Over the years I’ve come to have some favorite Thai soups that might not even be known to people who haven’t traveled in Thailand or taken Kasma’s Thai cooking classes. (She retired from the classes in 2020.) This blog looks at 4 of my favorites, soups I prefer to the better known duo of soups seen in pretty much every Thai restaurant, at least here in the U.S..
Those two soups are, of course, Hot-and-Sour Prawn Soup – Tom Yum Goong – and some iteration of Tom Ka – a coconut-based soup with galanga, such as Chicken Coconut Soup with Galanga (Tom Ka Gai) – perhaps the most common version in America – or Seafood Coconut Soup with Galanga (Tom Ka Talay) – perhaps the most common in Thailand.
Don’t get me wrong: they are delicious soups. It’s just that there are others that deserve to be just as well known. And in Thailand there are numerous versions of tom yum (hot and sour) soups; such as one that includes a whole, fried fish.
So in no particular order, here are four other Thai soups to enjoy.
(Click images to see larger version.)
Southern Thai Oxtail Soup (Soop Hahng Wua)
Hmm. Did I say in no particular order? Actually, I think this might be my favorite, especially for a winter’s day. It’s a fairly spicy dish, as Kasma once taught it in Advanced Set B-3. It’s quite easy to make: cook the oxtails with salt until tender; toss in the potatoes, tomatoes, onion and other ingredients and cook until nearly done; season to taste with fish sauce or light soy; finish the cooking and add some white pepper, a bit of lime juice and palm sugar as needed. It’s very tasty and, as a bone broth, it’s also very nourishing. (See the article Broth is Beautiful (offsite, opens in new window) by Sally Fallon Morell.) This is one I love to make in the winter; it’s pretty darn good in the summer as well. In Thailand you’ll see it at some of the truck stops in the south.
Southern-style Turmeric Chicken Soup (Tom Kamin Gai Bahn)
I don’t believe I’ve ever come across this soup in the United States, save in Kasma’s cooking classes: she taught it in Advanced Set F-2. I’ve had it at a couple of places in Thailand down south. Like the Oxtail Soup above, and many Thai soups, it’s a soup with the ingredients surrounded by a mostly clear broth. Again, you get a healthy bone broth, this time flavored with lemon grass, galanga, garlic, shallots and, as you might guess from the name, fresh turmeric; the turmeric gives it the lovely golden color. Kasma makes it with 10 to 15 crushed Thai chillies to give it a bit of heat. Again, add a bit of lime juice , finish off with fish sauce and sugar (both to taste) and you’ve got a delicious soup that lights up your taste buds. Kasma makes her version using whole quail: they make a really good broth.
Hot Galanga Beef Soup with Holy Basil (Neau Tom Ka)
When I’ve had this soup in Thailand, it’s slightly different than the version pictured here and which Kasma used to teach Advanced Set F-3. In Thailand the beef is stewed, so quite well-cooked. In Kasma’s version, beef slices (sirloin or skirt steak) are added at the end by bringing the soup to a rolling boil, adding the beef and then turning it off so that the beef is very lightly cooked. I have to say, I prefer her soup; we get different and better beef here in the U.S. This is a soup that can be incendiary – it has both dried red chillies and fresh Thai chillies. There’s also a sour component from tamarind juice and a quite noticeable flavor from the holy basil leaves. Just a delicious, fiery-hot soup.
Golden Pumpkin Coconut Soup (Kaeng Liang Kati Fak Tong)
I debated including this soup because it is really Kasma’s creation; I’ve never seen it anywhere else than in our own kitchen. This is a very rich soup: the base is 4 cups of coconut milk. One of the keys to the soup is making sure you have a very ripe squash/pumpkin; we prefer to use a ripe kabocha squash. Further flavor comes from ground shrimp, kapi shrimp paste and chopped jalapeño or Fresno peppers. At the end, fresh lemon basil is added for an added dimension. This is a very hearty soup: a little bit is quite satisfying. Kasma taught this dish in Advanced Set B-4.
If you’d like to try it yourself, Kasma’s posted her recipe for Golden Pumpkin Coconut Soup. Do use fresh lemon basil at the end, if you can: it adds a very tasty dimension (though Thai basil can be used if necessary).
Before you try any of the recipes, do read Kasma’s article Cooking “to Taste”
Written by Michael Babcock, August 2014.