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Nov 14, 2010 02:08 PM

Lao Papaya Salad - Odd Items

We went to our favorite Thai restaurant on Friday, and I ordered the papaya salad lao style. It was tasty, complicated, and (of course) extremely spicy. We had a ton of food at the table, so I thought I'd save most of it for leftovers, when I could pair it with a glass of milk.

Today, I notice something crunchy in the salad. I find what looks like a piece of crab shell. Digging deeper, I find an entire claw, more crab shell, a giant olive pit, and what appeared to be papaya skins. It seemed like everything that had been separated out of the ingredients had accidentally been reincorporated.

So I called the restaurant, and the owner's daughter explained that the skins were olive skins, and that this is the authentic preparation. Because so many restaurants exclude the crab and olive to cut costs, customers want to see that stuff in the salad.

Has anyone encountered this? This place is very professional, and serves excellent food, so I have no reason to doubt the explanation. But why would customers demand the inclusion of inedible (not to mention sharp) items in their food? Is this just the tradition that goes along with the dish?


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  1. It's hard for me to imagine any default lao papaya salad having crab and olives in it. And why a huge olive pit or splintered crab shell? Was the crab raw? Anyway, it doesn't match the Lao food I've had.

    2 Replies
    1. re: Steve

      I was told the crab was pickled. I know it's common to keep, for example, the kaffir lime leaf and ginger in a bowl of Tom Kha Gai, but those continue to impart flavor. What do crab shells and an olive pit do for me?

      This is very weird.

      1. re: Steve

        Ok I take this back. A Lao lady that runs a Thai restaurant near me made me some tom muer, which was a "kitchen sink" dish of mixed vegetables and noodles. One time I had this with shrimp and vermicelli, and another time with just vegetables and square noodles. The first time it came with a huge olive pit (the size of an avocado pit).

      2. i wonder if the pit was from pickled makok and not an olive...?

        4 Replies
        1. re: goodhealthgourmet

          She referred to them as lao olive, and Google says you are probably right. Is it standard practice to include the skins and the pit in the salad?

          1. re: kevin47

            In a true authentic laotian papaya salad , the crab is an absolute must. It adds sweetness and more flavour.

            1. re: mmmduck

              It is often left in (especially if it is being served to Lao customers). Lao, Burmese and Thai papaya salads with salted crab are very similar so I'll post a pic of a recent purchase from a Burmese food festival:

              1. re: fmed

                Well I'll be darned. I guess the only thing I could have asked for was a plating, as above, where the shell was clearly visible. Good to know I can continue to have confidence in the place.

        2. The Thai version sometimes includes tiny, tiny little crunchy dried crabs. Almost always has tiny dried shrimp. I'm guessing the Lao version is just a little more rustic. Sounds interesting. I'll have to ask my friends who travel to Laos frequently.

          1. Yes, Laotian papaya salad is typically spicier and more complex than the Thai version, since the Thai version lacks Laotian olives (Mak Kok), pickled crab, and Laotian fish sauce (Padaek). Laotian papaya salad may also include pork rinds, peanuts, or dried shrimps for the extra crunch in the salad and depending on the individual's preferences.

            Pickled crab is just one of the many options when making Laotian papaya salad. It's quite tasty. There's nothing rustic about eating pickled crab especially when the Japanese eat raw octopus. Each cuisine has its own delicacies. If anyone is willing to try raw octopus at a Japanese restaurant, then the pickled crab in Laotian papaya salad shouldn't be a problem. =)