On our first day in Mae Hong Son, a crazy lady in the morning market realized, as we were inspecting her “for rent” sign, that we were in search of an apartment. She didn’t speak any English, so she dragged us by the arm to a small restaurant on the main road, where she enlisted the help of the chef to serve as translator for our housing negotiation. We decided that her apartment was too far away from town and too expensive, but we took note of the restaurant location and decided to return for lunch.
It turned out to be the first of many meals at Som Tam Hut, a new, sparklingly clean papaya salad joint. We learned on that first visit that the tiny restaurant was owned by a pretty Thai woman, Lala, and her Dutch fiancé, Tobey, who was also the entire wait staff. Lala slaves away in the kitchen, pounding traditional Isan-style papaya salads in her big mortar and pestle. We learned later that she also sings at the only nightclub in town, which we still need to check out one of these days. Tobey is a friendly guy, who took an interest in our housing search and our volunteer work, and offered us some advice on places to check out in the area.
The menu offers a few varieties of papaya salads, although the most popular is the classic, Som Tam Thai. Lala makes hers on a spiciness scale with choices of: Zero => Mild => Normal => Spicy => Hot. Tobey and Lala were skeptical when we ordered ours “Hot,” but Lala agreed to prepare it that way. It certainly was hot, but also extremely delicious, with chili-lime-fish sauce dressing that dribbled down onto my chin and burned my skin. I loved it. The fresh shredded green papaya, crunchy peanuts, carrots, tomatoes, and secret formula dressing made a perfect combination. It wasn’t the first Thai papaya salad I had tried, but it was certainly one of the best-executed. We also tried some new things: Som Tam Fruit, which is similar to the traditional salad, but made with pineapple, tomato, rose apple, grapes, peanuts, chilies, and the same delicious spicy dressing; and eating sticky rice, with our hands, as a papaya salad accompaniment.
The English menu (Thai menu here if that’s your style). I love #2 and #5.
Lala’s ingredients are always fresh – Kenny and I often run into her at the morning market – and she is not afraid to scratch certain items off her menu on days that she can’t find high-quality fruits and vegetables.
Ever since that first visit to Som Tam Hut, we’ve been telling ourselves we’ll branch out and try new things, but we we are so addicted to the Som Tam Thai and Som Tam Fruit (with a side of sticky rice, of course), that we haven’t actually done it yet. Once when Daniel was visiting we all shared a side of fried chicken, which was, well, fried chicken. It was a bit greasy and seemed out of place next to our healthy delicious salads. We come here so often that we were the first farang to fill up a buy-10-salads-get-one-free card, and we’re well on our way to completing a second.
Som Tam Hut
Singhanart Bamrung, near the intersection with Khunlum Paraphat
Mae Hong Son, Thailand