything else you think you might need. Serve and enjoy!
How to Serve Papaya Salad
Store any leftover papaya salad in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 2 days, but it’s best enjoyed fresh.
Papaya Salad Recipe
- 1 medium unripe green papaya
- ½ tablespoon of dried shrimp
- 2 Thai chili peppers feel free to use less or completely omit if you don’t like heat
- 2 cloves of garlic peeled
- 1 teaspoon shrimp paste
- ¼ cup halved cherry tomatoes
- 1 tablespoon Som Tam powder
- 1 tablespoon papaya salad sauce
- 1 tablespoon fish sauce
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
- Begin by shredding the papaya. Use a sharp vegetable peeler to peel the papaya skin and discard. Then, use the vegetable peeler to peel long strips of papaya into a large bowl. Peel off strips until you have about 3 cups of papaya peels. You may not use the whole papaya. Store the rest of the papaya in the refrigerator for other use. Set papaya strips aside until later.
- Place dried shrimp, Thai chili peppers, 2 cloves of garlic, shrimp paste, and Thai chili peppers into a papaya pot or a large deep bowl. Smash all ingredients together with a large wooden pestle or the end of a thick wooden spoon for 2 minutes just until they’re soft. (This helps the flavors spread)
- Add cherry tomatoes, Som Tam powder, papaya salad sauce, fish sauce, sugar, lime juice, and shredded papaya. Smash and mix everything together with the pestle, making sure shredded papaya is coated in the sauce (be careful not to get any in your eye on this part).
- Taste your papaya salad. Add more of anything else you think you might need.
- Serve and enjoy.
Tips & Notes
- Feel free to change this recipe to your liking. If you’d like, you can adjust your papaya salad to be more sweet by adding more sugar. If you want it more sour, add more lime juice.
- You can eat papaya salad with anything. Papaya salad is a side dish that pairs well with anything from sticky rice to steak, chicken or pork.
- Papaya salad is sometimes served with cabbage or lettuce. Pachee likes to roll her papaya salad in cabbage and eat it like an egg roll. Adds a nice crunch and freshness!