What are the two types of Tom Yum soup?

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What are the two types of Tom Yum soup?



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Tom Yum soup is a beloved Thai dish that has gained international recognition for its bold and vibrant flavors. This iconic Thai soup has become a global favorite, known for its spicy, sour, and aromatic profile. While many might think of Tom Yum as a single, homogenous dish, there are actually two main types: Tom Yum Goong and Tom Yum Gai. In this article, we will delve into the fascinating world of these two distinct varieties of Tom Yum soup, exploring their ingredients, preparation, and regional differences.

I. Tom Yum Goong

Origin and History

Tom Yum Goong, also known simply as Tom Yum soup, is perhaps the more famous of the two varieties. Its roots can be traced back to Thailand, where it has been enjoyed for generations. The name “Tom Yum” roughly translates to “sour and spicy soup,” which perfectly encapsulates the essence of this dish.


Shrimp (Goong): The star ingredient of Tom Yum Goong is undoubtedly the succulent shrimp. They are typically left with their shells and heads intact, as these parts add depth of flavor to the soup.

Lemongrass: Lemongrass provides a citrusy, refreshing aroma and flavor to the soup.

Kaffir Lime Leaves: These leaves contribute a distinct and invigorating fragrance.

Galangal: Galangal, a rhizome similar to ginger, adds a spicy, earthy note to the broth.

Thai Bird’s Eye Chilies: These tiny but fiery chilies give Tom Yum Goong its signature heat.

Straw Mushrooms: These mushrooms provide a unique texture and earthiness.

Fish Sauce: To enhance the umami flavor, fish sauce is used in moderation.

Lime Juice: Freshly squeezed lime juice adds the crucial sour element that balances the spiciness.


The soup begins with the simmering of lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves, and galangal in a pot of water to create a fragrant broth.

Shrimp, straw mushrooms, and Thai bird’s eye chilies are added to the broth.

The soup is seasoned with fish sauce and lime juice, creating the characteristic sweet, sour, and salty flavor profile.

Tom Yum Goong is typically garnished with fresh cilantro leaves before serving.

Regional Variations

In different regions of Thailand, you may find variations of Tom Yum Goong that incorporate local ingredients and techniques. For example, in Southern Thailand, coconut milk may be added to create Tom Yum Goong Nam Khon, a creamier version of the soup.

II. Tom Yum Gai

Origin and History

Tom Yum Gai, often referred to as Tom Yum Chicken, is another delightful variation of Tom Yum soup that deserves its own spotlight. This version swaps out the seafood in favor of tender chicken, making it a popular choice for those who prefer poultry over shrimp.


Chicken (Gai): The main protein source in Tom Yum Gai is chicken, which is typically boneless and sliced into thin strips.

Lemongrass, Kaffir Lime Leaves, and Galangal: These aromatics remain consistent with Tom Yum Goong, providing the familiar Thai flavors.

Thai Bird’s Eye Chilies: The spicy kick is still present, as Thai bird’s eye chilies are a staple in Tom Yum soups.

Mushrooms: Instead of straw mushrooms, Tom Yum Gai often features a variety of mushrooms, such as shiitake or oyster mushrooms.

Fish Sauce: Like Tom Yum Goong, fish sauce is used to season the soup.

Lime Juice: Lime juice imparts the necessary tanginess to balance the flavors.


Tom Yum Gai follows a similar preparation method to Tom Yum Goong. The lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves, and galangal are simmered in water to create the base.

Chicken slices are added to the broth along with Thai bird’s eye chilies and mushrooms.

Fish sauce and lime juice are used to season the soup, creating the hallmark sweet, sour, and salty profile.

Tom Yum Gai is often garnished with fresh cilantro leaves before serving.

Regional Variations

Just like Tom Yum Goong, Tom Yum Gai also experiences regional variations. In some areas of Thailand, coconut milk may be added to create a creamier version known as Tom Yum Gai Nam Khon.

Tom Yum soup is a culinary gem from Thailand that comes in two distinct varieties: Tom Yum Goong and Tom Yum Gai. Both soups share a common thread of bold flavors, combining sourness, spiciness, and fragrant aromatics. While Tom Yum Goong features shrimp as the star protein, Tom Yum Gai opts for chicken. Both versions are equally delightful and customizable to suit individual preferences.

