Food Thailand Asia

Tom Yam Soup - exploring the iconic Thai dish, its history, ingredients, cooking

Administrator 13.01.2024
Tom Yam Soup - exploring the iconic Thai dish, its history, ingredients, cooking

Tom Yam is a spicy and sour soup that is not just a dish, but a quintessential example of the complexity and charm of Thai cuisine. Have you ever wondered what makes Tom Yam so unique and beloved around the world? It's not just the ingredients, but the harmony of flavors that offer a gastronomic experience like nowhere else.

Tom Yam originates from Thailand and has a rich history and tradition. The soup is often associated with Thai identity, representing the balance and diversity of Thai culture.


But what exactly goes into the composition of this iconic dish that makes it so special? The soup's ingredients typically include:

  • shrimp (Tom Yam Goong)
  • mushrooms
  • lemongrass
  • galangal
  • kaffir lime leaves
  • Thai chili pepper
  • fish sauce
  • lime juice.

These ingredients are not just thrown together, they are carefully balanced to create a harmony of spicy, sour, salty, and sometimes sweet flavors.

  • Lemongrass: Lends a citrusy flavor to the soup, adding freshness.
  • Galangal: Similar to ginger, but has a sharper, more citrusy flavor.
  • Kaffir lime leaves: These leaves impart a distinct, aromatic citrus flavor.

The role of each flavor:

  • The spiciness is mostly due to the Thai chili pepper. It's not just heat, it adds depth.
  • Sourness - lime juice provides this characteristic, offering a refreshing counterpoint to the heat.
  • Saltiness - achieved by the fish sauce, which enhances the overall flavor profile.
  • Sweetness - sometimes a little sugar is added to balance out the other flavors.

Tom Yum variations

In some regions, coconut milk is added for a creamier texture and milder flavor. It also has traditional variations, each with its own unique twist.

  • Tom Yam Goong (with shrimp): the most popular version, with juicy shrimp.
  • Tom Yam Gai (chicken): a milder version with tender pieces of chicken.
  • Tom Yam Talay (seafood): a seafood extravaganza, often with a variety of ocean dishes.
  • Tom Yam Pa (fish): freshwater fish is used, varying in texture and flavor.

Health benefits

Tom Yam is a healthy dish. The herbs and spices used in the soup, such as lemongrass and galangal, have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties:

Lemongrass is known for its digestive and anti-inflammatory properties. Galangal is believed to aid digestion and relieve stomach discomfort. Kaffir lime leaves are high in beneficial compounds that improve blood circulation.


Let's walk through the process of preparing Tom Yam step by step. Remember, the key to good flavor is freshness of ingredients and a balance of spicy, sour, salty, and sometimes sweet flavors.


Typically, you will need:

  • Shrimp (or chicken, if you prefer)
  • Mushrooms (traditionally straw mushrooms are used, but you can use others)
  • Lemongrass
  • Galangal (you can substitute ginger if it's not available)
  • Kaffir lime leaves
  • Thai chili pepper
  • Fish sauce
  • Lime juice
  • Fresh cilantro
  • Chicken or vegetable broth
  • Optional: Cherry tomatoes, Thai basil, sugar, coconut milk.


  1. Ingredient Preparation:

    • Peel the shrimp and set aside. If using chicken, cut it into bite-sized pieces.
    • Slice the mushrooms.
    • Crush the lemongrass to release its flavor and cut it into 2-inch pieces.
    • Thinly slice the galangal.
    • Tear the kaffir lime leaves to release their flavor.
    • Slice the Thai chili peppers (adjust the amount depending on your spiciness preference).
  2. Broth preparation:

    • Start by boiling your chosen broth in a pot.
    • Once it comes to a boil, add the lemongrass, galangal and kaffir lime leaves.
    • Reduce the heat and let simmer for a few minutes to absorb the flavors.
  3. Adding the main ingredients:

    • Add the mushrooms and chili peppers to the broth.
    • If you are using chicken, add it now and let it simmer thoroughly.
    • For the shrimp, wait until the last stages as they cook quickly.
  4. Season the soup:

    • Add fish sauce for saltiness. Start with a small amount and adjust to taste.
    • Add lime juice for sourness. Again, start with a small amount and adjust.
    • If you prefer a slightly sweet flavor, add a small amount of sugar.
  5. Final touches:

    • If you are using shrimp, add them now and cook until they are pink and cooked through.
    • If desired, add cherry tomatoes and Thai basil for extra flavor and texture.
    • For a creamier version, you can add a little coconut milk at this stage.
  6. Garnish and serve:

    • Remove the pan from the heat.
    • Sprinkle with fresh cilantro before serving.
    • Taste and adjust seasonings if necessary - you should get a bright balance of spicy, sour and salty.


  • Use the freshest ingredients for the best flavor.
  • Tom Yum should have a good balance of spicy, sour and salty. Adjust the seasonings to your taste.
  • Overcooked shrimp can become rubbery. They only need a few minutes to simmer in the hot broth.
  • Give the lemongrass, galangal and lime leaves enough time to absorb their flavors into the broth.
  • Serve hot as an appetizer or with steamed jasmine rice for a complete meal.

Enjoy the process of making Tom Yum and remember that each soup can be unique to your taste preferences.


  • Overcooking shrimp: they should be tender, not rubbery.
  • Overdoing the spices: start with less, you can always add more.
  • Neglecting balance: don't forget that Tom Yam is a harmony of different flavors. Keep tasting and adjusting.

Serving and combining

Tom Yam is usually served hot, often as an appetizer. It pairs well with rice or noodles, making it a complete meal. For a traditional Thai feel, serve it with jasmine rice. The simplicity of the rice complements the complexity of the soup.

Tom Yam has transcended its Thai roots to become a global dish. In many countries, Tom Yam has been adapted using local ingredients and taking into account regional flavors.

Tom Yam is not just a soup, it is a journey into the heart of Thai culture and cuisine. Its complex balance of flavors, health benefits and global appeal make it a truly extraordinary dish.