Mali Chaiya, who goes by her nickname “Toy,” specialises in som tam (papaya salad) at her open-air stall, Toy Rose Sab, in Chiang Mai. She’s had the small restaurant for 20 years, deciding to open it because she loves cooking food for people — and both locals and visitors are happier for it. Som tam might be one of the more common dishes in Thailand, but it’s not always created equal. Because the ingredients are so simple, they need to be prepared with care and a keen eye for detail — something Toy brings to every plate she serves.
Ingredients for the spicy, savoury yet ultra-fresh dish are birds eye chilies, tomatoes, green beans, fish sauce, palm sugar and fresh lime juice — all mixed by hand with a pestle and mortar. If you don’t want things too spicy, go for the som tam Thai, which is made with dried shrimp and is a little tamer on the tongue. But if your spice metre is on the higher side, order the more fiery black crab som tam.
Toy feels that people like coming to her stall because she offers all the freshest ingredients and is always very selective about what she uses to make her vibrant salads — a dedication to quality that’s apparent with every bite.