Tuesday, 6 August 2013

Atchara - Filipino Pickled Green Papaya

Being of Filipino background, I always wonder why Filipino cuisine isn't as popular or prevalent as other Asian cuisines.  There's only a handful of Filipino restaurants in Sydney.   And it can't be because there's a small volume of Filipino immigrants in Australia - there's actually a large community of around 190,000.  

A strange mix of influences shape Filipino cuisine.  Writer Monina A. Mercado cleverly explained that "Filipino food was prepared by Malay settlers, spiced by Chinese traders, stewed in 300 years of Spanish rule, and hamburgered by American influence".  So surely there's something to appeal to everyone!

Growing up with my mum's cooking, I learned that a really important feature of Filipino cuisine is contrast - particularly the sweet/savoury, or sweet/sour combinations.  When we ate dishes like Lechon (roast pork) or something fried (i.e. 50% of Filipino cuisine...) Mum would always serve Atchara as an accompaniment.  

Atchara is a Filipino pickle that uses green papaya as a base.  You can't easily find green papaya out of season in Australia, but you can get them during summer at the food markets or at Asian grocery stores.  Admittedly I'm posting this article months after I made my batch of Atchara, but it keeps really well and still tastes great!

I tracked down some green papaya at a grocery store in Haymarket. Two large ones yield quite a few jars of Atchara.  Grating or julienning all of the papaya takes a long time, so I'd recommend using a mandolin.  The green papaya is mixed with onion and carrot, and sometimes even capsicum, so you get a great combination of colours in the jar.  

After a thorough inspection, my folks approved my first attempt at Atchara, but their only criticism was that it wasn't as sweet as they usually like it. They love having something sweet to balance something savoury. But my girlfriend really likes it and thinks its the most versatile pickle I've made.  

We ate the Atchara with some pan-fried Sand Whiting.  
Atchara Recipe

What you need:
  • 1 large green papaya (around 2kg), julienned or coarsely grated depending on how you like it;
  • 1 onion, finely sliced;
  • 2 carrots, julienned;
  • 8 cloves of garlic, finely sliced;
  • 1 green or red capsicum, sliced (optional);
  • 1 thumb sized piece of ginger;
  • 1/3 cup of sea salt;
  • 2 cups of white vinegar;
  • 1 1/2 cups of caster sugar;
  • 2 tablespoons of peppercorns;
  • 1 birdseye chilli, finely sliced (optional).

The pickling:
  1. Firstly, sprinkle the salt over the julienned green papaya in a bowl.  Make sure the salt coats all of the papaya and use your hands to mix it through.  Cover and place in the fridge overnight.
  2. The next day a lot of the water from the papaya will have been extracted.   Place the papaya in a strainer, rinse off any excess salt and then squeeze out any additional water (this can be done in a muslin cloth).
  3. In a large pot add the vinegar, a large pinch of salt, peppercorns, ginger, garlic and chilli (if using).  Simmer the pickling brine on a low heat for about 5 minutes until the vinegar has been infused.  Allow the brine to cool.
  4. Fill sterilised jars with the papaya, onion, capsicum and carrot, then top them off with the pickling brine.    


  1. Haha I think that Asian parents are always the harshest critics! Pickles are such a good digestive, and I love them as a cleanser for rich foods, like lechon! lol

  2. I've always wondered the same thing! The Filipino food that I've tried has been so delicious so I wondered why there weren't more restaurants! This is a lovely looking refreshing salad :D

  3. Yours look so good I am inspired to get the lead out and make them.