Tom Yam Gung, Hot and Sour Prawn Soup


I adore Thai food. I don’t get enough of it and I don’t know a lot about it, but I do love many dishes from Thailand. I wasn’t a big fan of chillies growing up, but later food experiences and lengthy stays in Indonesia and several trips to Thailand, India, Malaysia and South Korea resulted in a love for chillies in my late 20’s and onwards. While I was at Business School in the late 1980’s I had a Thai classmate named Pakorn who first introduced me to “authentic” Thai food. At a small but packed Thai restaurant in Queens, he would take me and other friends to eat a fabulous meal with several courses or dishes. What amazed me was not the individual dishes, one can always remember those and order them again, but instead, it was the pacing of the meal, the hot, the cool, the spicy, sweet, salty and sour… he was a master at balancing the flavors and it always felt like the meal was a carefully conducted orchestra, that resulted in wonderful music… I have never really eaten Thai food again with that “insider track,” despite several months spent in Thailand on business in later years.


Tom (or dtom) Yam Gung is present in menus of almost all Thai restaurants around the world. It is presented almost as we Pinoys might have a sinigang dish on our menus. While the most common version is made with prawns, it can also include fish, squid, etc. But more importantly, it varies almost as much as the number of Thais who cook it. But ultimately, the idea is to have a soup that is SPICY, sour, salty and fragrant. How spicy, sour, salty or fragrant is left up to you. Here is how I make our Tom Yam Gung at home. I have to admit that we sometimes cheat and use those instant Tom Yam gung soup mixes, but if you have the ingredients and want to do the soup from scratch, it is extremely easy to do. And the resulting soup is incredibly satisfying.


First peel and devein 1/2 kilo of medium sized shrimp or prawns (I used the white prawns, though the black tiger prawns will work as well) leaving the tails on. In a small stock pot, add all the prawn heads and shells, rinsed once in water, and cover with about 8 cups of water. Bring this to a boil and when the shells turn orange, mash them up a bit to extract more shrimp flavor. A film of oily residue will form on the foamy surface of the broth, and that is desirable. After about 15 minutes of boiling, pass the soup through a sieve and return the broth to the stock pot. Add about a tablespoon of finely chopped galangal (ginger), three stalks of lemongrass, finely sliced, the roots of two coriander plants (carefully washed beforehand), 6 sliced shallots and let this simmer for a few minutes. Add a substantial splash of thai fish sauce (patis), a pinch of salt, a few small tomatoes (sliced in half if they are a bit large), several sliced straw mushrooms fresh or canned, and simmer a couple of minutes. This should be flavorful at this point, but not overly salty or fragrant yet. Next, add the peeled and rinsed prawns and immediately add 2-3 finely sliced kaffir or makrut lime leaves, 3-5 bird’s eye chillies (siling labuyo, chopped), 4-5 sawtooth coriander leaves, sliced (or wansoy or regular coriander if you don’t have the sawtooth variety) and after a minute or two, serve immediately. When you serve the soup, provide at least a whole dayap so that diners can squeeze as much lime juice into their soup as they desire. You don’t want to cook the lime juice, it’s freshest and more delicious if added at the last moment, when the soup is about to be consumed. Despite the cooking time which is often 15 minutes or less, the soup is incredibly flavorful and utterly satisfying. The key, as in all good Thai food, is in the right balance of flavors and spiciness…


40 Responses

  1. yum…the spicier, the better. all those spices are necessary to get the distinct flavor of the authentic soup.

  2. mm, i i know that thai dive in queens (near roosevelt, a few blocks away from the filipino places). i learned about it from a thai manicurist who considers it the most authentic thai place in new york. it’s so authentic that the thai princess was known to frequent the place when she was a student at NYU a few years ago. It has since expanded and food no longer seems to be as good as when it was just a hole in the wall.

    thanks for mentioning pacing… will attempt to do it on my next thai meal.

  3. MM – have you tried Som’s Noodle House? It’s a hole-in-the-wall Thai restaurant near Rockwell. Food is great, but you need a lot of patience with the service especially if you go during peak hours. They recently opened a much nicer branch on T. Morato in Quezon City. Service is a lot better there, but my family says the food is not as good as at the original branch.

