Early this year my Thai partner Wonderful Wi set up shop in our village garden selling som tum (spicy papaya salad). A Thai style thatch roof kitchen was built and the village’s newest snack service rolled out. It wasn’t by any means an innovative business idea, but there was a hungry market out there willing to be fed.
Thai Village Life – Selling Som Tum
There’s good days and bad days. A rush of customers sometimes, a drizzle now and then, and occasionally a near drought. Business started with a boom. That has now slowed to a hard-core of customers and steady passing trade. That’s much in line with most small village food stalls. Most folk tend to grab their snacks not pedalling too far or taking too much gas from the tank. Getting on with your neighbours is good business sense.
How do you describe som tum’s taste and flavour? Red-hot, fiery, sweet, sour, peppery, pungent, tangy … take your pick. Any three will do. The salad’s high red chilli content makes it a very hot-tempered dish. Click on the photograph to enlarge.
Som tum is a big favourite with Thai women. They say it doesn’t taste as good eaten alone and is better shared with family and friends. I tend to avoid those social gatherings because full blown som tum is too spicy for me.
The basic ingredients to make som tum are tomatoes, a small lime, shredded papaya, red chillies, garlic cloves, fermented fish sauce and the somewhat controversial flavour enhancer monosodium glutamate. Rice field black crab (poo-na) or shrimp are often pounded into the mix. Chinese noodles can be added to the mortar as well.
Wilai sells som tum for 30 baht a plateful or takeaway bag. There is seating next to the beach bar style kitchen. My som tum ‘special’ is red chili free with extra pork crunchies. I can flirt with the red-hot all-out version but a good mouthful smelts my taste buds senseless. The milder sketch is an enjoyable lunchtime snack.
Profits aren’t eye-opening figures. Wilai’s income is anything between 100 – 250 baht a day. The bonus is, the kitchen also doubles as her flower workshop. Wilai sells flower garlands at the local town’s twice monthly Buddhist Day market. Luckily for her, flower power outpaces som tum in the profit stakes.
Have you got a taste for Thailand’s spicy papaya salad, som tum?
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© 2014, Martyn. All rights reserved.