Som tum, the Thai papaya salad, really a slaw of sorts is a favorite of mine, crunchy spicy, and often possessed of formidable level of spice. As with most Thai food I prefer to eat it where Thai folks gather, specifically Zabb Elee. I like Zabb because it’s open late and because they have seven types of som tum. These range from a pretty standard Thai version with dried shrimp and peanuts ($8) to the Lao style som tum poo plara ($8). The latter is notable not only because Lao grub is as rare in this town as a humble Yankee fan, but because it does not hold back on the fishy, funky, fiery flavors of Southeast Asia.
Half of a preserved blue crab—salty and funky yet still sweet and juicy—sits atop a tangle of crunchy papaya, long beans, hemispheres of Thai eggplant, and, for added crunch, Thai chicharron. The whole affair sits in a shallow pool of liquid that’s a study in fishy, spicy, and citrusy flavors. It’s best ordered spicy with a side of kao neaw, Thai sticky rice ($2). I like to roll the sticky rice into balls and use it to sop up the liquid. Don’t be surprised if your waitress asks if you’ve been to Thailand when she sees you eating like a local.
Zabb Elee, 71-28 Roosevelt Ave, Jackson Heights, 718-426-7992