Papaya is available in Laos throughout the whole year and is commonly used in a plenty of dishes. Undoubtedly, the most popular is papaya salad, which is called “Tam Mak Houng” in Laos. Some argue that this meal is originally from Thailand, but both countries have different recipes, and the Laos version is a bit spicier and sour.
How to make
Papaya salad is made with green papaya, which is distinctly tangy and crunchy and completely different to the ripe, softer orange fruit. While many stores sell graters, many will argue that the best texture is achieved by using a large knife to hack and thinly slice tiny slivers into the whole peeled fruit, often with admirably careless precision.
The base is usually salt, sugar, chilli and small limes. The vendor will usually ask how many chillies you want, and for beginner Western palates, one should have plenty of bite and two will likely get pretty hot. If you ask for it Lao style, you’re looking at winding up with seven or eight chillies.
Tomatoes are tossed in too, and another level of flavour is added with shrimp paste and pah deck, the pungent fermented grey fish paste that is Laos’ favourite condiment. Some places add peanuts and some also mix the salad with rice noodles, on request, to make it a little more filling. The salad is usually served with a side of raw cabbage and sometimes coupled with pork crackling.
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