  4. i like mine with a lot of galangal, kaffir limes, straw mushrooms and chili oil(nam prik pao). i prefer the tom yam ruam mit, which generally means “everything in it”. “everything”pertaining to seafood of all kinds. the broth is generally creamier as they add milk/coconut milk. really rich compared to the lighter broth of tom yam kung. similarly as the tempura not being indigenous to the japanese, chillies were only relatively recently introduced to the thais by portugese merchants. was obviously also quickly embraced.

  5. Som’s in Algers St., near rockwell is good thai food at good prices! Always a lot of people even on holidays. I’ve been planning to make this soup. Found galangal and kaffir leaves in Rustan’s powerplant. MM, where do you get your limes?

  6. Sorry Pebs, but Som’s (by rockwell)is not representative of real Thai Cooking. A relative of the owner mentioned that if you see their kitchen where your meals are prepared will not make you enjoy their cooking. It has been featured so many times including the new book on Manila’s best kept secrets on Manila restaurants. If you have been to Thailand or have eaten real Thai food, you will know why Som’s does not measure up. There is a little known Thai restaurant in the fastfood area of 168 in Divisoria owned by Chariya Thaikupt which offers much better Thai food. It has an open kitchen which ensures more hygienic food preparation. It is worth checking out. But Som’s – No way!

  7. i can’t have tom yum–my spiciness tolerance cannot take it yet. but i do love thai food.

    i’ve been to som’s a couple of times, but it didn’t do anything for me. even that thai resto in serendra. good but nothing great.

    lex: i wanna try that chariya in 168 the next time i go there…

    gemma: i know that place you’re referring to. our friend brought us there last nov when we were visiting. compared to the thai food we get here, i absolutely loved that thai place. sobrang sarap na rin for me. of course the best i’ve had was in thailand itself.

  8. I’m not really a fan of sour broth, whether Filipino, Thai or Chinese. I don’t like the aroma too but I understand why some are crazy for it, my mom included. It’s always hot and sour soup for her everytime we dine out.

  9. Lex! I totally agree with you! I keep on asking people who rave about Soms – that Soms serves cheap food. It’s NOT even comparable to authentic Thai food! Those who have been to Thailand can and will say that it is NO WHERE NEAR real Thai food! I alwasy snicker when I read people’s articles what claim that Soms serves authentic Thai food. Tsk.. Tsk..

    I myself have been looking for a GREAT authentic thai restaurant but nothing comes close! I have yet to try the one you’re suggesting. Thanks!!

    Finally! Someone who agrees with me that Soms is NOT representative of real Thai food! Yeha!!!

  10. ..for a more intense shrimp flavour try roasting the prawn shells and heads in the oven on high heat together with the shallots, MM and then add them in your stock pot. I would give the lemon grass stalks a good WHACK first or crush them to release the essential oils before mincing them to make the broth even more fragrant….hmmmm I can just smell it! Anyway, I just love anything with Lemongrass in it…Barbecued Lemongrass Chicken…or Lemongrass Ginger Ale to balance the spiciness of this soup!

  11. Didnt you think of enrolling yourself in a culinary school? Am just so curious, you attended business but it seems that you are well versed in this field! Anyway, those who grew up in the US really should know how to cook.

    I think of enrolling in a culinary school but I have other priorities right now. I dont want to gain more weight. When I cook, I really eat a lot and gain a more weight.

    Looks like I already enrolled in school with your updates. You should have been a very good teacher if you opted to teach. I wont be able to have better notes than what you are presenting. It is really one of the best.

  12. MM,
    I totally agree with Madeline. I have been learning a lot from your blog. Perhaps in the future, you would like to open a culinary school, I would be one of your students.

  13. Yes, betty q. is right to get the flavor from lemongrass one needs to whack or pound it to bruise the stalk and release its oil. I ran a test on this before made lemongrass tea the whacked/pounded one gave the most flavorful. I have seen once in a Thai restaurant prepared their broth from scratch. They baked their shrimp skin with red onion, pounded lemongrass, chilies and one piece of that sawtooth coriander. Once baked into the stock pot – boil and drain and flavorful Tom Yam Gung in the making.

