When my mom and I were travelling in Bangkok and Pattaya many years ago, we ate Som tam (raw papaya salad) in almost every street-food stall that we went to, accompanied with aromatic bowlfuls of noodle soups and the best dessert of all time – sticky rice with mango.
If there’s one thing I’ve leant from cooking Thai food, following a recipe to a tee never works; it’ll be close, but a little tweaking is always required to get the perfect balance of flavours that you envisaged. I agree that this is the case with whatever dish you cook, but it’s more so with Thai since most (if not all) dishes use sour, umami, sweet and spicy elements in their base—lime, shrimp paste, fish sauce, palm sugar, and chilli. You will need to add a little pinch of this, and a dab of that, to really make it sing.
Toast the peanuts in a dry pan until slightly darkened around the edges. Set aside.
Peel off the skin of the mango using a peeler or a knife. Hold the mango in one hand and making sure your fingers are tucked away, hack away at the mango using your knife until you get lots of vertical cuts; shave the top layer—you’ll get lots of julienned slivers. Repeat until all you’re left with is the seed. (Alternatively you could use a grater to do this, but I find that it becomes too wet and soggy).
Add the garlic cloves and chilli to a mortar and pestle along with salt, and pound until the garlic is completely crushed and the chilli is reduced to small bits (Alternatively, use a mixer or chop with a knife).
Add lime juice, palm sugar, and fish sauce to the mortar and mix until fully incorporated and the sugar is completely dissolved. Taste and adjust seasoning at this stage.
To serve, add the mango slivers to a bowl. Crush the tomatoes with your hands and add that along with coriander leaves, mint, basil leaves, and half the peanuts. Pour the dressing on top and mix thoroughly until evenly coated. Taste again and adjust seasoning. Garnish with the rest of the peanuts and serve immediately.