Thailand seduces visitors with its rich cultural heritage, breathtaking scenery and, of course, its mouth-watering cuisine. Among the gems of the Thai culinary repertoire, Tom Yum Kung (Tom Yam Kung/Tom Yum Goong) stands out as a true ambassador of Thai flavours.
Tom Yum Kung with its fiery, fragrant broth, is a dish that awakens the senses and transports you to Thailand. Throughout this travel blog, we invite you on a gastronomic journey: exploring the origins, ingredients, preparation techniques and ideal restaurants for enjoying.
What is Tom Yum – Thailand’s national dish?
Originating in central Thailand, Tom Yum has its roots in the ancient kingdom of Ayutthaya, which flourished from the 14th to the 18th century. The dish is the result of an ingenious fusion of flavours and ingredients brought to the region by traders and immigrants from neighbouring countries. Historically, Thailand has been a melting pot of cultures, with influences from China, India, Malaysia and Indonesia.
Tom Yum is a sweet and sour Thai soup, celebrated for its unique blend of bold and vibrant flavours. “Tom” is the Thai word for soup, and “Yum” refers to the blending of ingredients to achieve a balanced combination of sweet, sour, salty and spicy flavours.
The most popular version of Tom Yum is made with prawns, called Tom Yum Kung, ‘Kung’ being the Thai word for prawns. This dish is so popular that Tom Yum Kung ranked 8th in CNN Travel’s list of the 50 best dishes in the world.
As well as prawns, Tom Yum soup can be prepared with a variety of proteins such as chicken, fish, pork and beef. Depending on the food origin and culinary habits of each region, there are many variations of this dish, such as Tom Yum Nam Khon, Tom Yum Gai (with chicken), Tom Yum Pala (with fish) and Tom Yum Moo (with pork).
What does Tom Yum Kung soup taste like?
At the heart of Tom Yam Kung – national dish of Thailand is a fusion of ingredients that creates an explosive taste experience. There are few dishes in Thai cuisine that can match the intensity of flavour that Tom Yam Kung offers. This soup embodies the Thai culinary philosophy, which aims to balance the four fundamental tastes: sweet, sour, spicy and salty.
The secret of this balance lies in the judicious use of ingredients such as lemongrass, combava leaves, galanga, chilli, fish sauce and lime juice. These components create a symphony of flavours that seduce all the senses.
Tart: The lemongrass and lime juice bring a lively acidity to the soup, refreshing and contrasting with the other elements.
Spicy: Thai chillies, renowned for their heat, add a spiciness that ignites the taste buds, softened by the sweetness of the prawns.
Savoury: Fish sauce, a mainstay of Thai cuisine, contributes to the salty, umami flavour, balancing out the other elements.
Sweet: The prawns bring a natural sweetness to the soup, complementing the other flavours.
The infusion of lemongrass and combava leaves adds a refreshing touch of citrus to the whole. These aromatic elements lend a lively, zesty quality to the soup, awakening the senses.
This combination of flavours creates a complex and addictive profile. The acidity stimulates, the spiciness adds fire, the saltiness adds depth, and the sweetness balances the whole. Tom Yam Kung is an unforgettable culinary experience, where every spoonful is a harmoniously synchronised explosion of flavours.
When you taste this soup for the first time, prepare for a taste dance on your palate, with each flavour working in perfect harmony for a memorable dining experience.
Soup Tom Yum easy recipe to make at home
The authentic Tom Yum Kung recipe does not contain coconut milk. However, some people prefer to include it to make a thicker, creamier soup. In this recipe, the addition of coconut milk is optional. If you decide not to include it, you can simply increase the amount of stock. Here’s the authentic recipe for 2 portions:
4 prawn heads and shells
2 lemongrass, crushed
2 coriander roots
2 shallots, crushed
3 cups water
Bring a pan of water to the boil over medium heat.
Add the prawn heads and shells, coriander roots, crushed lemongrass and crushed shallots. Add a little salt and turn off the heat.
Ingredients for the soup
4 river prawns
3 cups shrimp stock
1 lemongrass (crushed and chopped)
2 bergamot leaves (chopped by hand)
2 coriander roots, crushed
5 bird’s eye chillies, crushed
3 straw mushrooms (cut lengthways)
6 grams galanga, thinly sliced
2 coriander leaves for decoration
3 tablespoons fish sauce
2½ teaspoons lemon juice
1½ teaspoons sugar
1 tablespoon roasted chilli sauce
Bring the stock to the boil over a medium heat.
