Thai Salads: A Comprehensive Guide To The Different Styles
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Given how many different variations of Thai salads exist worldwide, it might feel dizzying to really get a sense of whether you’ve managed to try each one. Each type of Thai salad is usually made with a variety of ingredients, with specific characteristics that make them slightly varied in composition and concept. What’s really common between the types of Thai salads is the key ingredients used to make the dressing – namely fish sauce, lime juice, sugar and chillies. Each of these ingredients contribute a specific type of flavour and shared across all categories. Although Thai salads involve a straightforward tossing together of ingredients, not always do these salads work with raw components – rather have a similar approach to salad-making.


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The idea of a ‘yam’ salad involves using bits of everything – meat, vegetables, noodles and even leftovers from the fridge, with protein at the centre. Most traditional yams also use onions or celery for crunch and ingredients like herbs and tomatoes for freshness. Yam salads can be classified by their bright, balanced dressing which ticks all the primary flavour boxes – sweet, salty, spicy and sour. Garlic and coconut milk are also used at times to boost the overall taste of a preparation.


Found in both, Thai and Lao cuisines – tam-style salads combine the primary taste of the salad – som, meaning sour – with the technique used to make it – tam, meaning pounding. Synonymous most commonly with a green papaya salad, other variations of som tam include vegetables like cucumber and corn. The goal of pounding the ingredients for a tam salad is to lightly crush the ingredients so that they release their juices and aromas, after which it is mixed together in the traditional Thai mortar. Unlike most other types of salads, the tam doesn’t necessarily have protein as a key component.

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Laab/Naam Tok

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What most people refer to as larb is infact the Thai laab salad from Laos and northeastern Thailand. Made with finely chopped or ground meats which are cooked and tossed in a dressing of lime juice, fish sauce, chillies and mint, the laab salad also uses toasted rice powder or khao khua as its key ingredient. Protein from pork, duck, chicken and b**f are mainly used for the laab but isn’t exclusive of offals like pork liver or rind. With leading flavours being sour and spicy, the laab also derives freshness from shallots, cilantro, mint and even lemongrass.