  14. Yeah MM: peterb and I would like to know where you get your limes here in Manila. Seriously, i know..its so hard to find..the kind of dayap also known i think as the Key lime variety i have been asking for and no one seems to offer the exact place to find such a fruit ..hmmmm must be some jealously kept prized condiment. Anyhow, sarap talaga that Tom Yam..a soup dish thats just delish with hot salivating now..My Thai friends once told me that sometimes they add a little bit of red thai curry paste to get some kick in the soup, and a little evaporated milk in lieu of coconut milk to get that somewhat milky texture.

  15. I remember growing up back home how dayap was in abundance and we always had lemonade using dayap!…Has the times really changed now that they are not readily available?

    Maria Clara: are you into Vietnamese food? If you are and you find yourself with a whole kaboodle of lemongrass, I shall send you a recipe of Lemongrass Barbecued is sooooo yummy and you will find yourself making it over and over again you might want to consider planting lemongrass which is what I did!

  16. betty q. I like the Vietnamese sandwiches and their layered steam cake which is pandan and mung beans – green and yellowish thing. Your recipes are always a keeper why don’t you post it here so our peers who would like to try it will avail themselves. Thanks much.

  17. betty q — i agree with maria clara, please post your recipe for lemon grass barbecued chicken. thanks

    on dayap — it is never easy to find them. supermarkets oftentimes pass off green lemons as dayap, but we all know that the native dayap has a flavor and aroma so distinct.
    solution? plant the shrub in your backyard or in a large pot. it is easy enough to grow — just needs full sunlight and ocassional addition of compost to the pot.

  18. sonia – where can i get the shrub? haven’t really seen any for sale.

    All this to make soup! haha

    Lex – When did Chariya Thaikupt open in 168. Been a while since i’ve been there. On Som’s – why did the relative of the owner say such a thing? I’ve never been to Thailand, my thai experiences were limited to Sukhothai and Flavors & Spices. Are there any other good thai restos?

  19. peterb, what is interesting about Thai and Vietnamese food in Thailand and Vietnam is that it is so naturally good… streetfood, restaurant food, etc. all come across as being a notch above other cuisines… I am not sure if it is the copious amounts of herbs, the super instant off the heat feel, the ingredients, etc… but it is on average more wonderful I feel. There seems to be a huge National pride in the food, from the most basic soups to noodle dishes, etc. Oddly, I can’t point to a great Thai restaurant here… dayap can be found in weekend markets… and very rarely in some groceries. It isn’t common anymore in Manila. When I find it, I buy everything the vendor is selling and store it in the fridge for up to a month or so. It is brilliant not only in soups etc. but in leche flan, pies, etc. And yes, for the curious, I have an earlier post on dayap rather than the green lemons/limes that are now referred to as dayaps as well… If you frequent weekend markets, you will eventually find the few vendors that occasionally sell real dayap and you have to keep going back to them until you get a feel for availability. I sometimes find mine at the FTI Taguig Saturday market, but I am sure the Lung Center Sunday market, Farmer’s market, etc. would have them. I just bought a plant last month and hope I will manage to extract fruit from it in future years… Evangeline, I am not a professional and have never attended cooking or culinary school, so I am at best, an avid amateur… not sure I could teach you anything in the manner a chef might… what you read and see here, is what you get… :) Madeline, I was very good in the business field, I think, and did well, but cooking was always a hobby. I doubt if I would ever make a huge living from cooking… Hmmm, Som’s seems to get strong reactions on both sides of the fence, I wonder…

  20. betty q, please email me the recipe for the lemongrass bbq chicken, i love vietnamese food and I always order this pork bbq with lemongrass over rice, heaven!!!

  21. Som’s isn’t great but it’s not so bad either. I went to the one in Reposo but I heard it closed down already. There are a no. of Thai places in Manila ala Som’s type such as Sala Thai near PWU in Malate and this place in UST (name escapes me). I quite enjoyed Krua Thai in Blue Wave near MOA, Jatujak in MOA is quite nice too. Tom Yam is a staple of any Thai meal for me. Beautifully executed MM!

  22. the picture of the vegies looks so vibrant!

    i echo what betty q said about roasting the shells and head. the flavour of the soup takes on a greater depth and gets a nice golden orange tint, too.

    Thai Food by David Thompson, highly recommended.

  23. For travelers who had tasted genuine Thai cuisine they definitely wont appreciate Som’s. I had read so many good reviews about it. The taste is probably suited for most Pinoys.
    The Chinese food here is also made suited for Pinoy tastebuds. There are reactions among different sites on the taste of chinese foods in Hongkong. Some Pinoys find it not suited to their taste, others liked it. Though I dont find any difference between Chinese foods here and San Francisco , San Diego and LA. Since Pinoys are cooking here, they catered it to how they wanted it.

