Tom Yum – Iconic Thai Soup with Fiery, Fragrant Flavors

Tom yum goong, or Tom Yum soup, is a bold, bright, herbaceous Thai soup that has become one of the most iconic dishes in all of Thailand. With its hot, sour, salty and fragrant flavors all coming together in a beautiful broth, it’s easy to see why Tom Yum is so beloved around the world.

A Fiery and Fragrant Thai Classic

Tom Yum gets its distinctive hot, sour and aromatic flavors from the combination of lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves, galangal and Thai chiles. These ingredients infuse the broth with layers of herbaceous citrus flavors and subtle heat. Tom Yum can be made with various types of protein, but it is most commonly known for its use of plump, juicy shrimp (tom yum goong).

The culinary history of Tom Yum stretches back hundreds of years. Some historians trace its origins to the Rattanakosin period in Thailand (1782–1852), when it was commonly made by the Mon people, an ethnic group from Myanmar who settled in central Thailand. The Mon people were influential in developing Thai cuisine and culture.

From its ancient origins, Tom Yum grew to become one of the most ubiquitous dishes in Thailand, served everywhere from street food stalls to five-star hotels. It is considered an essential part of Thai culinary heritage. The combination of hot, sour, salty and sweet flavors perfectly encapsulates the Thai palate.

Tom Yum’s Fiery Ingredients

Several ingredients work together to create the hot, fragrant and complex flavors of Tom Yum soup. Here are some of the essential elements:

IngredientFlavor Profile
LemongrassWoody, citrusy
Kaffir lime leavesIntense lime zestiness
GalangalPiney, citrus notes
Thai chilesSpicy heat
Lime juiceBright acidity
Fish sauceSavory, salty
CilantroFresh, grassy

Proper prep of these ingredients coaxes out their maximum flavor and aroma into the broth. Taking time to prepare components like bruising lemongrass and toasting galangal makes a difference you can taste.

Protein Options for Tom Yum

While shrimp is the most popular choice, Tom Yum can be made with various types of protein. Here are some of the most common:

  • Shrimp – Tender, plump shrimp pair perfectly with the hot broth. The shells contribute flavor as they simmer.
  • Chicken – Sliced chicken breast or thigh brings easy protein. Quick cooking avoids overcooking.
  • Fish – Delicate white fish like snapper or cod works well. The broth gently cooks the fish.
  • Tofu – For a meatless take, cubes of firm tofu can soak up the Tom Yum flavors.
  • Mushrooms – Meaty mushrooms like cremini or oyster mushrooms add earthy qualities.

No matter what protein is used, it’s added at the end to gently cook through without overdoing it. This helps keep the protein tender and moist.

Tips for an Authentic Tom Yum

To make the most flavorful, authentic Tom Yum soup at home, keep these tips in mind:

Make the broth firstLets aromatics fully infuse
Use fresh ingredientsEssential for best flavor
Prep lemongrassBruising releases flavor
Toast spicesIntensifies flavors
Simmer gentlyAllows better infusion
Add protein at endAvoids overcooking
Finish with lime & cilantroProvides brightness

Taking a little extra time to prep and simmer the broth pays off in the end with a Thai classic that’s authentic and well-balanced.

Tom Yum Variations

Once you master the traditional Tom Yum Goong (with shrimp), there are many ways to vary this iconic soup. Get creative with different add-ins, proteins and garnishes.

  • Tom Yum Talay – A seafood lover’s dream with shrimp, squid, mussels and fish.
  • Tom Yum Gai – Chicken offers a milder, more subtle flavor.
  • Tom Yum Pla – Showcase fresh white fish like snapper or bass.
  • Tom Yum Nua – Thinly sliced beef adds hearty flavor and texture.
  • Tom Khlong – Spicy sour tamarind soup that forgoes the coconut milk.
  • Tom Saab – A northern style Tom Yum with dill and pork ribs.
  • Vegan Tom Yum – Use mushrooms, tofu and lots of veggies.

The possibilities are endless! Tom Yum is the perfect canvas for improvisation while keeping its iconic hot, sour and aromatic flavors.

How to Cook Authentic Tom Yum Goong

Making authentic Tom Yum Goong at home is easy to do with the right ingredients and techniques. Follow these steps for best results:


3 cupsLow-sodium chicken or vegetable broth
5-6Fresh lemongrass stalks, trimmed and bruised
8-10Kaffir lime leaves
2 inchKnob of galangal, sliced
8-10Thai chiles
1 lbMedium shrimp, peeled and deveined
3 tbspFish sauce
2 tbspLime juice
To tasteCilantro for garnish


  1. Prep aromatics: Trim lemongrass stalks, bruise and slice galangal, tear lime leaves.
  2. Make broth: Add broth, lemongrass, lime leaves, galangal and chiles to a pot. Simmer 20 mins.
  3. Prep shrimp: Peel, devein and rinse shrimp. Pat very dry.
  4. Cook shrimp: Add shrimp to simmering broth and cook just until pink, 1-2 mins.
  5. Season: Stir in fish sauce and lime juice. Taste and adjust seasoning as needed.
  6. Serve: Ladle Tom Yum into bowls and garnish with torn cilantro. Enjoy!

With its complex medley of hot, sour and salty flavors, this Thai classic is irresistible. Adjust spice level by adding fewer chiles and squeeze over more lime juice to taste. Now that you know how to make authentic Tom Yum Goong, impress your friends and family with this iconic Thai dish. For more global flavor inspirations, check out our guide to must-try iconic local dishes from around the world. Happy cooking!