Som Tam: Salad of Joy and Pain

Two words, that's all it took and straight away I could tell she was impressed. She may been taken aback at first. I think I may have even flustered the young lady but then she flashed me a wicked white smile, framed by hot, red, pouting lips. She probably didn't get my kind of proposal that often. I mean working night after night, serving up the same old fare to the same old punters, well it must be dull and tedious. Don't get me wrong, the food in Sukhothai is of a high standard and quite delicious but out in the provinces of 'Ornchurch, I doubt very much that anyone ventures beyond the safety net of a green curry or a pad thai. Except for me of course. Because when I saw the new addition to the menu and asked for it as my starter, she was definitely excited.

"You want to try the Som Tam?!"

"Yeah, go on then"

"You try it before?"

"Of course" (I hadn't)

" like it spicy then?!"

"Yeah, I do"

"How hot?! Two chilli hot? Three chilli hot?!"

"Yeah, go on, three chilli hot" I replied, slouching back on my chair, holding up three stubby digits, speech slow, languid and seductive.

And off she went, beaming all the way to the kitchen, glancing back over her shoulder oh so quickly before walking through the swinging doors. 'Was that a wink?' I thought, grinning to myself. Yeah, probably.

Almost immediately after that exchange, I felt a ferocious, sharp shard of pain shoot through my shin bone and up my leg, which jolted me out of my stupor. Opposite me sat Mrs FU with a face framed at first by disapprobation and ire, before melting back into calmness, all batting eye-lashes and sweetness and light.

"Now that you have quite finished flirting with the waitress, would you mind pouring me and Craig some wine?"

I looked to my dear old friend for support but I could tell by the arch of his eyebrow that I wasn't going to get any. I shouldn't have been surprised, Craig professed to me his preference for boys years ago. So there was no getting away with it. I had been caught, busted, St Strabismus had looked down upon me at the wrong moment and for the next five minutes I was made to suffer in silence, the ignominy of wandering eyes.

But then suddenly, she appeared again at our table, my Thai princess - sorry waitress - and placed the plate down in front of me triumphantly and all was well again. Although this time I had to suppress any signs of coquetry. As she stood there waiting, it took me a while to wonder why she hadn't cleared off but of course, she wanted to see how I got on. So with a large fluid action, holding my fork, I scooped up a healthy mouthful of glistening shredded papaya and chomped down with great enthusiasm. And nodded with a smile and a thumbs up. And then I glanced back at my wife and her gay compadre, you know to make sure that I hadn't overstepped the line. Again.

Satisfied, she left us in peace to get on with the business of eating. Mrs FU had her Tom Kha Gai, Craig had his Thai fishcakes and I had my Som Tam. Gorgeous it was too, with lovely sour and sweet flavours, fruity, crunchy textures, the tang of lime and fish sauce and an underlying heat that seemed to build and build with each mouthful. And build and build. And build and build. And..............oh my God, the heat. The searing, overwhelming heat which threatened to engulf my entire person and if it hadn't been for the sweat and the snot that began to cascade from my pores, I am sure my head would have surely burst into flames. I dropped my fork onto the plate and clutching the side of the table, began to smother my face with my napkin to mop up the mess and the ooze.

After an ablution of sorts, I looked up and spied the young waitress peering through a crack in the swinging door with half a dozen older ladies, complete with blue hairnets, giggling. Still thinking I was in the game, I plunged another forkful into my mouth and shakily raised my thumb, chewing like a wide mouth frog with tears dripping from my cheeks. The door shut to raucous laughter. Gently, Mrs FU placed her hand over my trembling thumb and lowered it, cooing "Take it easy now Dan. I think, as usual, you've impressed her enough for one night." To which I dropped my fork in submission and proceeded to drink a whole jug of tap water.

That was the first time I tried Som Tam and I have eaten it a couple of times since, with more or less the same reaction. It truly is a salad of joy and pain and perversely, I can't get enough of it. Yesterday, I tried for the first time to make it at home, following this recipe by Meemalee's Kitchen. However, the papaya I bought in Chinatown, which incidently was £4.50, was too ripe and was therefore useless. So I ended up going to the supermarket to buy some unripe mangoes, which incidently cost me a futher £4.00.

This has been the most painful Som Tam episode yet.

Som Tam

Garlic and "Two" Bird's Eye Chillis

Sour pounding

Giant ripe papaya


meemalee said…
Hahaha! Love it - next time I'm coming shopping with you ;)
Hollow Legs said…
It is truly the salad of pain but I can't get enough of it either. I learnt now to ask for no chillis at all when ordering roadside som tam in Bangkok as all the accumulated chillis already pounded for previous customers in the mortar and pestle is already bum-twitchingly spicy enough.
PDH said…
Having just got back fromThailand Craig would be happy to know most of the princesses are in fact princes...
Alicia Foodycat said…
I love som tam! I'm strictly a 1 chilli girl though. I want it hot enough to make me sweat, not to bleed.
JR said…
Is that your glove Danny?
Kasey said…
Haha. Yes. I have totally been there. After the heat subsides, my nose won't stop running! Seriously, it could go on for hours.

I'm happy I stumbled here. You have yourself a great cooking blog.

Mister North said…
Had it once in a great wee Thai place near here, with an African friend who displays a greater propensity for consuming chilli than anyone else I know.

It was like the fires of Hades had been concentrated and distilled into a salad dressing… not sure I have ever had anything hotter! Luckily even she found it too hot… which made me feel a little less soft and sissy for melting after just a mouthful.

Still, after reading this, part of me wants to try it again. Masochism, eh?! Thanks!

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