One of the best dishes my mom made when I was a kid was tom yum served with a crispy golden omelet and rice. Tom yum is a hot and sour soup from southeast Asia, and in every region you can find a unique version of this awesome dish. At its heart is always a delicious broth made from chicken or beef stock, lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves (which I’ve had to forgo in Japan, alas!), galangal, and lime juice or tamarind paste. I’ve had tom yum in Thailand that has ranged from clear and thin to rich and creamy. Some tom yum is served with shrimp (tom yum goong), chicken (tom yum gai), pork (tom yum kha mu), or fish (tom yum pla), and a little coconut milk or condensed milk can be included to add an extra creaminess.
Here in Japan, some of these ingredients are hard to find. The Thai food I’ve had is spicy, sour, and salty, with copious amounts of lime juice and cilantro; Japanese food, in contrast, is not so flamboyant. The hottest ingredient here is wasabi, which is more of a heat that breathes through your nostrils rather than the lingering, painful tingle a Thai chili pepper will leave. Because of this, a lot of ingredients are tough to get in our small town: there’s only one or two grocery stores that sell cilantro; limes can be $2 a piece; and good luck finding any spicy peppers, lemongrass, or galangal! Back home, however, these ingredients could easily be found in the local Asian food market.
Luckily, one of the Thai restaurants in town has a small store in the back. There we can buy all the ingredients we need! We always go around lunchtime so we can also have an amazing pad thai set or a bowl of hot noodles. The woman who runs the restaurant is from a region near my mother’s hometown, Lampang, so the food is wonderfully familiar. Her tom yum utilises Japanese ingredients – namely, the daikon (Japanese radish). I’m not a big fan of daikon in general, but it’s delicious in her soup!
When I emailed my mother asking for her written tom yum recipe, she sent me a handful of pictures and two short sentences of instructions. That’s the way we cooked back home – we measured by taste! (In this way, I’m a terrible baker.) As a result, the amounts I’ve written in the recipe below are approximate. If the soup tastes too salty, add more lime and a little water to dilute it; if it’s too sour, add an extra dash of soy sauce. Play with the flavours until it becomes something you like!
The brown root is galangal. It looks similar to ginger, perhaps a bit lighter in the skin, but the taste is sharper and a bit woody, and (to me) it smells more aromatic. Ginger is an acceptable substitute if you can’t find any galangal in the store.
(The two pictures above don’t show the full ingredient amounts I used.)
- 4 cups of beef or chicken broth
- 2 stalks of lemongrass, root trimmed, cut into 1-inch pieces
- 1 inch of galangal or ginger, peeled and sliced
- 2 cloves of garlic, crushed and coarsely chopped
- 1/2 yellow onion, diced
- 100 grams of shrimp
- 8 white mushrooms (or 1 can of straw or oyster mushrooms)
- 1 tomato
- 1 lime, juiced
- 1 tablespoon of fish sauce
- 2 tablespoons of soy sauce
- 1/2 teaspoon of sugar
- 1 tablespoon of tom yum paste (optional, for extra flavour)
- Thai chili peppers, sliced (the number of peppers depends on how brave you are!)
- green onions (garnish)
- cilantro (garnish)
- Heat 4 cups of broth in a pot. Add lemongrass, galangal, yellow onion, 1 tablespoon of soy sauce, 1 tablespoon of fish sauce, and garlic. Bring to a boil, then simmer, covered, for 15 minutes.
- Marinate shrimp in a small mixture of lime juice and soy sauce while the broth boils.
- Add shrimp to the broth and simmer until cooked. Add mushrooms, tomato, Thai chili peppers, and tom yum paste (if you want an extra flavour boost). Simmer an additional 3-5 minutes.
- Turn off the heat and transfer it all into a serving bowl. Stir in lime juice, sugar, and one tablespoon of soy sauce to taste. Garnish with green onions and/or cilantro.
- Serve with a fresh omelet and rice.
- 2 eggs
- 1 clove of garlic, crushed and coarsely chopped
- 1/2 tablespoon of soy sauce
- a dash of water
- 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil
- rice (as a side)
- In a bowl, mix the eggs, soy sauce, water, and garlic.
- In a pan, heat 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil until it’s spitting hot. Pour in the egg mix. Tilt the pan to spread the egg around. When the underside is crispy golden, flip the omelet.
- After a minute, remove from the pan. Serve with rice.