Her aunt taught her how to cook as a teenager, and now, 51-year-old Malli Chaiya, a nominee in Urban Adventures’ first ever global street food awards, has been running her papaya salad stall on Chiang Mai’s Kampangdin Road for 21 years. Corinne Redfern goes for a chat—and a tasting.

The first time Malli Chaiya prepared a papaya salad, she was 13 years old and trying desperately not to drip tears into the wooden bowl of finely sliced fruit, garlic, fish sauce and tomatoes.

“I’d just moved to Bangkok on my own, to live with my auntie and uncle, and I was terrified,” she remembers. “I’d grown up in a small town in the northeastern provinces of Thailand, and I wasn’t used to all these buildings and all these people. Everything was scary and new. I spent every day standing behind my aunt as she ran her food cart in the city center, watching her cook and trying not to miss my family.”