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Easy Tom Yum Soup Recipe

Asian Soups

Tom Yum soup. Along with Tom Kha, it is Thailand’s most famous soup and one of the most iconic Southeast Asian soup recipes. All of the quintessential flavors of Thailand are present in Tom Yum and while many variations exist, the most popular version is Tom Yum Goong (Goong means shrimp in the Thai language). From start to finish you can have this easy Tom Yum Goong recipe ready in about twenty minutes!

easy tom yum soup recipe

And while it may seem exotic on the surface, it’s really quite easy to make. The biggest challenge is simply finding some of the Thai herbs which are not found in conventional supermarkets. But there are options, including online options, which I’ll go through below.

What is Tom Yum Soup?

Tom Yum is a classic hot and sour soup that features two groups of essential ingredients. The first is the aromatic herbs lemongrass, galangal, and kaffir lime leaves which are infused into the soup in the beginning stages. I call these three herbs the triple gem of Thai herbs because they are included together in many Thai curry pastes and classic Thai dishes.

The second is Thai bird’s eye chiles, lime juice, fish sauce, and a little coconut palm sugar. These are the seasonings that provide the four classic S flavors of Thai cuisine — spicy, sour, salty, and sweet.

Those two groups of ingredients are fairly universal to every Tom Yum soup recipe. After that, you’ll see lots of variations in other ingredients.

More Thai and Southeast Asian Soup Recipes to Try

For example, while shrimp is the most common protein choice, chicken and other types of seafood can be used too. Vegetable choices can vary too. Mushrooms, tomatoes, and onions are probably the most common but many others are included. And you’ll often see coconut milk or evaporated milk included for a creamy Tom Yum version. 

Finally, many versions use a commercial Thai chili paste which is like an instant tom yum paste that gets dissolved into the broth. This shortcut just can’t compare to fresh ingredients!  Also, most of these pastes use MSG, soybean oil, and other chemical flavorings. 

My recipe sticks with a broth-based version which I think is the most traditional and authentic version of Tom Yum soup.

Here’s a video I made to show you how easy it is to make! You can find some further details beneath the video including some written instructions and a printable recipe at the bottom of this post.

How to Make Tom Yum Goong

Key Tom Yum Ingredients

The four ingredients pictured below — galangal, lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves, and bird’s eye chiles — are truly key to any Tom Kha soup recipe. Galangal is pictured on the left. Lemongrass is pictured on top. Kaffir lime leaves are on the lower right. I hope the chiles are obvious. 🙂

key tom yum soup ingredients

In my Thai cookbook, The Thai Soup Secret, I call lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves, and galangal The Triple Gem (a Buddhist reference) of Thai soups. They are quintessential to not just Tom Yum but to Tom Kha and so many other Thai dishes. For example, if you’ve ever had a Thai curry paste, such as a green or red curry paste, they almost always include the triple gem of Thai soups.

All three are used to infuse Tom Yum with their highly pungent flavors and aromas. They’re not meant to be eaten. Typically, you either remove them before eating or just spoon around them. If you accidentally chomp into one, you’ll probably know it as they’re somewhat tough and fibrous. Just know they are edible and won’t hurt you.

As for the small red bird’s eye chiles, they’re so iconic to Thai cuisine that they’re sometimes just referred to as Thai chiles.

Let’s discuss each one of those four key ingredients separately, how to prepare them for Tom Yum, and the best places to find them.

Thai Soup Secret cover

Transform Your Health with Thailand’s #1 Superfood!

Includes 40 restorative recipes for broths, congees, and soups. All gluten and dairy-free!

Lemongrass

Lemongrass has a highly pungent citrus character. It’s not that hard to find fresh lemongrass these days. It’s frequently sold in places like Whole Foods as well as specialty health food stores. It can always be found in Asian supermarkets. You can also find fresh lemongrass on Amazon.

You’ll need three lemongrass stalks for this Tom Kha recipe.

