This simple tom yum soup recipe comes straight from Thailand! The recipe below 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 a 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.
As for veggies, the classic trio is tomatoes, onions, and mushrooms. Many other types of veggies can be included too.
It’s seasoned with lime juice, fish sauce, and sometimes a little coconut sugar.
Shrimp (Goong in Thai) is the most common protein and so Tom Yum Goong is the most common version of Tom Yum. However, other types of seafood can be used, especially fish.
As you’ll see in the video, 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.
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 OK to use substitute 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.
If you’re not a fan of spice, not to worry! You can use as many 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. 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.
If you love Thai food and would like to learn other types of Thai soup recipes, including Tom Kha Gai (Thai Coconut Chicken Soup), Thai vegetable soups, and all sorts of Thai noodle soups, check out my new cookbook, The Thai Soup Secret!
It features 40 different types of simple Thai soups, all adapted for western tastes and kitchens. You’ll learn how to easily find Thai ingredients (including online sources), the many health benefits of Thai herbs, how to make Thai bone broths, how to make delicious congees, and so much more!
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.