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Tum Mak Hoong – Lao papaya salad

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Tum mak hoong is a popular Lao dish that is fast becoming more well known around the world for its unique spiciness and flavour.  The term “tum” in Laos means to “smash and mix” and “mak hoong” is papaya. You can pretty much “tum” any vegetable; carrots, cucumber, beans – vegetables that have a crunch to it. Traditionally made with raw papaya, this is one salad that really packs a flavour punch. Having a balance of sour, salty, spicy and a bit of sweetness is very important which is why this recipe was quite a challenge to put down on paper. We grew up learning how to make this dish by taste – the quantity of each ingredient depends on how much papaya you use. But this is a simple version which anyone can try at home. Tum mak hoong goes well with any grilled meat or pork crackles. Cooked vermicelli noodles also goes well with the salad as it can help balance out the spiciness of the dish and soak up the sauce.

Note: You will need a mortar and pestle to make the salad, see pictures below. And if you can not get your hands on papaya, you can substitute this with carrots, cucumber or beans.

Tum Mak Hoong 

1 Glove garlic

2-4 Chillies

pinch of salt

1 Tablespoon brown sugar

1 teaspoon shrimp paste *

1/4 teaspoon crab paste *

2 Cups shredded raw green papaya

1 Cup of snake beans chopped and pre-smashed in mortar and pestal (optional)

1 Tablespoon fish sauce

1/2 Cup cherry tomatoes

2-3 slices lime or lemon

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1. First you will need to prepare the papaya for the salad.

Peel away the green outer layer of the papaya with a potato peeler. To shred the papaya, there is a knife technique where you hold the papaya in the palm of your hand (or place the papaya on a flat surface), then chop into the papaya and thinly slice into long thin shreds. See pictures below.

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You may also add a bit of carrot and snake beans to give the salad some colour and texture.

2. Combine garlic, chillies, salt, sugar, shrimp paste and crab paste into mortar and pestle and smash until all the ingredients are well combined. (Be careful not to smash too hard or you may get chillies in your eyes)!

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3. Add into the mortar the shredded papaya (and the beans and carrots like what we have done in this instance), then add the fish sauce, cherry tomatoes and lime. Carefully smash the papaya until all the ingredients are combined and the papaya starts to become darker in colour.

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4. Taste the salad to see if the flavours are well balanced. If it is too salty, add more sugar and lime. If it is too sweet, add a little more fish sauce. The end results will be an amazing salad with great flavours that will have you wanting more and more.

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Happy cooking, happy eating.

* Shrimp paste can be found at most mainstream supermarkets in the Asian food section, otherwise both shrimp paste and crab paste can be bought at any Asian food store.

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