How to Prepare Lemongrass

Lemongrass is similar to leeks in that the stockier bottom half is the part we use. Simply slice the lemongrass stalk in half and either discard it or, better yet, save the thin green upper half for soup stocks. You’ll be left with a 6- to 8-inch piece.

lemongrass stalk

Next, slice about a half inch off from the hard bottom end. Remove the fibrous outer layer, which will expose the more tender and pungent inner part.

lemongrass stalk, outer leaves removed

Very lightly bruise the lemongrass with a meat hammer or any flat, dull kitchen utensil. This will break down the cell walls and help to release the essential oils. Then slice the stalk into about 1/4-inch smaller rings, at about a 45-degree angle (in the culinary world this is called “on the bias”), which will create more surface area.

lemongrass prepared for tom yum goong

Galangal

Also used as an aromatic, galangal is a rhizome in the ginger family. While galangal resembles ginger in appearance it has a more citrus, peppery flavor. It also has a different aroma. It’s hard to describe but I think it smells like a pine forest. It also tends to be a bit woodier and thus tougher than ginger which is also why it’s ideal for use in soups.

Many people ask if ginger can be substituted for galangal. It can but really try to find galangal for this recipe. It’s an essential part of any Tom Yum soup recipe.

Galangal can be more challenging to find in supermarkets. Your best bet will be your local Asian supermarket if you have one in your area. But you can also find fresh galangal on Amazon.

How to Prepare Galangal for Tom Yum

It’s quite simple. Peel the outer skin and then slice it into small circles, about an inch in diameter and about a ¼ to ½ inch thick, like so…

galangal prepared for tom yum soup

Kaffir Lime Leaves

Kaffir lime leaves, also called makrut lime leaves, are best used fresh and give soups a hint of lime but are nothing like using actual lime juice which should not be used as a substitute. They have their own distinctive aroma and flavor which is hard to describe! They are small, dark green, somewhat shiny, and grow with two leaves connected together.

Kaffir lime leaves are also hard to find outside Asian markets. Luckily, you can easily find fresh kaffir lime leaves on Amazon.

How to Prepare Kaffir Lime Leaves for Tom Yum Soup

Even simpler than galangal, just tear each leaf into a few pieces. This will begin to release their essential oils. When you do this, you’ll smell their wonderful fragrance! Again, it’s hard to describe but if you’ve ever had Thai cuisine, you’ll immediately recognize it.

kaffir lime leaves prepared for tom yum

Thai Bird’s Eye Chiles

These small hot chiles, about 2 inches long, are really intense! They are the classic chiles used in Tom Kha soup recipes and can be found in many supermarkets, both conventional, and health food stores, and almost always in Asian markets. You can also find fresh Thai chiles on Amazon.

Be careful when using fresh bird’s eye chiles! Everyone’s tolerance for heat and spice is different. Simmering even just one bird’s eye chile in a soup can dramatically increase the heat level.

How Many Thai Chiles Should I Use?

It’s totally up to you. Tom Yum is supposed to have some heat and spice. After all, it is a hot and sour soup. But if you have absolutely zero tolerance for hot and spicy foods, it’s OK to leave out the chiles. No big whoop. It won’t exactly be traditional without chiles but who the heck cares? Even without chiles, it will still have plenty of flavor.

For a mild kick, use only one Thai chile. For a medium kick, use two. And for a really good kick, use three or more.

It should also be noted that many Tom Yum soup recipes include sliced Thai chiles on the side so that each person can add as much as he/she wants.

Can I Substitute Other Chiles?

Classic Tom Yum soup recipes always include Thai bird’s eye chiles. But any type of chile can be used as a substitute especially where there is an intolerance or just a dislike for spiciness.

The ones I commonly recommend in place of bird’s eye chiles are jalapenos and serranos both of which are often found in conventional supermarkets, especially jalapenos. Serranos are slightly smaller and usually a good bit hotter than jalapenos which can range from mild to moderately spicy. 

How to Prepare Thai Chiles for Tom Yum Goong

Slice the chiles lengthwise, like so…

Thai bird's eye chiles

You can also scrape out the seeds inside the chiles which will help tone down their heat. Also, chop off the green stems.

