What is tom yum soup?

Tom yum soup is a spicy and sour meal originally from Thailand. It may be the most well-known dish in Thai cuisine, and has become a frequently served soup in neighboring countries, as well as around the world. The word tom means "soup," and yum means spicy and sour. To that, we say, "Yum, indeed!" Due to differences in transcription, the name is sometimes alternatively spelled tom yam.

There are several ways to make tom yum soup, and it can be known by different names depending upon its type. Tom yum goong uses prawns. Tom yum gai is the soup made with chicken. Fish, generally white fish, is used in the tom yum pla version. Tom yum talay and tom yum po taek refer to the soup with mixed seafood and mushrooms. Tom yum nam khon uses coconut milk as a broth addition.

Tom yum paste is also sold commercially, and is generally a mixture of the herbs and spices, crushed and stir-fried. The quality of the paste may vary, so if you would like to ensure the best flavor in your tom yum soup, either get a review on particular brands of paste, or use fresh, individual herbs and spices. Going the latter route may involve more cost and effort, but could be safer for the final quality of the Thai soup if you haven't yet learned about the different pastes that are available.

Here is one possibility from the many potential top yum recipes. For this, we will use fresh ingredients, but also have an optional tom yum paste included for additional flavor, if you prefer.

1/2 pound prawns (peeled, deveined)
20 mushrooms (halved)
4 cups water
2 lemongrass stalks (trimmed, cut into roughly inch-long pieces)
4 slices galangal
4 bird's eye chili peppers (Thai peppers or chili padi)
4 kaffir lime leaves
1 1/2 tablespoons fish sauce
Juice of 2 limes
1 teaspoon hot chili paste
1 teaspoon sugar
1 tablespoon tom yum paste (for added flavor, optional)
A handful of cilantro leaves

Bring the water to a boil, and add the lemongrass, galangal, chili peppers, kaffir lime leaves, fish sauce, lime juice, chili paste, sugar, and optional tom yum paste. After the soup has boiled for several minutes, add the prawns and mushrooms, and allow it to continue to boil for and additional 10 minutes. Serve with cilantro leaves as garnish.

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