Tom Yam is a type of soup with distinct sharp hot and sour flavors, scented with a pleasant citrusy aroma.
Tom Yam is known to seduce many westerners to fall in love with Thailand, its people, and food. Many trips’ memories to Thailand were written in diaries, others are etched on film but all are stained by the Tom Yam charm.
I still remember with vivid colors my first bowl of Tom Yam, in the night market of the old neighborhood on a hot night in a ragged, unfashionable part of Bangkok. Where the smell of cooking and the glare of fluorescent lights decorated the alley where JeMoi used to own a restaurant, a very simple and very good one, decorated with cheap bamboo chairs and peeling orange walls. I would enjoy watching the streets of the early night turning into mornings, eating, drinking, and sweating. It was hard to say if I was sweating from the hot and humid weather, the cheap whiskey, or JeMoi’s spicy food. I still smile when I think of her, standing by my table with a winning smile as if she knew how much I enjoy the food.
Tom Yam is considered the best-liked Thai dish by westerners, is more than just a dish really; It is a full chapter of Thai cuisine with many recipes and a spectrum of variations.
Over time, I will list here different versions of Tom Yam.
The Scholar and Astrologer Prayoon Uroochata (Born 1921) said that Tom Yum has originated during the Ratanakosin period, which began with the founding of Bangkok as the capital in 1782.
It is not certain though if at times Tom Yam was part of the Royal Thai cuisine. King Rama II, in his “Boat epic poems” described incomparable dishes and arrangements at the hands of his queen. The poems are in praise of dishes, fruit arrangements, desserts, and significant occasions marked by the royal barge processions – neglected to mention Tom Yam.
It is only in “Suphasit Son Ying” were the poet Sunthorn Phu (1786-1855), the Shakespeare of Thailand, describing the ability to prepare Tom Yam as part of the desirable qualities that adds charm to a woman.
We can find written evidence that during the reign of HRH King Chulalongkorn the Great (Rama V, 1853 – 1910), Tom Yam has became part of the Royal Thai cuisine. It is described how a governor of a remote province welcomed the King with a meal that included Tom Yam.
Thai used mostly with Fish, Dried fish or fish heads in the preparation of Tom Yam. In the early days, the markets did not offer shrimp at wide variety and affordability of today.
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- 10 tiger prawn (กุ้งกุลาดำ) head-on / shell-on / tail intact
- 4 shallots (หอมแดง)
- 2 lemongrass (ตะไคร้)
- 3 tablespoons fish sauce (น้ำปลา)
- 4 cm galangal (ข่า) bruised and sliced into thin slices.
- 6 straw mushrooms (เห็ดฟาง) or oyster mushroom
- 3 tablespoons lime juice (น้ำมะนาว)
- 3-5 kaffir lime leaves (ใบมะกรูด)
- 5-15 fresh bird’s eye chili (kee noo suan) (พริกขี้หนูสวนสด) depends on how spicy you like it
- 2 coriander leaves (ใบผักชี) saw coriander or coriander
- 4 cups water (น้ำเปล่า)
- Prepare the prawns. Discard the legs. Peel and devein.
- Squeeze and collect the fatty brains from the heads. Do not throw away the shells and heads.
- In a pestle and mortar bruise the shallots
- In a pot, bring to boil water, shallots and one stalk of lemongrass.
- Briefly and lightly, cook the prawns for 10-15 seconds until only 60% done.
- Remove them immediately from the pot and set aside. By doing so, We ensure that the prawns won’t get overcooked.
- Add the prawns heads and shells to the pot and cook only until the shells turn orange.
- Mix and press them but do not overcook more than 3 minutes or you risk in damaging the delicate sweet taste of the broth.
- Strain the liquids using a sieve. Press well to squeeze out all the juices.
- Add lemongrass
- Add galangal
- Add straw mushrooms.
- Season with one tbs of fish sauce and cook for couple of minutes until the mushrooms are done.
- Return the prawns to the pot.
- TURN OFF THE HEAT, we will now season the dish and finish it before serving. we turn off the heat to ensure the flavors will remain crisp and fresh.
- Season with the rest of the fish sauce
- Season with lime juice
- Add hand torn kaffir lime leaves – to release the maximum of the aromatic oils
- Add crushed bird’s eye chilies
- Add saw coriander
- Fry the prawns brain in oil until it gets a deep orange color.
- Finish the dish by adding the prawns brain it into the soup.