As the anniversary of this blog approaches each year, I like to take a little time to look back and reflect on what I’ve learned over the previous year.
Last year, I did this by revisiting three popular Thai dishes here in America. I started with chicken satay with peanut sauce, which was the very first Thai dish I ever tried to make. Then I posted a recipe for tom kha gai (coconut milk soup) with slight variations from the original recipe that I discovered I liked even better over the course of a year. And finally, I ended with a re-make of pad Thai including my “Top 5 truths about Thai food”.
As much fun as this was last year, this year I thought I’d shake it up even more….
Some of you may know that the boyfriend’s parents were visiting recently. In addition to eating lots of delicious Thai food, I had the opportunity to see how they made this food. And one night, as the boyfriend’s mom was pounding shredded green papaya into the most delicious som tam I’ve ever eaten, I realized how much seeing something in action helps. I know, pretty obvious, right? In fact, many of you have already suggested incorporating videos on this site for specifically that reason. But sometimes it just takes that personal “ah-ha” moment to make things click.
So, after coming to this realization, I thought this year’s anniversary celebration would be the perfect time to make some videos!
And what better video to start with than som tam? Because although I’ve made som tam many times before, it wasn’t until I saw it in action, that I realized all the ins and outs of how a good som tam should be made. You see, I’ve always had the right ingredients and even the right proportions, but the subtle details were missing. The first time I tried to make it (we’ll call it year 0), I didn’t pound the ingredients nearly enough (as evidenced by the whole Thai chili sitting on top of the salad). My attempts over the next year (year 1) were better, but there was still not enough pounding going on and certainly not enough roasting of the peanuts.
This year’s attempts (year 2), after watching the boyfriend’s mom make it, have been absolutely delicious. There has been much more pounding of ingredients and roasting of peanuts. His mom also introduced me to the idea of shredding the dried shrimp, which I love (rather than biting into whole dried shrimp, which I didn’t love). Making a syrup of lime juice and palm sugar before starting to pound the ingredients also helps to get the taste just right, rather than trying to pound palm sugar directly in the mortar and pestle.
All this said, she also emphasized that there is no one “right way” to make som tam and that it should really be driven by taste. This is, of course, what I’ve been trying to do all along. But I guess sometimes you just need to watch how it’s supposed to be done before you can perfect that taste for yourself.
So without further ado, the video and recipe below are the culmination of 2 years of trial and error, one night of close observation, and several subsequent attempts at taste perfection. It’s my interpretation of how a good som tam should be made. I hope you like it!