If any dish is Thailand’s national dish, som tam is it. A cold, spicy papaya salad made from green papaya, eggplant, tomatoes, dried shrimp, garlic, lime, fish sauce, sugar and chilis, som tam is served at hundreds of thousands of restaurants all over Thailand, as well as at several million street stalls.
If you’re new in Thailand and haven’t eaten som tam yet, first of all, you must. After all, it’s not only delicious but also low-calorie and healthy. In fact, most of my Thai friends eat it when they want to lose weight as they all say som tam is “the perfect diet food”.
With that in mind, where are the best places to eat som tam in Bangkok, Thailand and what is the average price you can expect to pay?
Street Stalls – The absolute best places to eat som tam in Bangkok are at one of the tens of thousands of street stalls that sell it as, here, you will get authentic som tam the way the Thais eat it. As this spicy green papaya salad is also made right before your eyes while you wait, you’re guaranteed to be eating the freshest, purest and tastiest som tam in Thailand – bar none.
As for which street stalls you should order som tam from, it’s easy to figure out the ones that serve the best. Simply look for stalls selling som tam that are crowded with Thais and that is an absolute certainty that particular eatery sells the best som tam in the area, as Thais will never eat food at a low-quality stall.
Price – Expect to pay anything from 25-35 baht (77 cents to $1.12) for an average sized plate of som tam, although some stalls will give you so much it will easily feed two.
Chatuchak Weekend Market – Chatuchak is known by Thais as having some of the best food in Bangkok and at dirt-cheap, street stall prices. Again, look for the small outdoor restaurants serving som tam that are crowded with Thais and you’ll know you’re likely to find some of the best som tam at the market here. You can get to Chatuchak Market via the BTS sky train to Mo Chit station. Once at the station, just follow the enormous crowds.
Price – Similar to average street stalls around Bangkok with maybe a 10 baht (33 cents) increase.
La Deng – If my Thai friends want to eat som tam in a slightly more upscale environment than a street stall, almost all of them will suggest we meet at La Deng. Located in the Silom area of Bangkok, they open just after breakfast time and stay open until 9pm so, no matter when you’re jonesing for good som tam, you can eat it at La Deng.
La Deng is just a small typical Thai ‘shophouse’ restaurant, meaning it has concrete walls and floors, basic furniture and is open to the elements at the front. That means, while fans blow the air around a little bit, it’s not that much cooler than outside. For the som tam, however, it’s well worth the warm air.
The beauty of La Deng too is, while the owner does make a few other dishes, she concentrates on various types of som tam. So you can order traditional som tam with dried shrimp, or with crab, salted egg or fried fish. My favorite som tam at La Deng is the version with the crispy fried pork skins — sure, it’s not as ‘low-calorie’, but it certainly is delicious.
La Deng is easy to find. Just take the BTS skytrain to the Silom station and walk a couple of blocks down to the huge Bangkok Bank head office. La Deng is right across the street.
Price – Dishes start at 50 baht ($1.60) for basic som tam and go up to 65-70 baht ($2.10 to $2.25) for more involved dishes.
Cafe Chilli – If you don’t mind paying about treble the price of normal som tam in Bangkok, Cafe Chilli is a wonderful place to eat it. It’s my favorite place simply because the restaurant is in the upscale Siam Paragon shopping center, it’s beautifully designed, luxuriantly air-conditioned and the som tam they serve is excellent.
At Cafe Chilli, you can order a huge variety of som tam dishes — from the basic Thai som tam to pickled crab som tam, salmon som tam, fish som tam and som tam with blue crab, which I’ve never seen anywhere else. Or, if you’re not in the mood for som tam but your friends or family are, Cafe Chilli also serves some excellent set lunches, with a variety of Thai dishes you can sample.
You’ll find Cafe Chilli on the basement floor of Siam Paragon, just a few restaurants further up than the Food Hall close to The Lagoon.
Price – More expensive than most other places that sell som tam in Bangkok, Cafe Chilli’s prices start at 110 baht ($3.54) for basic som tam and go up to over 300 baht ($9.90), which is incredibly expensive for som tam in Thailand. For a special occasion, however, it’s worth it.