Goi bo - Beef and green papaya salad

To ease the heat of May in Vietnam, I'd like to introduce you to a fresh, crunchy dish: Gỏi Bò, the beef and green papaya salad.

Goi Bo, unique flavours and textures

This delicious salad is a perfect blend of textures and flavors, combining tender slices of beef with crisp strips of green papaya. The dish is usually seasoned with a zesty blend of lime juice, fish sauce, garlic, chilli and sugar, creating a sweet and tangy sauce that perfectly complements the fresh ingredients. Not only is Gỏi Bò a delicious, light meal, it also has many health benefits. Green papaya is rich in vitamins and minerals, while beef is a good source of protein. The salad is also low in fat and calories, making it an ideal choice for those looking to maintain a healthy diet.

Goi Bo Du Du - The beef and green papaya vietnamese salad - Photo : Internet

Did you know? Goi Bo comes in two versions:
  • Gỏi Bò Khô: This declination uses beef jerky instead of grilled beef. For the record, this dish is emblematic of Ha Noi's shortest street: Hang Che, the one between Cau Go and Tien Hoang, for those familiar with the capital's old quarter.
  • Gỏi Xào Bò: Here, we cook stir-fried beef instead of grilled beef.

Origin and legends of Gỏi Bò

There are several theories about the origin of my favorite salad:
The origin of green papaya salad can be traced back to both Laos and Thailand. In Laos, it is considered one of the national dishes and has been part of the cuisine since the mid-1800s. Papayas and chillies were introduced to Southeast Asia by Spanish and Portuguese explorers in the 17th century. These ingredients were fully integrated into Laotian cuisine, and the tradition of preparing fruit salads, known as tam som, probably influenced the creation of green papaya salad. For his part, Thai historian Sujit Wongthes believes that the dish originated with the Sino-Lao communities living in central Thailand. They adopted the ancient Lao tradition of preparing fruit salads (tam som) and applied it to papayas. This led to the creation of som tam, which became popular during the Rattanakosin period, from the late 18th to early 19th century, and eventually spread throughout northeastern Thailand.
Alternatively, in Cambodia and/or Vietnam, papayas may have been cultivated by Chinese settlers who immigrated from Hainan, China, in the 1500s. Green papaya salad has also become popular in mainland Southeast Asia, particularly in Cambodia, Myanmar and Vietnam. In Vietnam, beef and green papaya salad is known as "gỏi bò" or "gỏi đu đủ".
But in the end, the exact origin of Goi Bo doesn't matter, what really counts is its unique flavor, isn't it?
goi-bo-khoThe Goi Bo Kho version - Photo : Internet


Goi Bo, a legendary flavor

Legend has it that a Vietnamese prince was looking for a way to refresh and invigorate his troops during a military campaign. He experimented with a combination of green papaya, beef, herbs and spices, and the dish was so successful that it became an essential part of Vietnamese cuisine. Another legend tells the story of a young Laotian girl who created Gỏi Bò to win the heart of a Vietnamese prince. She used the best ingredients she could find to prepare the salad, and the prince was so impressed by its taste that he married her. So much for the romantic touch of this dish, which is particularly popular here.

Symbolism and importance of Gỏi Bò in Vietnamese culture

Beyond its delicious, refreshing flavors, this green papaya and beef salad has deep cultural and symbolic significance in Vietnam.

Symbols of prosperity and renewal

The green papaya, with its round shape and bright green color, symbolizes prosperity, growth and new life. Its crunchy texture represents abundance and vitality. The ox, a strong, robust animal, represents strength, power and masculinity. Its presence in Goi Bo is synonymous with prosperity and abundance.
What makes Goi Bo truly special is the balance of its elements and flavors. The dish combines ingredients from different elements: earth (green papaya and vegetables), water (Nuoc Mam sauce), fire (grilled beef) and air (fresh herbs). Even the element of metal is present in the dish, in the form of roasted peanuts or fried onions. This combination symbolizes harmony and balance between the forces of nature.
But balance goes beyond the elements. The dish also embodies the concept of yin and yang, fundamental to Vietnamese philosophy. This is seen in the combination of fresh and cooked, raw and pickled, hot and cold ingredients. All these elements combine to create an explosion of flavors and textures that is both satisfying and invigorating. Goi Bo is truly a dish that embodies the essence of Vietnamese cuisine.
goi-kho-boGoi Bo Kho - The Jerky beef and green papaya vietnamese salad - Photo : Internet


A festive, unifying dish

Gỏi Bò is a dish usually reserved for special occasions. It's a favorite at family reunions, gatherings of friends and important celebrations like Tết. This dish is not just a tasty treat, it's also a symbol of joy, sharing and conviviality. When you enjoy Gỏi Bò with your loved ones, you're reminded of the importance of community and unity.
If reading these few lines has left you wanting more, why not try making this (delicious, I repeat, but it really is) salad yourself?

Recipe for Gỏi Bò

Ingredients (serves 4)

goi-bo-recipe500g green papaya
200g beef tenderloin
1 carrot
1 cucumber
1 red onion
1 garlic clove
1 handful roasted peanuts
1 bunch fresh coriander
1 bunch fresh mint
1 lime
2 tablespoons Nuoc Mam sauce
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon lime juice
1 tablespoon chopped fresh red pepper (optional)
Black pepper

Preparation steps
► Prepare ingredients
Finely grate the green papaya.
Cut beef fillet into thin strips and marinate in 1 tbsp Nuoc Mam sauce, 1 tbsp lime juice and 1 tbsp olive oil for 15 minutes.
Finely julienne the carrot, cucumber and red onion.
Finely chop garlic, coriander and mint.
Chop the roasted peanuts.
► Prepare the sauce
In a bowl, combine remaining Nuoc Mam sauce, sugar, lime juice and chopped chili pepper (if using).
In a large bowl, combine grated green papaya, carrots, cucumber, red onion and minced garlic.
Add marinated beef slices and mix gently.
Stir in chopped coriander, chopped mint and chopped peanuts.
Season with prepared sauce and black pepper to taste.

Serve the Gỏi Bò immediately garnished with fresh mint leaves and lime wedges.
Bon appétit !

Goi Xao Bo - Photo : Internet

Ideas for replacing green papaya
If you can't find green papaya, you can replace it with other green fruits with a crunchy texture, such as:
Green mango: Green mango has a tangy flavor and texture similar to green papaya, but is slightly sweeter.
Green apple: Green apples have a tangy flavor and crunchy texture, but are less juicy than green papaya.
Jicama: Jicama has a neutral flavor and crunchy texture similar to green papaya, but is less fragrant.
Kohlrabi: Kohlrabi is a root vegetable with a slightly tangy taste and crunchy texture. It is a good substitute for green papaya, as it adds an interesting texture and flavor to the dish.

My extra tips

  • Serve Gỏi Bò with fresh rice noodles or white rice.
  • For a spicier Gỏi Bò, add more chopped red pepper to the sauce.
  • You can also add other vegetables to your Gỏi Bò, such as cherry tomatoes, mushrooms or bean sprouts.
  • If you don't have Nuoc Mam sauce, you can replace it with soy sauce mixed with a little lime juice and sugar.
  • This salad can be kept in the refrigerator for 1 to 2 days.
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