Eight and Great
A surfeit of papaya salad at Somtum Der
It can be hard enough to find one truly great somtum, or green papaya salad.
But like a merciful herald of Thai deliciousness, the East Village's new Somtum Der is providing not one, but eight delicious shades of somtum.
We chatted with chef Thanaruek "Eh" Laoraowirodge and stopped in to the restaurant (a sister spot to a location in Bangkok) to see what makes his papaya salad so special.
He explained: "The base ingredients of somtum are green papaya, cherry tomatoes, chile, fish sauce, palm sugar and lime. However, somtums are differentiated by the added ingredients, for example, marinated field crabs, fermented fish sauce, salted eggs, grilled pork, mackerel or herbs, all of which will make the taste and texture of each somtum dish different."
The restaurant makes its salads with a giant wooden mortar and pestle, meaning that the addition of salted eggs to the signature tum Thai kai kem ($11) turns the sauce deeply resonant and creamy.
Our favorite accompaniment for a mountainous serving of the salad is the sa poak kai tod der, the deep-fried chicken thigh ($8). It's marinated in garlic, white pepper, coriander, lemongrass and red curry paste for hours before being deep-fried for 15 minutes into a craggy hulk.
If picking between tum kor moo yang ($10; with grilled pork neck meat) and tum poo-plara ($10; with fermented fish sauce and field crabs) feels a tad overwhelming, don't fret--a helpful picture menu is at your service.
Our New York editor, Tressa Eaton, dined unannounced at Somtum Der on October 16. We spent $42 on lunch for two, not including tip. The restaurant grades spice levels on a one to four chile scale: Three chiles left us diving for scoops of coconut rice and sips of Thai iced tea. Read about Tasting Table's recommendation policy.