Continue boiling, add the crushed lemongrass and coriander roots.
Add the straw mushrooms, river prawns, galanga and bergamot leaves. Season with the fish sauce, sugar and roasted chilli sauce. Leave to boil a little longer.
Turn off the heat. Add the bird’s eye chilli and lime juice, and remove the coriander roots. Pour into a serving bowl.
Garnish with coriander leaves.
Additional tips from the chef
Adding lemon juice after turning off the heat will make this dish more fragrant.
Adding bergamot leaves after the prawns will enhance the aroma of the prawns.
Dishes and drinks go with
When enjoying spicy dishes such as Tom Yam Kung, it’s nice to have dishes and drinks to accompany the meal and complement the flavours, providing an exceptional dining experience. Here are a few suggestions to balance out the spiciness and enrich your meal:
Jasmine rice: A portion of fragrant jasmine rice is the classic accompaniment to Tom Yam Kung. Its neutral flavour and soft texture help to balance the spiciness of the soup.
Thai Papaya Salad (Som Tum): This refreshingly spicy salad made with grated green papaya, tomatoes, lime juice, fish sauce and chillies adds a crunchy, invigorating element to your meal. The variety of flavours complements the spiciness of Tom Yam Kung.
Spring rolls (Poh Pia Tod): Crispy spring rolls filled with vegetables, herbs and sometimes minced meat or seafood make a great addition to your spicy feast. The contrasting textures and mild flavours of the spring rolls provide a delicious balance to the heat of the Tom Yam Kung.
Coconut milk curries: Thai curries such as green curry (Gaeng Keow Wan) or red curry (Gaeng Phet), prepared with a creamy coconut milk base, can complement the spiciness of Tom Yam Kung. The richness of the curries adds depth and a touch of sweetness to the meal.
Thai Iced Tea: A popular and refreshing option, Thai Iced Tea is a sweet and creamy drink made with black tea, condensed milk and spices. Its freshness and sweetness create a pleasant contrast with the spiciness of Tom Yam Kung.
Iced tea with lemongrass: Iced tea with lemongrass is another excellent alternative for soothing the heat. Fragrant lemongrass combined with a hint of sweetness and a squeeze of lime creates a refreshing and soothing drink.
Fresh fruit juice: A glass of fresh fruit juice, such as pineapple or watermelon, can have a refreshing effect and cleanse the palate between bites of spicy soup. The natural sweetness of the juice helps balance out the spiciness.
Find the best Tom Yum Kung in Thailand
When it comes to seeking out the best Tom Yam Kung dishes, it’s always a good idea to ask for recommendations from locals familiar with the cuisine. Here are a few suggestions:
- Jay Fai (Bangkok): A legendary street food stand that has gained international acclaim for its exceptional seafood dishes, including Tom Yum Kung. The restaurant is renowned for its use of high-quality ingredients and traditional cooking techniques.
- Krua Apsorn (Bangkok): A local favourite serving authentic Thai cuisine. Their Tom Yum Kung is popular for its bold flavours and generous portions of fresh prawns.
- Tom Yum Kung (Bangkok): This local restaurant specialises in Tom Yam Kung and is known for its tasty and spicy soup, prepared with a variety of fresh ingredients.
- Baan Rim Pa (Phuket): A renowned restaurant renowned for its stunning ocean views and exquisite Thai cuisine. Their Tom Yam Kung is praised for its balance of flavours and use of local ingredients.
- Ruen Mai (Chiang Mai): A popular restaurant offering a wide range of traditional Thai dishes. Their Tom Yam Kung is highly recommended by locals for its authentic taste and aromatic blend of herbs and spices.
Whether enjoyed on a busy street corner or in a cosy restaurant, Tom Yam Kung always captures the essence of Thai flavours. Each experience adds a unique touch to the dish, highlighting the creativity and versatility of Thai cuisine.
To discover just how unique Thai cuisine is, try Tom Yum Kung – national dish of this country! Get ready to immerse yourself in the aromatic broth, savour the succulent prawns and discover the secrets behind this iconic dish that has captured the hearts of gourmets the world over. We hope this article will help you find out more about Tom Yam Kung, the essence of Thai culinary art!