Even though Thailand is a particularly hot country, soups remain a popular choice. Whether by itself or served with a side, the liquid delight that is Thai soup is never too far away. When it comes to the most popular Thai soups, I would imagine that many people who have flirted with Thai cuisine may already be familiar with some of the big names.
Either way, to help you build the foundation that is your Thai vocabulary (and ensure you eat well in the country), we have chosen 4 popular Thai soups you should definitely try for yourself.
Soups are quite simple to make, which is why they are so common. Let’s look at how to say soup in Thai, which you’ll need to know to order it. The general word for soup in Thai is ‘kaeng suud’ (แกงจืด). They also use the word ‘suup’ (ซุป), so you can use that in a pinch.
However, you may notice how a lot of the soup dishes include the name ‘tom’ (ต้ม). While you would think that this means soup in Thai, ‘tom’ (ต้ม) actually means boiling. I guess that makes sense. For ingredients, you will see a common trend between many of the soups. Lemongrass, a Thai classic, makes its appearance along with a number of other more common Thai spices.
In terms of actually eating, usually a ceramic or metal spoon - closer to a small ladle with how deep it is - will be provided or at least available. Then it is a case of sipping at it. You should get your chopsticks ready too if there are any noodles or larger pieces of meat or vegetable.
While this is far from an exhaustive list, these four are perhaps some of the most well-known and loved. You should be able to find them quite easily too, depending on where you are in Thailand. Hopefully, you will find your new favorite Thai dish while also learning Thai in the process.
Tom Yum (ต้มยำ) is perhaps the best known of the Thai soups. It is bright orange/red color belies the spicy-sour flavor. Often served with ‘goong’ (กุ้ง), meaning shrimp, the flavor of tom yum soup comes from the many herbs and spices used when making it. Lemongrass is a prominent ingredient, and so are kaffir lime leaves and galangal - a plant belonging to the ginger family.
If you want to make tom yum at home, you can usually buy pre-prepared bunches of these ingredients that you simply need to boil and mix. These days, you will find a variety of different meats and vegetables mixed in, with the soup itself being the central part of the dish.
Tom Kha Gai (ต้มข่าไก่) is another common yet popular Thai soup. What sets it apart is coconut milk, which adds a whole new level of creaminess, and sweetness, which helps combat the spiciness. It is a Thai dish, after all.
You will often see the name translated as chicken coconut soup, but this isn’t really a direct translation, but rather a description. The name translates more directly as chicken galangal soup. Yes, that’s the same ingredient mentioned above with the tom yum. In fact, you will find the ingredients are largely similar between the two, with the major difference being that coconut milk. And believe me, Thai coconut milk is amazing.
Tom Klong (ต้มโคล้ง) uses mostly the same ingredients as the other two soups once again. However, the difference here is how the ingredients are roasted and dried. This gives it a much different flavor, with more saltiness and even sweetness from the onions coming through. The protein is dried fish - usually, any kind that the chef can find at their local market, giving it a more local flare.
Just a note about the name - it is thought to come from the name of an ancient soup served in the region which had similar ingredients. It is spelled differently than the word ‘khlong’ (คลอง), which refers to canals and small rivers, especially in Bangkok. However, this may actually help you remember the name if you associate khlongs with fish. Or maybe that is just my way of thinking.
Now here is one without ‘tom’ in its name - Kuai Tiao Ruea (ก๋วยเตี๋ยวเรือ), commonly referred to as boat noodles. This name comes from the fact that they are often served from boats, though you can of course order them in regular restaurants and street-side stools. Stop by a floating market for the most authentic experience. They can be really cheap too, though probably why it is one of the more popular Thai soups.
One thing you may notice is the flavor of the soup, which is quite unique. The base of the soup is pork or beef broth, flavored with some common Thai spices. The real surprise though is the inclusion of pig or cow blood, known as ‘nam tok’ (น้ำตก) in Thai (disturbingly the same word used for the waterfall in Thai). This not only adds to the intense taste but also thickens it. Don’t let that deter you though, it is delicious.
If you visit a Thai restaurant anywhere in the world, you will likely find a healthy selection of soups on the menu. They are amongst the most popular Thai foods out there, and that is saying something for one of the best culinary experiences any country offers. When you next stop by the kingdom, make sure to give each of these a try.
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