  24. MM, I attended several lectures and seminars, where questions are raised only by people who has the guts to ask or as I may say, have the confidence to speak in public. . Some people cant talk in the presence of a group of 20-30 people.
    Here the discussion is more interactive since the comments are made into writing and we dont see each other. Another reason, is the fact that MM, you are a good listener/reader, since you really take time to answer each one of us! You made each one of us important in your own little way. Thanks for everything!

  25. other thai restaurants are:

    Sala Thai on nakpil st. off taft ave. the owner/cook is thai but due to unavailability of ingredients at times quality can be inconsistent. but always good.

    People’s Palace in greenbelt 3. which i find expensive.

    Benjarong at the Dusit Hotel which if you come in a group and order many dishes you’ll be surprised to find the per head prices reasonable for the quality.

    i saw one at the friendship highway in clark recently but have not tried that yet.

  26. there’s another along pasong tamo called Thai Pad. I think they used to operate Sukho Thai. their tom yum is pretty good– on the creamy side– and cheap (less than P100 per serving)

  27. OK…if you guys have any lemongrass in your garden and don’t know what to do with them, you can:
    1. trim the stalks removing the tough outer stems till you get to the heart…then cut them to 3 inch pieces, pound it with the back of your knife and finely mince. Store in containers and freeze!
    2. Don’t know what to do with the light green part? Bruise them first like your’re making “PIGA” something then add it when making tea (as Maria Clara suggested-wonderful aroma will fill your kitchen!) or add it to sugar syrup next time you plan to make LEMONADE..add some ginger slices and you have the makings of a wonderful refreshing summer drink!
    So for 2 or 3 pounds BONELESS chicken thighs (so it cooks faster on the barbecue!):
    3 heaping tbsps. minced lemongrass
    1 really small onion cut in pieces
    3 large peeled garlic cloves
    2 to 3 tbsps. sugar or honey (you can adjust this to your liking)
    1 tbsp. patis
    1 tsp. freshly ground pepper
    and my secret ingredient (no longer a secret now..hehehe!!) is 1 tsp. 5 spice powder!!!
    Put everything in food processor and grind to a fine paste. If you don’t have access to a food processor, you can use the trustworthy ALMIRES (which is what my sister uses). Rub some of the paste on the chichen (both sides) and leave to marinate overnight. Next day, BARBECUE TIME!!! Any leftovers makes good sandwich filling-Vietnamese sub style, I say! Split french sub, slather low-fat mayo, the sliced Lemongrass chicken, top it with carrot/daikon salad (marinated in vinegar, water, sugar to taste and a little patis), paper thin sliced onions, and of course CILANTRO sprig and a SPLASH of MAGGI seasoning…LET ME KNOW HOW YOU LIKE, fellow FOODIES!!!

  28. MM and betty q. you are the best of the best. betty q. you are a sweetheart. Who would ever think lemongrass is the fairy that turn chicken to barbecued chickenlylicious! Again, betty q. thanks a million for sharing your award winning lemongrass chicken barbecue and endless use of the humble lemongrass. Lemongrass has a special place in my refrigerator. Yes lemongrass and ginger tea is real thirst quencher especially in the blazing hot summer months and economically feasible too!

  29. thanks betty q for the recipe. will try it out this weekend.
    and peterb — small dayap shrubs are usually available in the weekend markets for less than a hundred pesos

  30. betty q, thanks for the recipe, and the secret ingredient :)

    we planted some lemongrass in the garden, pero not yet ready for use. they’re kinda expensive here, about $1 per stalk, or maybe i’m just kuripot :)