The rich history and versatility of Tom Yum soup make it a beloved dish both in Thailand and across the globe. Whether you prefer the succulent seafood in Tom Yum Goong or the tender chicken in Tom Yum Gai, exploring the diverse world of Tom Yum soup is an exciting culinary journey that showcases the vibrant flavors of Thai cuisine. So, the next time you’re craving a taste of Thailand, consider indulging in one of these two fantastic variations of Tom Yum soup for a delicious and satisfying meal.

Variations and Adaptations

Vegetarian and Vegan Tom Yum

For those who prefer a meat-free option, there are vegetarian and vegan variations of Tom Yum soup available. Instead of animal-based proteins, tofu or tempeh can be used as a satisfying alternative. Vegetable broth can replace the traditional chicken or shrimp broth, and soy sauce or tamari can substitute for fish sauce, making it suitable for vegetarians and vegans alike.
Tom Yum Talay (Seafood Tom Yum)

While Tom Yum Goong is known for its shrimp, there’s also Tom Yum Talay, which includes a variety of seafood such as squid, mussels, and fish.

This seafood medley provides a rich and diverse range of flavors and textures, making it a seafood lover’s dream.

Tom Yum Nam Sai (Clear Tom Yum)

Tom Yum Nam Sai is a lighter and clearer version of the soup. It omits the use of coconut milk, resulting in a more brothy and translucent consistency. This variation allows the ingredients and aromatic herbs to shine even more, offering a purer expression of the Tom Yum flavor.
Regional Specialties

Throughout Thailand, different regions have put their own unique spin on Tom Yum soup. In Isan, for example, you might find Tom Yum with a stronger emphasis on lime and chili, making it exceptionally sour and spicy. In Bangkok, you might come across variations that cater to international tastes, incorporating ingredients like chicken, prawns, and mushrooms.
IV. Health Benefits of Tom Yum Soup

Rich in Antioxidants: Tom Yum soup contains ingredients such as lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves, and galangal, which are rich in antioxidants. These compounds help combat free radicals and promote overall health.

Immune System Support: The combination of spicy chilies and lime juice in Tom Yum provides a boost to the immune system. The vitamin C in lime juice aids in strengthening the body’s defenses.

Weight Management: Tom Yum soup is a low-calorie option that can help with weight management. It’s filling and satisfying, making it a great choice for those looking to watch their calorie intake.

Anti-Inflammatory Properties: Some of the ingredients in Tom Yum, such as lemongrass and galangal, possess anti-inflammatory properties that may help with conditions like arthritis and joint pain.

Digestive Aid: The spices and herbs in Tom Yum soup can aid digestion. Lemongrass, in particular, is known for its digestive benefits.

Tom Yum in Popular Culture

Global Popularity: Tom Yum soup has become a symbol of Thai cuisine worldwide. It’s a favorite in Thai restaurants around the globe and has even made appearances in popular culture, including movies and television shows.

Culinary Inspiration: Tom Yum’s distinctive flavors and ingredients have inspired chefs and home cooks to experiment with incorporating these elements into various dishes beyond traditional soup. Tom Yum-flavored noodles, grilled meats, and even cocktails have gained popularity.

Cultural Exchange: Thai restaurants and street food stalls offering Tom Yum have facilitated cultural exchange, allowing people from different backgrounds to experience the vibrant flavors of Thailand.

Tom Yum soup is a culinary masterpiece with a rich history and a world of variations to explore. Whether you prefer the classic Tom Yum Goong with its succulent shrimp or the comforting Tom Yum Gai with tender chicken, these soups offer a delightful blend of sour, spicy, and aromatic flavors that are sure to tantalize your taste buds. With vegetarian, vegan, seafood, and regional adaptations, there’s a Tom Yum for everyone to enjoy.

Beyond its delicious taste, Tom Yum also offers numerous health benefits, making it a wholesome choice for those seeking a flavorful and nutritious meal. Its global popularity and cultural significance demonstrate its enduring appeal and its role in bringing the flavors of Thailand to people around the world.

So, the next time you find yourself in the mood for Thai cuisine or want to embark on a culinary adventure, consider trying one of the two iconic varieties of Tom Yum soup, and savor the explosion of flavors that make this dish a true gastronomic treasure.


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