Vietnamese Beef and Green Papaya Salad


Have you ever wondered what to do with a green papaya?

During our recent trip to Vietnam we found out.  They were everywhere… piled high on the back of motor scooters, along roadside stands and at all the street markets. They were on many menus as well, mostly in the form of a salad (Som Tam) served with beef or prawns or pork. After having a bad experience with a very fishy green papaya salad in Laos a few years ago, I was a little hesitant to give it another go.  But sitting at a cafe one sweltering day, I spied one on our neighbors table, looking very cooling and light. I gave it try.  At first bite, I was hooked. The papaya was crunchy and thirst quenching, and surprisingly not sweet, but more like shredded carrot or daikon. The beef was over the top amazing, flavored with lemongrass and five spice. It was one of the most refreshing and flavorful salads I have ever had. And I eat a lot of salad. From that day on, I made a point of hunting one down everyday until we left.

If you can’t find a green papaya, don’t fret. The salad can be made with rice noodles or sliced cucumber, shredded carrot, cabbage or daikon….. or probably any other salad type of veggie. Just don’t use a ripe papaya because it will disintegrate. Make sure the papaya is firm to touch. In Vietnam, the papaya was actually a very pale green on the inside too.

Vietnamese food is known for its fresh and healthy ingredients and minimal use of oil.  Because of this it is considered one of the healthiest cuisines in the world. It is also one of the most flavorful. The use of fresh herbs combined with the right balance of spices is what makes Vietnamese food taste and smell so good.  Fresh fruit and vegetables are a huge part of the Vietnamese diet along with lots of fresh seafood and rice. Rice is the main staple from South to North, whether it’s steamed or in the form of a cracker,  rice paper, or rice noodles. Another staple is mam, or a fermented fish sauce which varies regionally and is used in marinades, salad dressings and to flavor many dishes.

The marinade for the beef – is a recipe to hold on to. The combination of flavors (five spice and lemongrass) are surprising and delightful.  The marinade also works great on pork, chicken and tofu, and served with a simple bowl of steamed rice, it’s makes for a perfect healthy dinner.

The only challenging part in making this salad is finding the right tool to shred the papaya. Everything else about the recipe is easy. I bought several different shredder’s while on our trip. It turns out I already had a shredder on my mandolin, but the hand tool shown here is easier to use.  Something like this would work.

Peel the papaya. Cut a little off the bottom to make a flat edge so you can stand it up on end.

Using a shredding tool, shred downwards towards the counter. Immediately place in ice water and let it soak in the fridge for 15-20 minutes.

Cut the beef into bite size pieces, 1/2 inch thick. Tenderloin is recommended, but tri-tip, flank steak, or flatiron steak all work fine. Make the marinade and combine the meat.

If you cook with a lot of lemongrass, it can be purchased at most Asian markets, in the freezer section, already chopped up. Store it in your freezer, so you always have some on hand.

Let the meat sit in the marinade for at least 30 minutes. Grill or sear until just cooked.

Make the dressing.

Drain the papaya and toss with the dressing and place on a plate with some beef and a combination of fresh herbs ( basil, cilantro and mint). Top with roasted peanuts and fried shallots.

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Vietnamese Beef Salad with Green Papaya
by Sylvia Fountaine, Feasting at home May-25-2013
A refreshing, flavorful and healthy Vietnamese beef salad with green papaya.
Yield: 2-3
  •  1 lb beef ( tenderloin, tri tip or flank steak)
  • 2-3 Cups shredded Green Papaya ( or rice noodles)
  • 1 Cup combo of fresh mint, cilantro and basil
  • 2 T roasted crushed peanuts ( optional)
  • 1 T fried shallots ( optional- see below)
  • 2 T fresh lime juice
  • 1 T plus 1 tsp olive oil
  • 1 T plus 1 tsp sugar
  • 2 tsp fish sauce
  • 2 tsp mild red chili- finely sliced
  • 1 finely minced garlic clove
 Beef Marinade: 
  • 1/4 C pounded or finely chopped lemongrass
  • 1/4 C garlic-finely minced or pounded
  • 1 tsp fish sauce
  • 2 tsp sesame oil
  • 1 T oyster sauce
  • 2 T sugar 1/2 tsp pepper
  • 1/4 tsp chili flakes
  • 1 tsp five spice
Make marinade. Slice beef to 1/2 inch thick bite size pieces, toss with marinate and let sit at least 30 minutes. Or refrigerate up to 8 hours. Grill or pan fry until just cooked.
Peel and shred green papaya and place in a bowl of ice water for 15-20 minutes. Alternatively, you could prepare rice noodles following manufacturer’s directions.
Make dressing. Combine lime juice, fish sauce, sugar, oil, chili, garlic.
Drain Papaya and toss(or rice noodles) with dressing to coat. Place on a plate along with beef and a combination of the fresh herbs. Top with roasted peanuts and crispy shallots. Serve with chop sticks.
Fried Shallots- can either be made from scratch, although most Asian markets offer them as a condiment already packaged, which I have found are extremely handy and tasty. They offer good flavor and texture.
Lemongrass can be found in most grocery stores, in the herb or produce section. If you find you cook with lemon grass a lot, a nice option is purchasing it in bulk, already chopped in the freezer section of most Asian markets.
Prep time:
Cook time: Total time:
Yield: 2-3


  1. says

    This is such a gorgeous salad! I’ve never bought a papaya in my life and you’ve inspired me to do so. Looks delicious!

  2. Anonymous says

    Amazing Salad! I just made it and it tastes wonderful. I didn’t know that green papaya wasn’t sweet and it tastes so good. Thanks for sharing.

  3. Anonymous says

    Get yourself a Japanese mandolin slicer from Benriner. I have had mine for years and gave one to my daughter as well. They are the best. Even some of the Iron Chefs use them. If you don’t have an oriental housewares store that carries them, you can order one from Amazon. It comes with three julienne blades. Either the medium or the fine should produce the desired result. (I use mine to make the mango salad. I just peel the mango and slide it against the mandolin with the medium fine julienne blade.

  4. says

    Hello, I am Vietnamese. I know this dish. It is so delicious and my country it is named ” GỎI XOÀI THỊT BÒ”. I love it. You are so talent <3

    • Sylvia Fountaine says

      I love the food from your country….my all time favorite!!! So healthy and flavorful!

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