For many westerners, the idea of a salad is pretty simple, and usually revolves around lettuce and other veggies. But once you start exploring other culinary trends, you’ll find that ‘salad’ is a pretty broad term, and nowhere is that more evident than in Thailand. The Thais use a multitude of fresh ingredients to make up a large variety of dishes that technically qualify as salad. I’m a huge fan of all of these, and here are ten of my personal favorites.
1. Somtam (green papaya salad)
Definitely the most well-known Thai salad – possibly even the best known Thai dish period – is green papaya salad, or somtam in Thai. There are many variations, but the main ingredients include shredded green papaya, tomatoes, chilies, dried shrimp, peanuts, palm sugar, lime juice, and fish sauce. Fermented fish paste and small whole crabs are popular extra additions, although hold your nose if you opt for these – whew! The papaya is crisp and fresh, while the dressing is tangy, sweet, and spicy. You’ll have a hard time finding a Thai person who doesn’t consider this a staple dish.
2. Larb moo (minced pork salad)
Who said salads need to be vegetable based? In Thailand, salads range from spicy veggie combinations, to meat salads bursting with freshness. Larb moo is a famous Thai salad that mainly consists of minced pork and a few slices of liver dressed in an exciting mix of lime juice, fish sauce, ground toasted rice (for a lovely crunch), chilies, and sprigs of mint.
3. Yam kor moo yang (grilled pork neck salad)
Tender grilled pork neck sliced into bite sized pieces is the main ingredient for this salad. The smoky flavored pork is joined with tomatoes, onions, chilies, a variety of herbs, and then tossed with the common Thai dressing of fish sauce, lime juice, and sugar for a dense and delicious meat salad.
4. Yam pla duk foo (catfish salad)
Fried catfish salad is a serious Thai comfort food. Though it’s made with catfish, it’s more like a pillow of crispy catfish essence. The crunchy fluff is nothing without the sauce; a spicy mixture of green mango, peanuts, red onions, and garlic swimming in lime juice and fish sauce. Grab a piece of the catfish crunch, combine it with the sauce, and you’ve got an irresistible bite of diverse textures and flavors.
5. Yam mamuang (green mango salad)
Similar to som tam, yam mamuang is the green mango version of the salad. The shredded green mango is not quite as crisp as the green papaya, but it offers a pleasant sourness that excites the taste buds. Green mango salad makes a great addition to any meal centered around Isaan cuisine, the spicy food native to the northeastern region of Thailand.
6. Yam takrai (lemongrass salad)
Though lemongrass is normally boiled to extract its aromatic smells and flavors, it’s also a wonderful ingredient to eat as-is. The tough, starchy herb is sliced into extremely thin slivers, making it easy to chew, which unleashes a remarkable lemon-fresh flavor. The lemongrass is often accompanied with shrimp and some toasted cashew nuts.
7. Yam kai dao (fried egg salad)
Thais love to eat eggs, especially when they are fried eggs. For this salad, the eggs are fried and chilled, sliced into pieces, and mixed with sweet white onions, celery leaves, and tomato wedges. The entire mixture is combined with lime juice, fish sauce, and sugar to create a healthy approach to eating fried eggs!
8. Yam woon sen (glass noodle salad)
Glass noodle salad, which is clear noodle threads made from mung beans, is yet another local favorite. The noodles are combined with minced pork, often a selection of seafood, tomatoes, chilies, and herbs before the trinity of Thai dressing ingredients (fish sauce, lime juice, sugar) are added. It’s refreshing, full of textures, and wonderfully flavorful.
9. Yam tua poo (winged bean salad)
Winged bean salad is one of the only Thai salads that is not dressed in fish sauce, lime juice and sugar. Instead, the beans are cooked and diced, paired with shrimp, and combined in a creamy peanut sauce. Additionally, slices of boiled egg are added to the dish to make it a well-rounded, protein rich Thai salad.
10. Som tam ponlamai (fruit salad)
Thais are simply masters when it comes to mixing sweet and savory. I normally don’t like the thought of chopped up fruit that’s salty and spicy, but Thai fruit salad is remarkably good. The tropical ingredients and the contrast of the sweet chunks of pineapple, apple, guava, and rose apple smothered in fish sauce and chilies really works well!
Those are my top ten favorite Thai salads, but there are plenty more out there, and many variations of each one. Do you have a favorite that’s not listed here? Tell us below!