Thai Spicy Green Papaya Salad, Siam Sunray cocktail and The Perfect Buddha

To say this month’s Vintage Recipe (see the bottom of the page for swap details) left me uninspired would be a complete understatement.  I pictured my muse lying prone on the ground, x’s for eyes as though she’d been inhaling ether.  My association with cooked cabbage evokes memories of walking into the elementary school cafeteria and instantly knowing it was ‘sauerkraut day’ from the stench.  I could never get past it to taste the cabbage.

In reading this recipe I felt I wanted to spin the ‘hot’ aspect to be spicy instead of temperature-hot, which made me think of Thai food, which made me think of my Irish friend Neal who lives in Bangkok as well as an adventure I had there searching for a Buddha.
I Skyped Neal to catch up blurting out awkwardly in the middle of new job announcement (his) that I wanted to make a Thai cabbage dish and had he heard of a Siam Sunray cocktail.  Though we were messaging (typing) I could hear his Dublin accent responding with a resounding NO on the cocktail and also very discretely sharing his girlfriend runs a noodle house and makes the salad I mentioned wanting to make: a Spicy Green Papaya Salad (with cabbage) known as Som Tum.  There are several versions of it, many with intense fermented seafood that I feel sure an untrained Western palate could not take on the first round.  My version captures the essence of the dish with all the key aspects though substituting for the more challenging fish related flavors.  Neal maintains this is almost a national dish to the Thai’s so no doubt some frowny faces at my westernizing of it and leaving out their coveted bits.  We all have to start somewhere.

This recipe gave me a chance to visit my local Asian market which I love.  Cramped aisles with inexpensive plates and bowls, exotic snacks, condiments from every Asian country along with produce found nowhere else locally.  I was thrilled when finding green papaya (this specifically is unripened papaya) being the mainstay of this salad along with the cabbage.  They also had my new favorite tool, a Kiwi brand Pro Slicer, which allows making ‘strings’ of fruits and vegetables more precisely than using a knife or shredder.   A fine product of Thailand that everyone on my xmas list can expect to find in their package.

When seeing my interest, the shop owner provided many suggestions and tips for keeping vegetables.  She told me to keep the green papaya in a bowl of cold water in the refrigerator until using it to keep it more firm.  She said I could also peel it and keep it in cold water (again in the fridge) to make the salad ultimately crispier.
Having not tried green papaya I did not know quite what to expect with this exotic sounding salad.  It is beyond fabulous with the green papaya having a very subtle flavor and being wonderfully crunchy.  The ingredients are all so fresh and combine to remind me of traditional flavors in dishes I’ve enjoyed in Thailand.  The dressing is a mix of salty, sweet with heat, all perfectly balanced.  Great in any season.
·         1 cup Napa cabbage, sliced horizontally (across) into thin ribbons

·         1 cup carrots, grated with medium sized grater

·         2 cups green papaya, grated or cut into long, thin matchsticks (or using  Kiwi Pro Slicer)

·         9 green beans, cut into thin matchstick-sized strips and then into 2 inch lengths

·         6 cherry tomatoes, cut into quarters lengthwise

·         ¼ cup cilantro, chopped

·         ¼ cup peanuts, dry roasted and crushed

·         2-3 large garlic cloves, minced or pressed

·         4-5 fresh Thai chiles, top removed*

·         3 tablespoons fish sauce, soy sauce or tamari (if gluten free)

·         1 tablespoon sugar

·         Juice of 1 small lime, freshly squeezed
*Always be careful when handling chiles; use gloves preferably.  The chile oil can be quite strong and cause considerable irritation if accidentally touching the eyes or any mucus membranes after slicing them.
1.       Combine cabbage, carrots, green papaya and green beans in a bowl and toss.

2.      Add garlic to mortar (hard cup like receptacle used to mash or grind by hand with a pestle, the rounded stick), mash into a paste with pestle.

3.      Add the de-stemmed whole chilies to the mortar.  Mash them until the outside of chile is paper thin and the contents of the chiles have been released from the skin.  Remove the chile skins*, scraping off any pulp or seeds into the mortar.

4.      Add fish sauce/soy sauce/tamari, sugar and lime juice to the mortar.  Stir to dissolve sugar and fully combine dressing.

5.      Pour dressing over the greens and toss to combine.  When serving place tomatoes, some cilantro and peanuts on the top of the salad.

Should you be interested in knowing a bit more about Thai Street food, click here to read friend Neal’s Guest Post (with photos) from last fall.


In 2009 the Tourism Authority of Thailand conceived of branding a national Thai cocktail hoping for a strong association as with the Singapore Sling, Mojito for Cuba and Manhattan for New York City.  Sadly I think there has been a gap between christening of the drink and the marketing campaign as none of my friends living in Thailand nor have those who travel there frequently have heard of a Siam Sunray.  Never let it be said that I am not doing my part to educate on the Land of Smiles by introducing you to the national cocktail; ‘Thailand in a Glass’.

Adapted from an Asian Skies recipe
·         1-1 ½ ounces (30-40 ml) vodka

·         1 ounce (30 ml) coconut liqueur or coconut rum

·         ½ ounce (15 ml) simple syrup

·         ¼ inch (1/2 cm) fresh Thai chile

·         3 slices of fresh ginger, sliced thin

·         1 kaffir lime leaf

·         3 slices of lemongrass (sliced horizontally, across, about ¼ inch/1/2 cm wide)

·         5 drops freshly squeezed lime juice

·         Club soda or seltzer water

1.       In a shaker or pint glass muddle (crush) the Thai chile, ginger, kaffir lime and lemongrass to release the flavors.

