Tom Yum Soup (Hot and Sour Soup)
This truly authentic Tom Yum Soup Recipe is straight from our travels to Southeast Asia this summer. Often called Thai Hot and Sour Soup, it’s bold and perky with a pop of spicy heat. Plus, it’s gluten free and paleo.
Thai Tom Yum Goong Soup
This summer our family spent a month in Southeast Asia. It was an amazing adventure filled with colorful cultural experiences, breathtaking views, and dazzling dishes.
We ate well. Really well.
Of all the meals we enjoyed in Thailand, the one that surprised us the most was a light and lean soup, called Tom Yum.
Tom Yum is a simple, but flavorful, soup made with fresh lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves, fish sauce, chiles, and protein… Usually shrimp.
And in Thailand, it’s everywhere. EVERYWHERE.
It’s the most popular soup, arguably the most popular recipe, in the country.
You cannot walk into a restaurant without spotting Tom Yum on the menu. Therefore, we ate a lot of it. And we had the opportunity to make Tom Yum ourselves a few times, with expert instruction.
What Does Tom Yum Mean?
The name Tom Yum is derived from two Thai words…
Tom refers to boiling.
Yum refers to the spicy and sour flavor combination.
There are many variations of Tom Yum Soup in Thailand. Yet this classic recipe, and most popular version, is sometimes called Tom Yum Goong or Tom Yum Kung.
Both of the words Goong and Kung refer to shrimp or prawns.
So in essence, the name means “Boiling Hot and Sour Shrimp” soup.
Authentic Tom Yum Soup
Tom Yum is actually very easy to make in the western hemisphere, exactly the way they make it in Thailand.
The Hot and Sour Soup flavor comes from the addition of chiles, or sometimes Thai chile paste, and a hearty splash of lime juice added at the end.
Most likely, you will need to stop at a local Asian market to find some of the ingredients. But trust me, this Thai soup is worth the trip.
(Plus, Asian market exploration is a lot of fun!)
Tom Yum Soup Recipe Ingredients
Don’t be scared of the ingredients list for this recipe for tom yum soup. Once you find these items at an Asian market, they are easy to use and totally worth all of the flavor you get!
- Whole Shrimp – We’re talking heads and all. You need shrimp with heads to make the “shrimp oil” for the soup. If you don’t have shrimp heads to make the oil, you don’t have real Tom Yum.
- Oil – For the shrimp oil. This is drizzled into the soup at the end to offer intense seafood flavor. You can use any flavorless oil you like!
- Water – You are making your own broth with the herbs and shrimp, so there’s no need for store-bought broth.
- Lemongrass – Fresh stalks of lemongrass offer a bold refreshing taste. Use the softer interior stalks so they can be eaten once cooked. If the stalks are tough you will have to remove them before serving.
- Kaffir Lime Leaves – This Asian herb creates a distinct flavor that cannot be replaced by anything else. Find it at your local Asian market.
- Onion – Shallots or sweet onion are traditional.
- Thai Chiles – These small red chiles often called “bird chiles” are hot and flavorful. If you can’t find fresh Thai Bird Chiles, you can use Thai chiles paste instead.
- Galangal – A root herb I had never heard of until our recent trip to Asia. This herb can be found in Asian markets, fresh or frozen. It looks like ginger, but has a completely different flavor. Galangal is not mandatory for the flavor of the Tom Yum recipe, but it is always used in Thailand. It is added to seafood recipes specifically to neutralize the strong fishy aroma.
- Fish Sauce – The mother sauce of Thai cuisine!
- Mushrooms – You can use any type of mushrooms you like. Straw mushrooms and enoki mushrooms are traditional, but button mushrooms are fine as well.
- Lime Juice – Freshly squeezed. This is highly important! Do not buy the bottled variety.
How To Make Tom Yum Kung Soup
- Pop the Heads. As mentioned, whole shrimp with heads is a very important ingredient, because you need to make “shrimp oil” to achieve the right flavor. The oil is made from sauteeing shrimp heads in oil, to release the shrimp flavor into the oil. Pull the heads off the shrimp and place them in a wok or large skillet.
