THE BITE: Thai food is one of my (many) weaknesses. I have a special place in my heart (read: stomach) for its spicy, sweet, pungent, sour, textural goodness. Complex and varied, I never get tired of it. Today on The Bite, we’ll delve into the wonders of green papaya salad, with the help of Thai Basil, at 3682 Nostrand Avenue, between Avenue W and Avenue X.
Green papaya salad is a ubiquitous dish in Southeast Asia, known in Thailand as som tam (literally translated as sour pounded). It is made with papayas that are unripe so they are tangy and not yet sweet, and in this dish they are cut into long thin strips so if you didn’t know, you might mistake them for some kind of vegetable stalks. The papaya is then pounded with lime juice, chili, palm sugar and fish sauce using a mortar and pestle. Next the papaya is mixed with the customers’ choice of sliced string beans, tomatoes, shrimp paste, and dried salted tiny shrimps. In Thailand this is done street-side and swiftly put into a clear plastic bag, juices and all, to be consumed without utensils, often together with fried chicken and sticky rice.
The Thai Basil version was Americanized in a few ways: a few leaves of lettuce were added at the bottom to more closely resemble what we think of as salad; they went easy on the fish sauce; and they excluded the shrimp. Instead of slicing the papaya lengthwise with a knife, it was prepared with a grater so the pieces were smaller and soaked up the lime juice dressing really well. These changes did not bother me in the least- the salad was delicious, super fresh and crunchy. The customer here doesn’t get a choice of add-ins, it just comes with sliced tomato and string beans, but the spiciness level is adjusted to order- I ordered it extra spicy, and that’s just how I got it. Also, it comes in a dish with a fork, so it’s a little easier to eat than out of a drippy plastic bag.
At $6.00 for a nice portion size, my stomach (and heart) were really happy with this savory mound of shredded fruit.
Thai Basil, 3682 Nostrand Avenue, (718) 891-8889.
– Sonia Rapaport
The Bite is Sheepshead Bites’ weekly column where we explore the foodstuffs of Sheepshead Bay. Each week we check out a different offering from one of the many restaurants, delis, food carts, bakeries, butchers, fish mongers, or grocers in our neighborhood. If it’s edible, we’ll take a bite.