2.      Add the vodka, simple syrup, coconut liqueur/rum and lime juice.   Shake well to blend.

3.      Strain into a high ball (tall) glass filled with ice.  Top with club soda or seltzer water.  Garnish with lime slice, Thai chile (my garnish is a slice of lime with a piece of lemongrass through it and a Thai chile split at the bottom placed through the middle of the lime slice) 

I too was unfamiliar with this cocktail but found in the making it is a perfect partner with this salad were you inclined to imbibe.  It does bear the essence of Thailand; an instant hit of lemongrass, the distinct kaffir lime, hint of coconut, a bit of Thai chile heat.  They’ve done an expert job capturing the flavor profiles most familiar in the Thai food.
The cocktail is very light and refreshing, making it easily drinkable in the often searing heat and humidity found in Thailand.  Nothing heavy or syrupy tasting about it.  I could picture settling in at an outdoor street food stall, sipping a tall Siam Sunray and watching the world go by; most likely quickly and happily based on my travels there!
The first time I visited Bangkok was for a multiple day work meeting.  My employer at the time had manufacturing facilities in the U.S., Singapore and Bangkok and a number of international staff was gathering for this occasion.  The meeting had been schedule overlapping a Thai national holiday providing we had a dead day in the middle of our scheduled meeting.  With a day off I ended up on a Disney’esque adventure in Bangkok’s back alleys searching for a ‘perfect Buddha’.
Before departing the U.S. I asked friends for any gift requests and one asked casually that I bring back a Buddha.  I thought the hotel gift shop would be just the place to do so.  I casually mentioned this to our Singaporean Director of Quality who I did not know was an expert in antiquities and would not hear of something so sacred being purchased at a hotel.   He would take me and we would find ‘the perfect Buddha’.

We left early the next morning taking a taxi to an area of town I’d never be able to describe how to get to or from.  Entering the first shop it seemed straight out of an Indiana Jones movie, packed with artifacts, dusty and dank.  I loved it.  There were lots of Buddhas so I assumed we’d be done momentarily and maybe I could go lie by the pool.

I picked up one that looked nice only to be met with ‘his legs are too fat, the Buddha fasted’.  End of discussion.  A bit dumb stuck I put it back. Yeo, my aficionado escort, reviewed all 50 Buddhas in the shop finding something inauthentic about each one.  A shell shocked me and overzealous he departed empty handed for the next spot.
This scenario would replay itself over and over for six hours.  “That Buddha has a Caucasian nose’.  ‘That Buddha has a fat stomach’.  ‘That Buddha does not have correct posture’.  ‘The Buddha did not cross his legs like that’ (and how in the heck does anyone know THAT?!).  ‘That Buddha’s head looks strange’.

At this stage we are ferrying back and forth in a Tuk Tuk.  Think double sized golf cart with what sounds like a lawnmower engine.  There is a ton of traffic in Bangkok.  These Tuk Tuk’s have no regard for the lanes of traffic and we often found the vehicles 5 abreast versus the intended 3.  The distinct thought that I was going to die was running through my head on repetitive loop like the CNN crawl.

In the end I did find the perfect Buddha but the story did not end there.  When exiting the country and having my bag x-rayed the attendant pulled me aside holding the Buddha.  He informed me I was not allowed to remove the image of the Buddha from the country.  Well I clearly had missed that memo and felt I had a major investment in this souvenir; I was not going to lie down now.  All my negotiating, begging, cajoling and pleading did no good.  They did agree to hold it for a work mate to pick it up.
This began an odyssey lasting months.  A co worker from Bangkok picked the Buddha up and someone found a way to license it to get to Singapore where my Buddha-palooza tour guide, Yeo eventually brought it to the U.S. himself.   A completely crazy caper but one I would never trade for a pop into a hotel gift shop!

Vintage Recipe Redo and Swap Project: This recipe redo/swap idea was brought to life by Christiana of Burwell General Store upon finding a cool vintage hymnal/recipe book at a swap meet in Arizona. She had the vision of bringing those recipes back to life with a twist. We redo/swappers must change at least three things to make it our own and stay true to the intent of the recipe. There is a growing group of international talent wielding their monthly vision in our recipe swap. You can check them out by clicking their links below or via the link for Christianna’s blog above.  We never know what each other will do!  All recipes will be posted by 6 p.m. PST on Sunday October 2, 2011.


  1. says

    Thanks all for your generous comments!

    Jacqueline: I DID follow through and turn the Buddha over to the requesting friend. 'Painful' would not begin to describe the hand off!

    Anonymous: See above; sadly no photo to share! I will say every time I look at a Thai Buddha I hear Yeo's voice critiquing the physicality of it! I learned a lot.

    Barb: There are Buddhas in many Asian countries and they all are handled differently. In Thailand many of the Buddha’s have artifacts sealed inside them. Also this one was an antique so that may be the nature of it. When my Buddha was delivered it had been excavated as there was a patch. This import regulation may have changed or really only be for notably older Buddhas which could house treasures considered ‘holy’.

    Toni (BL)

  2. says

    This post was awesome! As far as uninspired recipes go, I would say you made the best of things. I love the salad – the ingredients- the new kitchen gadget I must find and reading about your adventures through Bangkok.

  3. says

    You definitely found your inspiration on this; outstanding swap. And I can't wait to find one of these pro slicers- looks like it could take the place of my often used mandolin in many instances!

    • says

      Hi Shannon! Thanks for popping by. This salad is delicious. Not sure you can actually buy green papaya at this time of year but I'll look forward to having it again in the heat of summer. Great to meet you this week!

  4. sbo says

    This is a very good article. Thank you for a great information.
    Looks really yummy.
    I like to eat papaya salad, I like Thai Food.


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