Monday Meal Review: Thailand

It took a Green Papaya Salad from Thailand to make me think about the rhythms of my life.

Rat-tat-tat-tat…. Rat-tat-tat…. Rat-tat.. Rat… Rat… Tat-tat… Thwap.

As I pounded the garlic and chili peppers into a paste, feeling both awkward and unskilled, I began to ask myself some questions…

Namely, how is it that something as simple as pounding food can be so hard for me, yet be so easy for another person – like… oh, say… someone from Thailand? I understand that Thai people learn how to use mortars and pestles at a young age… but … still… the question popped up.

And then things got really existential.  I’m not sure if it was a full moon, or the barometric pressure, but I got much, much deeper.

As in, I began to compare myself to a mortar and pestle.

I asked: “Am I moving smoothly through my life, making smart choices, or am I a mess of starts and stops, pounding the pavement hard for a while, then resting for too long before picking up the pace again?”

You see, I’ve heard rumors wives in Thailand used to be selected on their ability to make this salad. If they pounded with a smooth, steady rhythm, they were considered organized and a good prospect.

If the rhythms of their work were jagged and fitful, the girls were likely messy, and disorganized.

I don’t know what it all means, but suffice it to say, this was the state of my mind while making papaya salad. That’s what making food from scratch does to me – it gives me time to think.

When we sat down to eat?

All questions faded, all thoughts evaporated.

There was nothing left, but yum.


Green Papaya Salad | Som Tam [Recipe]

What I loved most about this dish:

When Keith, a.k.a. Mr Picky, walked in and saw me loading on the fish sauce, he groaned “it smells like fish in here!”… but the beauty of fish sauce is that it does not taste fishy by the time you add all the other spices. It’s just… really salty. Thank goodness he loved this salad and forgot all about the fish sauce. He noticed all the elements: spicy, tart, salty, and a bit sweet. As for Miss Ava? She thought the green papaya were noodles, which was fun.

What I loved least about this dish:

Nothing. Make it spicy or make it mild, you’re in for a real treat (Ava’s version doesn’t use any chili peppers). Oh, and look for the pre-grated green papaya at your local Asian market.

Thai Iced Tea [Recipe]

What I loved most about this dish:

Sweet glorious Thai Iced Tea – there’s nothing better to slurp between bites of really spicy food. The caramel-like sweetened condensed milk makes for a lovely, creamy background to the Ceylon tea. Mr Picky wasn’t a total fan, but Ava was all about this drink (although that could be because I wouldn’t let her have very much since it’s caffeinated).

What I loved least about this dish:

At the restaurants I found Thai Iced Tea to be too sweet, but thankfully I can moderate the sweetened condensed milk to my own tastes at home. This one is a definite win.


  1. I am in a state of total jealousy over your photo skills…they are amazing! I find myself looking forward to your new country every week…many of these I have already cooked and it is so interesting to see the difference in the recipes that we have respectively chosen. I happen to think your choices, by far, surpass mine. I’m in an RV full-time, so I have to pick and choose carefully as to what can be made with 2 feet of counter space. My next country is Guam and after that is Seychelles. I don’t cook in any particular order, my readers choose that for me, so I never know what’s coming up. I started this project in January 2010 and have gotten sidetracked so many times that it’s utterly ridiculous, but I fully intend on finishing. You are doing a great thing, Sasha, and I look forward to reading each and every single week, and when you get that book published, I’ll definitely be in line for a copy of it. Keep on keeping on and I’ll keep reading!!

    • Sasha Martin says

      2 feet of counter space is no joke – good for you! 🙂 As for the photo skills, that’s just trial and error. Early on, my pictures looked quite different! It takes a ton of practice and I’m still learning. Anyway, congrats on your journey and I hope it feeds your heart as well as your belly!

  2. Tiffany says

    Love this salad recipe! Have been making a version of it for a few years now! A work around note is that if you can’t find green papaya anywhere near you it works well with Lacinto (Dino) kale. Just make sure you massage the dressing into the kale for 3-4 minutes to break up the fibers in the kale!

  3. Brian S. says

    I love fish sauce and I use it when I make spaghetti sauce, I just throw it in there with the tomatoes and olive oil and basil. But I am scared to use more than two teaspoons! It was very popular in ancient Rome, where it was called garum. The most sought after variety was very expensive because it had to be imported from southern Spain. Lovely meal!!! One thing about the mortar and pestle… it can bring tranquillity and in Africa at least it’s a social time… women work together.

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