Cities Food and drink

Thai cooking class: learning to make papaya salad

One fine Tuesday in Bangkok, in one of those magical impromptu travel moments, we finally ticked off an experience that had been sneakily evading us for months. We took part in a cooking class! And what better place to do it than in Thailand, a country that had thus far bedazzled us with its amazing cuisine?

Thai cooking class group
Our cookery group at Everyday Khaosan Hostel

Way back in August, on a short stay in Valparaíso – a city that stole our hearts – we got very excited when we heard about a famous Chilean cooking class that included a trip out to local markets to barter for the ingredients. Alas, at such short notice we couldn’t fit it into our trip, and the price was a bit beyond our budget anyhow.

Months later, on a Fijian island, the resort at which we were staying offered a local cooking class as part of its regular activities for guests. But, once again, the stars would not align; we signed up, geared up and turned up, but the chef did not!

Therefore it was a gleeful smile that spread across our faces when, as we were checking out of a Bangkok hostel, the woman behind the desk said to us: “we’re about to do a free cooking class. Learn to make papaya salad. Want to come?” Yes. Yes, we did.

The hostel – Everyday Khaosan Bangkok – was already one our very favourites, with its chilled social atmosphere, comfy hang-out areas and funny, friendly staff. Best of all, it had given us our first hot showers in about six weeks. Now it was upping the ante even further.

Thai cooking class Alex
My attempt at making papaya salad

A table in the middle of the main hang-out area was readily prepared with ingredients, and we gathered around with a crowd of hostel-dwellers as the woman, whose name was Dream, explained how to make a papaya salad. It’s a dish we had already tried a few times and liked a lot; it can be difficult to maintain a balanced diet when living off Thailand’s cheap-eat stalls, and so we often ordered it as a healthy side to share.

The recipe, as demonstrated by Dream with humour and energy, went as follows.

Ingredients (one serving)

  • A couple of garlic cloves
  • A couple of red chillies
  • A spoonful of tamarind juice
  • A spoonful of palm sugar, melted with water into a syrup
  • A spoonful of fish sauce
  • A few handfuls of grated papaya (with a sprinkling of grated carrots mixed in)
  • A handful of peanuts
  • A handful of dried shrimp
  • Half a lime
  • A couple of small tomatoes
  • A couple of green beans

The recipe could also be made vegan quite easily by leaving out the shrimp and fish sauce. If you are travelling in Thailand as a vegan, take a look at these excellent tips on vegan travel in the country.

Thai cooking class papaya saladMethod

Using a large pestle and mortar and metal spoon, Dream lightly pounded the garlic and chillies together before adding the tamarind juice, palm sugar, fish sauce, peanuts, shrimp, and a little of the papaya, and tossing it all up a bit more.

She then squeezed in the juice of the lime and loosely chopped in the tomatoes and green beans, gradually mixing it all the while. Finally, she threw in the rest of the papaya and carrot mixture, and stirred it all up together with the pestle and spoon for a good couple of minutes.

To apply the final touch of perfection, she taste-tested the mixture and added in a bit of extra lime and tamarind to balance the flavour. Satisfied, she served it up into a bowl and passed it around for us all to taste. Needless to say, it was delicious.

Thai cooking class Lisa
Lisa’s effort was a bit better than mine!

One by one, we each took a turn to attempt making it, with Dream on hand to encourage and advise. Mine was pretty good, Lisa’s better, but neither as good as the original! Perhaps with a bit of practice we can perfect it back home – that’s if we can find all the ingredients in London.

We’ve been talking for some time now about hosting international food nights for friends when we return, trying out the dishes we’ve been discovering along our journey. We can now add papaya salad to the likes of pineapple fried rice, pad thai, massaman curry and chilli basil chicken when we do Thai night. Who’s in?


  1. Thai cuisine is one of my top 3 favorite cuisines, after Italian, and my native Keralite. I like to cook and have prepared Som Tam quite a few times. I’ve never added dried shrimp to the mix though. Next time perhaps…

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