Laos: Tam Mak Hoong Sen Khao Poon

Restaurant: Green Champa Garden null
Address: 42318 Fremont Boulevard
City: Fremont, California

My mom’s brother and sister-in-law came to visit from Australia! They wanted to eat Asian food except Chinese while they were in town, because they don’t have as much variety of Asian restaurants and beef prices are higher in Australia. I wrote down a list of restaurants arranged by country, and Lao food was chosen for tonight’s dinner.

Green Champa Garden is a restaurant that specializes in both Thai and Lao cuisine. We ordered mostly Lao dishes. I’ll be blogging about two dishes we had, an appetizer (this post) and a noodle soup dish.

Green Champa Garden makes their papaya salad in two ways. The Thai version has papaya mixed with lime juice, garlic, dried shrimp, chili pepper, long bean, tomato, and peanuts. The Lao version has papaya mixed with lime juice, garlic chili pepper, noodle, and tomato with fish paste, with rice noodles on the side. Both versions were priced at $6.50 USD. We went with the Lao version and requested mild spiciness.


The Lao version had papaya salad with noodles served on the side. The noodles are meant to be mixed together with the papaya salad.

The noodles helped absorb some of the sauce, balancing the saltiness and spiciness.

Here’s a bit of info about the Lao papaya salad, from daianddal:

Tum mak hoong is a popular Lao dish that is fast becoming more well known around the world for its unique spiciness and flavour. The term “tum” in Laos means to “smash and mix” and “mak hoong” is papaya. You can pretty much “tum” any vegetable; carrots, cucumber, beans – vegetables that have a crunch to it. Traditionally made with raw papaya, this is one salad that really packs a flavour punch. Cooked vermicelli noodles also goes well with the salad as it can help balance out the spiciness of the dish and soak up the sauce.

And more info from Wikipedia:

Green papaya salad is a spicy salad made from shredded unripe papaya. It is of Lao origin but it is also eaten throughout Southeast Asia. It is locally known in Laos as tam som (Lao: ຕໍາສົ້ມ) or the more specific name tam maak hoong (Lao: ຕໍາໝາກຫຸ່ງ, Lao pronunciation: [tàm.ma᷆ːk.hūŋ]).

The dish combines the five main tastes of the local cuisine: sour lime, hot chili, salty, savory fish sauce, and sweetness added by palm sugar. The ingredients are mixed and pounded in a mortar; The general Lao name tam som literally means “pounded sour”.

In Laos, green papaya salad is one of the traditional staples of the Lao. Pounded salads in Laos all fall under the parent category of tam som, which may or may not contain green papaya, however, when no specific type of tam som is mentioned, it is generally understood to refer to green papaya salad. For absolute clarity, however, the name tam maak hoong may be used, since this name means “pounded papaya”.

Green papaya salad is often served with sticky rice and ping gai (grilled chicken). It can also be eaten with fresh rice noodles (sen khao poon) or simply as a snack by itself with, for instance, crispy pork rinds. The dish is often accompanied by raw vegetables on the side to mitigate the spiciness of the dish.

If you’ve tried both the Thai and Lao versions, which one did you like better?

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