Sohm Choon Fruit Dessert of Lychee, Green Mango, Young Ginger in Jasmine, Bitter Orange, and Pandan-Scented Sweet and Salty Syrup, Topped with Grilled Shallots, Peanuts and Roasted Coconut
(ส้มฉุน ; sohm choon)

Click to listen to the Thai name pronunciation Listen to the Thai name pronunciation
By: Hanuman, Thaan Khun and Chef Thapakorn Lertviriyavit (Gorn)

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ส้มฉุน ; sohm choonSohm choon is a sweet and refreshing summer dessert made from lychee and other predominantly sweet-sour fruits – all afloat in an aromatic syrup. A type of dessert known as laawy gaaeo (ลอยแก้ว), sohm choon carries the name of another summer delight, the green and sour sohm choon savory mango salad described here.

The first reference to sohm choon as a dessert appears in in the early 1800s, in the culinary poetry of King Rama II gaap heh chohm khreuuang khaao waan (กาพย์เห่ชมเครื่องคาว – หวาน). The poetry was sung during the royal barge’s procession, and this verse refers to sohm choon as a dish made of lychees. A closer look at other foods that are mentioned in the verse also reveals other dishes that are clearly of Chinese origin, such as boiled pork spleen (dtohm dtap lek ต้มตับเหล็ก), steamed bird’s nests (rang nohk neung รังนกนึ่ง) and persimmons (luuk phlap ลูกพลับ).

So how and when did the description of sohm choon change from a thinly sliced unripe sour green mango salad to a sweet lychee dessert? Is there any connection between the sweet sohm choon and the other Chinese-influenced dishes that the King praises in his literary work?

To answer this question – and without any written documents available – we need to examine the history of the lychee in Siam and to apply our understanding of ancient Siamese insight in food preparation, and thus reach a conclusion that is based on historical fact.

Lychees are of Chinese origin
The lychee is not indigenous to Thailand; the tree originated in Southern China. Cultivation of the tree in Siam began only in the early 1800s, the beginning of the Rattanakosin era.

The Chinese considered the lychee to be an auspicious plant. They appreciated its delicate flavor, its pleasant aroma and its gentle sourness naturally soothed with the just right sweetness. It is a highly refreshing summer fruit.

The lychee season is short, and the fruit does not store well for long periods, Bai Juyi (772-846 AD), a Chinese poet living during the Tang dynasty, wrote that ‘the lychee changes as the days pass. . . in the second day it loses its scent, by the third day the taste has changed, and when four days have passed the fruits are no longer delicious’.

Chinese Canton warming plate, Daoguang (1821-50), Decorated with lychees, butterflies and flowers within a border of dragons chasing the flaming pearl, Diameter: 24.4cm.

Chinese Canton warming plate, Daoguang (1821-50),
Decorated with lychees, butterflies and flowers within a border of dragons chasing the flaming pearl,
Diameter: 24.4cm.

In order to minimize the risk to the delicate lychee and its ephemeral flavor, the Chinese used the strongest and fastest horses in the kingdom to deliver prized fresh lychees to the palace, located in the northern capital of Xi’an in the Shaanxi Province, before they spoiled.

The rest of the fruits were preserved unpeeled in salt brine or dried in the sun. Dry lychees soaked in alcohol were, in those days, considered a nourishing liqueur for a pregnant woman.

Chinese Immigration to Siam
During the Thonburi era (1768–1782) the first wave of Chinese migrated to Siam by sea. Mostly Cantonese (กวางตุ้ง), Hainanese (ไหหลำ) and Taiwanese Hokkien Chinese (ฮกเกี้ยน), they arrived in Siam on junk boats, sailing along the eastern coast of China and Vietnam.

Deck of a Chinese Junk Boast

Deck of a Chinese Junk Boast

These early Chinese immigrants worked hard, beginning as blue collar laborers in cities or on farms. They gradually shifted into trade, married Siamese women and gained an increasing financial and cultural influence on Siamese society, as well as its culinary culture.

The Chinese imported to Siam both dried lychees and preserved lychees in brine water, stored in large earthen jars. Mom Rajawongse (M.R.) Kukrit Pramoj (ม.ร.ว.คึกฤทธิ์ ปราโมช), the former prime minister of Thailand and a renowned scholar, noted that the brine-preserved lychees coming to Siam via the junk boat trade were often in varying stages of fermentation due to the long journey and the high sugar content of the cargo. The desired sour– salty taste of the product would instead often arrive in port with a foul smell and high alcohol content.

Only later were seedlings brought from in from China and planted in the outer gardens of Bangkok, (suaan naawk สวนนอก), which extended from the Mae Klong River in Samut Songkhram Province to Ratchaburi province, including in orchards located in areas like Ampawa (อัมพวา), Bang Nok Khwaek (บางนกแขวก) and Bang Khonthi (บางคณฑี), A visitor to these areas today can still find lychee trees as old as 200 years – and preserved lychee is still considered a local specialty there.