The Best Shrimp for Tom Yum Goong

I’ve written a lot about seafood in recent years and I’m a big advocate of sourcing seafood locally. Or at least, as local as possible. Do the best you can but try to avoid farmed shrimp which poses many environmental problems.

Also, if possible, try to find whole shrimp, with the heads on. Asian markets will be your best bet for this. Shrimp with the heads on have a lot more flavor than those without the heads. Here’s the Tom Yum Goong recipe picture from my Thai cookbook as an example.

tom yum goong

Yup, we don’t typically see shrimp like that in our supermarkets. But that’s often how you’ll find them in Thailand and in any authentic Tom Yum Goong recipe. If it creeps you out, just get the normal headless shrimp but at the very least try to find wild shrimp. American Gulf shrimp is a good choice.

Broth Choices for Tom Yum Goong

The best option is shrimp broth! Shrimp broth, or shrimp stock, is super easy to make. All you need is shrimp shells. This is another great reason to use whole shrimp as the heads will add some great flavors to a shrimp broth.

Your next best choice is a fish broth or fish stock. But really, any type of seafood stock would work well. There are a few decent boxed seafood broth options in markets.

Finally, your next best choice is chicken broth or chicken stock. This is probably the most common choice because it’s so easy to find in stores. But ideally, Tom Yum Goong works best with a seafood background flavor from shrimp or another seafood broth. Chicken does have a nice umami flavor so it’s not a bad choice by any means.

My Version of Tom Yum Goong

I originally learned to make this recipe from the same Thai family that taught me how to make tom kha gai when I stayed on the island of Koh Lanta many years ago In fact, the cover picture, at the top of this post, is their Tom Yum Goong.

Since, then, I’ve continued to make it at home and have adapted it to my own tastes. I usually just riff on the ingredients though rarely measure things exactly. This recipe is a good starting point to achieve a nice balance of all four of the spicy, salty, sweet, and sour flavors.

Tom Yum Goong Ingredients

  • 1-quart shrimp, fish, or chicken broth
  • 3 stalks lemongrass
  • 1 3-inch piece galangal
  • 8 to 10 kaffir lime leaves
  • 1 to 3 Thai bird’s eye chiles, or more!
  • 1 medium onion, sliced
  • 3 plum tomatoes, sliced into chunks
  • 8 ounces oyster mushrooms or shiitake mushrooms (or any mushrooms you want), sliced
  • 1 pound wild shrimp (or about 20 to 25)
  • 4 TBSPs fish sauceor more!
  • 2 teaspoons coconut palm sugar, or more!
  • 4 TBSPs of fresh lime juice, or more!
  • 1 cup loosely packed cilantro, optional, for garnish
  • 2 green onions, optional, for garnish

How to Make Tom Yum Goong

STEP 1: Prepare the Lemongrass, Galangal, and Kaffir Lime Leaves

Have everything peeled, chopped, and ready to go, as shown in the pictures above. You can also dice and prepare the veggies too.

STEP 2: BRING THE BROTH TO A SIMMER and Add the Aromatics and Chiles

Cover and simmer for 10 to 15 minutes.

Step 3: Add the Veggies

Uncover, add the veggies, and simmer for about 5 minutes.

Step 4: Add the Shrimp

Cook for a few minutes or until they turn pink and are cooked through.

STEP 5: SEASONING, TO TASTE (THE MOST IMPORTANT STEP!)

If you’re cooking for a group of people, it’s always better to be cautious with the seasonings and allow each person to season their individual servings to taste.

Now, add 4 tablespoons fish sauce, 4 tablespoons of freshly squeezed lime juice, and 2 teaspoons of coconut sugar. Stir them in well.

Taste. Ask yourself what flavor you’d like more of. Keep in mind those starting amounts are fairly conservative. Personally, I would add a bit more lime juice and fish sauce.

As for the coconut sugar, it helps to tone down the heat a little and of course, adds a nice touch of sweetness. If you watched the video, you would’ve noticed I did not add any to the main pot but did add a little after the fact, to my individual bowl. But I think adding some sugar to the main pot to balance the hot and sour flavors is a good thing. Many Tom Yum Goong recipes differ on when to add sugar. I think about 2 teaspoons is about right. Alternatively, you can leave the sugar out and just let each person sweeten his/her bowl to taste.