- Sizzle. Add the oil to the skillet. Add a good pinch of salt. Sauté the shrimp heads in the oil, cooking until they are red and crispy, and the oil is red as well.
- Smash. Trim the lemongrass stalks and galangal. Use a meat mallet or the side of a knife to smash the lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves, onion, chilies, and galangal. This helps release their flavors into the broth.
- Simmer. Place the aromatics in a medium soup pot and add water. Simmer for 5-10 minutes, until the broth smells fresh and fragrant.
- Shrimp It Up. Stir in the mushrooms, shrimp, and fish sauce. Simmer just long enough for the shrimp to cook.
- Shrimp Oil. Stir in the shrimp oil and lime juice. Then throw the heads away.
See The Full (Printable) Tom Yum Soup Recipe Below!
Tom Yum Goong With Coconut?
Tom Yum is usually served as-is or with a side of sticky rice.
However, sometimes it is made with coconut milk. If you want to try a creamier version, add a splash of coconut milk to the soup at the end.
Either way, it’s lean, low fat, gluten free, dairy free and packed with traditional Thai flavor!
Tips & Tricks
- The soup will be as flavorful as the liquid base! So if you don’t have a flavorful liquid, the soup might not be as good. Sautéing the shrimp heads is what releases the umami flavor of the shrimp that makes tom yum soup tasty.
- Customize the spice level! Red thai chiles are pretty spicy, so you can cut back on them if you prefer it to be less spicy. Or add a dash of coconut cream at the end to cut back on the spice.
- Lemongrass, lime leaves and galangal are the Thai trifecta of flavor here. Don’t skip them!
More Thai Recipes You Will Love
- Spicy Thai Chicken Soup
- Keto Thai Larb Rolls
- The BEST Panang Curry
- Easy Chicken Pad Thai
- Thai Chicken Satay with Peanut Sauce
- Nam Sod Lettuce Wraps
- Red Lentil Curry
- See all our International Recipes!
Tom Yum Soup (Hot and Sour Soup)
- 1 ½ pounds medium-sized whole raw shrimp (with heads intact)
- 1/3 cup flavorless oil
- 6 cups water
- 5 stalks fresh lemongrass
- 15 Kaffir lime leaves, fresh or frozen
- ½ onion, peeled and cut into wedges
- 4-6 Thai chiles (or Thai chile paste to taste)
- 1 inch piece galangal root, optional
- 2 tablespoons fish sauce
- 1 cup straw or button mushrooms, sliced
- 1 lime, juiced
- Possible Garnishes: cilantro leaves and lime wedges
- Pull the heads off the shrimp and place them in a wok or large skillet. Peel and clean the shrimp and set aside. *You can add the shrimp shells to the skillet as well, but the heads are the important part.
- Add the oil to the skillet and set over medium heat. Add a good pinch of salt. Sauté the shrimp heads to release their flavor into the oil, cooking until they are red and crispy. Then turn off the heat.
- Meanwhile, trim the tips and root ends of the lemongrass stalks and remove the tough outer layers. Cut the lemongrass into 1 ½ inch segments. Cut the galangal into 3 or 4 pieces.
- Using a meat mallet or the side of a knife, smash the lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves, onion, chilies, and galangal. Place them in a medium soup pot. Pour the water into the pot then bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for 5-10 minutes, until the broth smells bright and fragrant.
- Remove and discard any tough sections of lemongrass. (Keep them all in if the stalks are soft.) Increase the heat to high. Stir in the mushrooms. Boil for 1 minute. Then stir in the shrimp and fish sauce, cooking until the shrimp are just cooked through, about 45 seconds.
- Turn off the heat and stir in the lime juice. Then stir in 3-4 tablespoons of the shrimp oil. (Discard the heads; do not add them to the soup.)
- Serve with fresh lime wedges and cilantro. Tom Yum is often served over rice, however it’s low carb served as-is!