Bangkok’s sweet, approachable version of Isaan’s sour and spicy papaya salad can be found at practically every Thai restaurant across the city, as well as hundreds of street-side stalls. For when the craving hits while you’re shopping, we’ve tested six popular chains to see who makes it best in the sanitary confines of Bangkok’s malls.
The taste: With a strong smell, a deep color and a whole load of chilis, this one looks promising—and it delivers. It balances sour and spicy elements with a sweetness that’s not overpowering, along with thick, crunchy shreds of papaya and addictively chewy dried shrimp.
Verdict: Hot stuff.
Various locations. Try G/F, Siam Paragon, 991 Rama I Rd., 0-2610-7616
Bangkok Bold Kitchen RUNNER UP!
The taste: Lacking vibrancy and looking a little mushy, we didn’t have high hopes for this contender. However, its addictively zingy, spicy and not-too-sweet taste won us over. The high-quality shell-less shrimp are an added bonus.
Verdict: Bold move.
Various locations. Try Central Embassy, 1031 Phloen Chit Rd., 091-424-4292
The taste: This is an inoffensive, typical som tam Thai. The papaya is thick and crunchy, the shrimp are large and chewy and the tomatoes are thankfully not pounded into pulp. The taste; however, is a little too sweet and flat.
Verdict: Average Joe.
Various locations. Try B/F, EmQuartier, 695 Sukhumvit Rd., 02-261-0239
The taste: This one offers nice crunchy shreds but a lack of depth. Though it smells limey, it’s far too sweet with only a slight hint of sourness and hardly any spicy kick—perhaps making it a good intro for the uninitiated.
Verdict: Gimme more fyah.
Silom Complex, 191 Silom, 02-231-3173
Som Tam Nua
The place: Siam Square’s som tam specialist often welcomes long queues and was even hailed “Bangkok’s best som tam restaurant” by CNN Travel way back in 2010.
The taste: It looks like a peachy mess with its diluted, pale color. It smells incredibly limey and tastes like artificial lime juice. The papaya lacks crunch, the taste is too sweet and lacks saltiness.
Verdict: Not so peachy.
392/14 Siam Square Soi 5, 02-251-4880
The place: With over 100 branches and counting across Thailand, Laos, Myanmar and Cambodia, this Isaan chain has been at it since 1989.
The taste: Though the deep color appears just right, the way-too-thin shreds of papaya send alarm bells ringing. The taste, too, is disappointing—much too salty, very sweet and completely lacking a sour kick.
Verdict: Thin chance.
2/F, The Seasons Phahonyothin Soi 1, 02-111-2048