Coconut sugar can be found in block or granulated form. The latter is sold everywhere these days and the former can be found in Asian markets. Block form has a more caramelized, fuller flavor.

As for the chiles, I like things moderately spicy so I would’ve added 2 Thai chiles back in step 2. But if you’re craving a little more kick, add in more chiles right here. Or, just add fresh chiles to your individual serving.

Finally, add some cilantro and/or green onions and stir them in. Or again, just let each person add whatever they want to his/her bowl.

That’s really all there is to it!

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the difference between Tom Yum and Tom Kha?

The main difference is that Tom Yum is not coconut milk-based. Tom Kha always contains coconut milk. Although some Tom Yum recipes do include coconut milk, it’s typically just a small amount. Both soups feature similar ingredients including the three herbs and Thai chiles.

Can I choose a different protein?

Absolutely. Besides shrimp, many Tom Yum soup recipes also feature fish, other types of seafood, or chicken. Vegetarian versions are pretty popular too.

What to serve with Tom Yum?

Jasmine rice! Always jasmine rice. It’s the ideal complement and side dish. In Thailand, Tom Yum is always served with rice on the side. But if you want to vary it up any type of salad would work just fine. In particular, a Thai papaya salad would be fantastic.

Why does Tom Yum taste better the next day?

Because the lemongrass, galangal, and kaffir lime leaves will continue to infuse the soup. You should notice a heightened flavor the day after. It’s called aging or curing. It’s very common in many types of soups, including chowders.

Can I freeze lemongrass, galangal, kaffir lime leaves, or Thai chiles?

Yes, they all freeze very well. You will often have to purchase more of each than you’ll need so freezing them will preserve them for your next Tom Yum or other Thai recipe.

Tom Yum Goong Printable Recipe

simple tom yum soup pin

Easy Tom Yum Soup Recipe

This easy tom yum soup recipe is a traditional Thai hot and sour soup made with fragrant herbs, bird’s eye chilies, shrimp, fresh lime juice and fish sauce. 

Course Main Course, Soup
Cuisine Thai
Prep Time 10 minutes
Total Time 10 minutes
Servings 4 servings
Author Craig Fear

Ingredients

  • 1 quart shrimp, fish, or chicken broth
  • 3 stalks lemongrass top part discarded, bottom part sliced into thin pieces
  • 3 inch piece galangal
  • 8 to 10 kaffir lime leaves ripped into smaller pieces
  • 1-3 Thai bird's eye chiles sliced vertically, in half, stems removed
  • 1 medium onion sliced
  • 3 plum tomatoes sliced into chunks
  • 8 ounces oyster, shiitake, or other mushrooms chopped
  • 1 pound wild shrimp
  • 4 TBSPs lime juice or more!
  • 4 TBSPs fish sauce or more!
  • 2 tsps coconut palms sugar or more!
  • 2 green onions chopped, optional
  • 1 bunch cilantro leaves chopped, optional
  • jasmine rice, for serving optional

Optional seasonings, to taste

Instructions

  1. Bring the broth to a simmer and then add the lemongrass, galangal, kaffir lime leaves, and Thai bird's eye chiles. Cover the pot and simmer for 10 to 15 minutes.

  2. Add the onions, tomatoes, and mushrooms and simmer for a few minutes.

  3. Add the shrimp and simmer for a few minutes until they turn pink and are cooked through.

  4. Add the coconut sugar, fish sauce and lime.  Taste. Add more of each, to personal taste. Stir in the optional green onion and cilantro.

  5. Ladle into individual bowls and add optional seasonings, to taste.

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Easy Tom Yum Soup Recipe
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About the Author

Craig Fear is the creator of Fearless Eating and the author of three books, The 30-Day Heartburn Solution, Fearless Broths and Soups and The Thai Soup Secret. After years helping clients with digestive issues, Craig decided to pursue writing full-time. He intends to write many more books on broths and soups from around the world! Click here to learn more about Craig.

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