We stayed in Bangkok for a few days and then traveled to Phuket, an island off the south coast of Thailand. In Bangkok, my fondest memories are of hitching a ride (which could very well be your last) in a tuk tuk to scope the city for the best eats. Whether it was an open-air noodle house or a small roadside stand, the food was always amazing. I can still taste the papaya milkshakes, pork satay, stir-fried rice and vegetables, and papaya salad like it was yesterday. Or an hour ago.
My fondest memory was of this one roadside stand that we visited on more than occasion. The woman who ran it sold fresh papaya salad - made to order. She would begin by grinding an array of spices in her mortar. Then she would add a small crab - still alive - and grind the poor little fella to a pulp. A few other ingredients that I cannot recall went into the mix and finally she would toss it with freshly shredded raw green papaya. It was the best papaya salad I will ever have.
Most would not expect to spot green papaya in such a place as Santa Barbara, but you can find it on occasion at the Santa Barbara Farmers Market. In addition to citrus fruits, Friend's Ranches grows green papaya in Ojai, just southeast of Santa Barbara. I picked up one this week and decided to try to recreate the papaya salad from my memories. I will admit, it is nothing compared to what I experienced in Bangkok, but it comes close enough to satiate my craving - and it is simple and more healthful. I did not add fish sauce or any of the other more traditional spices and sauces, but the familiar flavors are there and made from ingredients that most anyone has lying around.
Enjoy this dish alone for lunch or before your favorite Thai curry, satay or other spicy dish. It cleanses and cools the palate while offering a complexity of flavor.
green papaya salad
1 green papaya
handful cherry tomatoes
1/2 cup chopped raw almonds
handful green beans, sliced lengthwise
1 tbsp raw honey
juice of 1 lemon
1/2 tsp sea salt
1/2 tsp chili powder (or more to taste)
2 tsp toasted sesame oil
Peel the papaya and shred it with a cheese grater or food processor. Slice tomatoes in half. Toss all vegetables together.
Mix honey, lemon, sea salt, chili powder, and sesame oil to make a dressing. Toss with salad. Adjust spice as needed.