Tom Yum is everything that Thai culinary art stands for: aromatic, spicy and chilly. It is almost a requirement to try this dish if you ever step foot in Thailand (after all, how could anyone proclaim that they’ve been to Thailand if never try Tom Yum?).
Tom Yum is the Thai name for “Spicy Soup with Prawns” and includes two main variations: Tom yum goong nam sai has a clear broth and Tom yum goong nam khon is the milky version. While Tom Yum is believed to be made of coconut milk, it’s not exactly correct. The dish actually uses nom kream tiam - canned evaporated milk that is opposed to sweetened condensed milk.
Anyone who have tasted Tom Tum would instantly recognize the particularly familiar ingredients: lemongrass, galangal, kaffir lime leaves, chilies and peppers, from which the soup’s intense flavor emanates. The broth of the soup is cooked from these ingredients. The paste on which the dish is based on is created by combining all these together, squashing it and lastly stir-frying in an oil pan. Different chefs will have different methods of seasonings based on their customers’ tastes. In most cases, the soup will be served with shrimps, the star of the dish. Occasionally, shrimps can be substituted with pork, chicken or even beef. There are Tom Yum pastes available in most local marts or groceries, but restaurants’ chefs prefer creating their own pastes from scratch and adding other ingredients to make it more unique and customized.
Tom Yum is a soup, but it’s not like you think (I’m looking at you, Western soups). It’s not meant as an individual dish. Instead, it is mostly brought to the dinner to create harmony and balance with other dishes. Indeed, its spicy, strong while delicate flavor can go very well with other sharp, rich tastes of others in a meal. Tom Yum is also favored for its medical properties. Many components included in the soup can help improve blood circulation and enhance immune system. Many diet diners are fond of it for having a low amount of calories.
It’s effortless to get a bowl of Tom Yum soup in Bangkok, particularly in most food stalls and food vendors. For any Londoners, you may want to try Thai Square, which is the most renowned Thai restaurant in East London, serving freshly savory and authentic Thai dishes every day!
While the true history of Tom Yum remains a mystery, many believe that it comes from Central Thailand, where there were plentiful of fresh shrimps in the Chao Phraya River. Throughout the courses of time, Tom Yum has seized the heart of Thai people and made its way through the international culinary world thanks to its simple preparing process yet fascinating flavor. More and more foreigners are getting to know the dish and so many are eager to add new ingredients and choices of meat and herbs in the mixture. There may more variation to come in the future, but whatever it is, every time you slurp a spoon of Tom Yum, you can’t help yourself but to utter: “It can’t get any more Thai than this!”.
Fun story: the financial crisis 1997 that hit many Asian countries may have nothing to do with the soup, but it’s actually called the “Tom Yum Goong” crisis (since it all started in Thailand). That’s probably one of the reasons why the dish became so reputable worldwide!