Green Papaya Salad
Liz and I are sitting in a street café in
I frequently check out what other people are eating, especially in a new country or new restaurant. My observations however are generally surreptitious so this direct approach of the Lao waiter, who is probably the owner and cook, I enjoy.
But the woman’s insistence that she doesn’t want noodles, finally gets to the waiter/owner and he goes off to deal with more amenable customers. Abandoned by the waiter, she stands forlornly staring at my plate, then glances quizzically at us, not sure how she got here.
“You can get them with noodles if you want” I tell her, “but this is just plain green papaya salad. Sorry, I correct myself, green papaya salad is never plain. ”
“If you have only seen chunks of orange papaya as a fruit before, it is true, these do not look like papaya,” adds my friend Liz, inviting the woman to try some of my papaya salad and hands her a clean fork.
I can’t believe she is offering my salad to a stranger! Then I laugh, warning the woman to be careful because Laotian green papaya salad is very hot to the uninitiated. This is one of those crazy situations that one constantly bumps into in other cultures that is a big part of the joy of travel. We lose our conditioned responses and find ourselves in entirely new situations.
Green papaya salad is a specialty of
The papaya is peeled and then notched lengthwise, creating long thin flat strands with parallel knife strokes which create ridges in the length of the papaya. The ridges are then shaved to create more stands of papaya. You stop shaving when you get to the seeds.
To fully appreciate the process of shredding or grating a papaya Lao style, you need to watch someone doing it. There is a YouTube video here. In
In the top photograph you can see the woman with the ridged papaya in her hand with a tray of green papaya strands in front.
Lao Green Papaya Salad
1-5 small red chilies
2 garlic cloves
1 chopped tomato
1 tablespoon fish sauce
3 tablespoons lime juice
3-4 cups shredded green papaya
My recipe for a milder version comes from Helen Payet in Mahe, Seychelles and was my personal introduction to green papayas.
Peel and grate very green papaya in long thin strands. The 4-5” pieces are then soaked in salty water for half an hour. Squeeze out water. Slice and chop onions (could use green onions) lemon, salt and pepper. Fry in 1 T of oil until tender. Toss with strands of green papaya.
Helen also prepared a cooked green papaya salad by adding chopped papaya and tomatoes to the onions, covering tightly and simmering for 10-15 minutes until tender. The cover is then removed and the salad cooked over high heat until the juices thicken.
Green papaya are plentiful in Africa, similar to rhubarb in
Helen Payet's Green Papaya Jam
Peel and grate 2 large green papaya. Add 1 ½ lbs. of sugar, vanilla pod and cook until it sets. Do not add water. Add nutmeg when set and squeeze one lemon over it.
A more precise recipe from the
Green Papaya Jam
3 c sugar
3 c water
3 c grated green papaya
½ tsp vanilla
4 T lemon
Heat sugar and water for 5 minutes to make syrup. Add grated papaya and cook slowly over low heat. When mixture thickens, remove from heat and add vanilla and lemon juice. Mix well. Pour into jars and seal. Fills two large jars.
There are also green papaya soup and pickles in Odarty’s cookbook.
After sampling my papaya salad, the woman didn't much like it, too hot she said. It was her first time and it was real hot. She was travelling alone so we talked a bit looking out at the winking lights over on the