Cooking with preserved lychees
The cooks who managed the kitchens of the nobility used their culinary knowledge and ingenuity to temper the strong smell of the brine-preserved lychees that were quickly turning alcoholic. They discarded the liquid, rinsed the lychees thoroughly, and soaked them in a newly-made syrup.

To the syrup they added bitter orange peels (sohm saa), or even ginger and shallots, to mellow the strong taste and create a delicious and delightful dish. The shallots were either deep fried golden and crispy, or charred black and peeled.

In addition to the aromatic syrup the cooks would add other sour fruits to accompany the lychees, mainly unripe sour green mango; which is probably why this dish is called sohm choon.

The modern recipe of “Sohm choon”
Nowadays, when fresh lychees in Thailand are in abundance, and new varieties of lychees with a juicier and sweeter character have been developed, a touch of saltiness in the syrup is appropriate to hint at the essence of the old dish made from preserved salted Chinese heirloom lychees. Use jasmine-scented water to make the syrup, and add bitter orange peels (som saa), and/or pandan leaves, producing an aromatic syrup with the tone of the old-style recipe.

Whatever fruits you choose to include when making your own sohm choon, you must not neglect the heart of the dish – lychees and green mangos. To them you may add any fruit with an inner tartness such as marian plum, santol, salacca, or even pineapple.

And to finish the dish, squeeze the juice of bitter orange (sohm saa), lime and kafir lime, serve cold with shaved ice. The citrus flavors should be predominately of the bitter orange, follows by lime sharp acidity and finished with a hint of the aromatic kafir lime.

ส้มฉุน ; sohm choonVariation recipes:

The National Council of Women of Thailand (สภาสตรีแห่งชาติ)

  • Green mango
  • Lychees
  • Charred shallots
  • Syrup and Shaved ice

The book: Khao Daeng Gaeng Rawn (ข้าวแดง แกงร้อน) by Montri Wirotwehtchapan มนตรี วิโรจน์เวชภัณฑ์

  • Green mango
  • Lychees
  • Roasted peanuts, thinly sliced
  • Roasted shredded coconut
  • Charred shallots
  • Syrup and Shaved ice

Thaifoodmaster favorite recipe:

  • Green mango
  • Lychees
  • Young ginger
  • Other fruits such as: salak, marian plum, pineapple
  • Deep-fried crispy shallots
  • Bitter orange juice, lime juice and kaffir lime juice
  • Syrup and Shaved ice

5.0 from 1 reviews
Sohm Choon Recipe
 
Prep time
Cook time
Ready In
 
Sohm choon is a sweet and refreshing summer dessert made from lychee and other predominantly sweet-sour fruits – all afloat in an aromatic syrup. A type of dessert known as laawy gaaeo (ลอยแก้ว),
By:
Recipe type: Dessert
Cuisine: Thai
Serves: 5

Ingredients

 
To make the syrup
  • 2 Cups water (or flowers infused water)
  • 1 cup + 1 tablespoon White granulated sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon Salt
  • 3 Pandan leaves
  • 1/2 tablespoon Bitter orange peel
  • 10 Organic jasmine flower
The National Council of Women of Thailand Recipe
  • Lychees
  • Green mango
  • Roasted peanuts, thinly sliced
  • Charred shallots
  • Shaved ice
Montri Wirotwehtchapan’s Recipe
  • Lychees
  • Green mango
  • Young ginger
  • Roasted peanuts, thinly sliced
  • Roasted shredded coconut
  • Charred shallots
  • Shaved ice
Thaifoodmaster favorite recipe
  • Lychees
  • Green mango
  • Young ginger
  • Deep-fried crispy shallots
  • Other fruits such as: salak, marian plum, pineapple
  • ฺBitter orange juice, lime juice and kaffir lime juice
  • Shaved ice
Method
  1. Dissolve granulated white sugar and salt in water. (Traditionally, fresh flower-scented water is used.)
    ส้มฉุน ; sohm choon
  2. Add the pandan leaves and green bitter orange peels. Let simmer for a few minutes or until the syrup reduces about 20%.
    ส้มฉุน ; sohm choon
  3. Let the syrup cool to room temperature and add fresh organic jasmine flowers.
    ส้มฉุน ; sohm choon
  4. Remove the lychee seed by slicing the tip of the fruit; and then, using a sharp fruit-carving knife, carve around the seed until it separates. Peel the lychees and set in a serving bowl.
    ส้มฉุน ; sohm choon
  5. Add green mango and young julienned ginger, topped with deep-fried crispy shallots. Squeeze the juice of bitter orange, lime and kafir lime, serve cold with ice.
    ส้มฉุน ; sohm choon
or
  1. Top with julienned green mango, slices of grilled shallot, sliced roasted peanuts and roasted shredded coconut. Squeeze the juice of bitter orange, lime and kafir lime, serve cold with ice.
    ส้มฉุน ; sohm choon