This simple tom yum soup recipe comes straight from Thailand! This is the exact recipe from the Thai family that owned and operated the guesthouse where I recently stayed on the island of Koh Lanta.
Their food was so good that at one point I asked them for some Thai cooking lessons. They were thrilled that a westerner was so interested in their cuisine and we all got a kick out of the impromptu, off-the-cuff lessons.
Without a doubt, my favorite dish was tom yum soup. You may know I have passion for all things Asian broths and soups and this is one of the more popular and classic dishes in all of Thailand.
Tom yum is a hot and sour soup made with three quintessentially fragrant Thai herbs and spices – kaffir lime leaves, galangal and lemongrass – as well as Thai bird’s eye chilies.
You can find all of these things in most Asian supermarkets however many regular supermarkets now carry them. If you can’t find galangal, which is very similar to ginger, it’s fine to use regular ginger. Fresh kaffir lime leaves may be also hard to find but many places carry dried or powdered forms. Fresh leaves are best though as they’ll impart the best flavor.
The lemongrass, galangal and kaffir lime leaves are first simmered in a shrimp or fish broth for just a few minutes and then chilies give it that spicy kick. Although chicken broth is not traditionally used in this recipe, you can substitute it for a seafood broth if that’s easier. No need to be a perfectionist about this! You could also just use water too.
And if you’re not a fan of spice, not to worry! You can use as much or little chilies as you want. Even without broth and chilies, this simple tom yum soup will still have plenty of flavor.
Lime, fish sauce and coconut sugar are most commonly added to taste at the end. A splash or two of coconut milk or regular milk, cilantro and green onions are common additions as well. It’s frequently made with shrimp (tom yum goong) though other types of seafood and protein can be used too.
What I love about this simple tom yum soup recipe is two things.
The first is that it’s crazy simple! If it takes you more than ten minutes from start to finish (including chopping the veggies), it’s taking you too long. In fact, it’s so simple that I chose to feature a video demo of it on the home page of my new book, The Thai Soup Secret!
The book features 40 different types of simple Thai soups. Click here to learn more and see the video demo.
And the second is of course, the flavor. It’s well, a bit spicy, a bit sour, and then the final flavor is up to you. Add as much of the accompaniments as you want to your desired taste. For me personally, a squeeze or two of lime, a generous pour of fish sauce and just a little coconut milk and coconut sugar make my taste buds dance with joy.
Find what you like and I guarantee you’ll fall in love with this simple tom yum soup recipe.
OK, on to the recipe!
Tom yum is a traditional Thai hot and sour soup made with fragrant herbs, bird’s eye chilies, shrimp, fresh lime juice and fish sauce.
Bring broth to a simmer and add lemongrass, galangal, lime leaves and simmer about 5 minutes.
1. For a mild spice, use only one chili, for a medium spiciness use two and for a really good kick, use three! For zero kick, don't use any chilies at all.
2. Don't eat the lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves or galangal! They can't hurt you but they're quite tough and meant more for flavoring.
3. Sub squid or any type of fish you want for the shrimp.
4. Use any veggies you want in place of the tomatoes, onions and mushrooms. Broccoli, carrots, baby corn, cauliflower and string beans are other common Thai vegetables.
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.