  31. Manila is certainly lacking in good Thai restaurants. For those old enough to remember Flavors and Spices by Mile Long when it was a hole in the wall with just 3 or 4 tables at most. The Food was absolutely delicious and authentic. Later on their fame and fortune got them to move to Greenbelt. They later expanded to the Pan Pacific Hotel. Unfortunately expansion did not do them good. Their food deteriorated and causing them to close shop when the hotel was no longer the “In” place of Manila. The Thai wife died so their operations seized. For those curious of the Thai restaurant in 168, it is a fastfood outlet. Do not expect great presentation but the prices are good and so is the taste. I don’t recommend their spring rolls though.They scrimp a bit on ingredients to suit the pricemaket so do not expect shrimps on the Phad Thai but it is still quite good. The outlet has been operating for more than 2 years. Peoples’ Palace is very good but pricey. I guess there aren’t many Thai’s migrating to the Philippines. Nope, the Serendra Thai restaurant does not offer true Thai flavor inspite of all the media hype and social connections. I also wish we had good Vietnamese Food around. There used to be a few Vietnamese owned shops. Most refugees have opted to settle in the US or Australia I guess. There used to be a very good Indonesian restaurant in Salcedo Village called Sarina. Again a wife of an Indonesian married to an Edralin. She had to closed shop after Makati City Hall caught them operating without the necessary permits. What a pity. I love Asian cuisine. The flavors are so intense!!!!

  32. I’ll have to try the Thai place at 168. I can’t say I know what authentic Thai food tastes like but I do like most of the dishes I’ve tried at Som’s. Besides, it’s cheap, so it’s a lot more value for money than most other restaurants I’ve been too. At least you don’t feel ripped off if the food is not to your liking!

  33. S.R. Thai Cuisine near UST in Manila served good stir fry thai food. I remember lunches there back in college and the place is always packed. Although, I prefer the authentic tom yum served in the thai provinces. Good fresh Pad Thai with bean sprouts in Manila is yet to be found.

  34. All this reminds me of the Thai carinderia I used to frequent in the 90s. It was at the UP International Center. The owner was Thai, the food was authentic and since it was a carinderia (and in UP at that) the prices were very affordable.

    Tom Yam was a staple offering, but my favorite was the fish topped with lots of chilies. In a way it was like sweet and sour/escabeche, but also different in many ways. I don’t even know what it was called, as I only need to point to get it. Hehe.

    The carinderia was out of the IC when I came back in 2000 and I was told it moved somewhere in Katipunan/Balara. I’ve never found it again.

  35. anonymous paul, you’re right about Sala Thai. The food is always good, although the same dish might taste differently from time to time…

    annesqui, I also frequented the Thai “carinderia” at the UP International Center. The Tom Yum Kung was always good! Loved the spring rolls with vermicelli inside. I also loved the fish with a sweet/tangy red orange sauce. After IC, Mama Thai relocated to the corner of Katipunan Ave. and the street where Asian Center is found. After that she moved inside Pook Ricarte. I heard she went back to Thailand. Sayang…

    I’ve been trying to find kaffir lime leaves in the supermarkets but I’ve never been successful. Where can I buy this?

  36. K, they sell kaffir lime leaves at Salcedo market sometimes, they also carry it at some stalls in market!market! I have seen them dried at Santis. And best of all, there seem to be a lot of plants for sale at places like Manila Seedling Bank so having your own bush is the best option of all…

  37. There’s a Thai restaurant in Serendra called Silk. They’ve got great appetizers and they’re fried fish which is topped with a hunk of crisp garlic is superb. Anyway, the tom yam gung there is a must try.

  38. Having lived in the suburbs of Bangkok as an expat wife, had plenty of time checking out the food (& other shopping, hehe) anywhere from fine dining to street food to holes in walls. Generally, Thai food is about intensity–very hot/spicy, very salty–mildness is not part of their food vocabulary. This is especially true with lutong bahay version; the more upscale the dining place, the milder the food gets. Generally, they use a lot of fish sauce (since their patis is actually milder than our rufina patis) and more often than not, MSG/vetsin although they are not trying to adjust their recipes to exclude the latter. TIP: if you get lucky and find kaffir lime leaves, buy a lot and freeze; they store really well in frost free freezers.

  39. Hi Everyone! I’m truly amazed and grateful to come across sites like this! I love the open discussions and recommendations everyone has to offer. Especially if it’s related to Thai Cuisines. I have read everyone’s comments and suggestions and i find you all to be very correct. I have traveled to Thailand before and i would honestly say that it can’t be more authentic there than anywhere in the world, so comparisons are pretty much out of the questions unless you have Thai Chefs at your establishments. The thing that got me thinking was, if the biggest market here in the Philippines are Filipinos then it would only make sense if Thai Restaurants here caters more to the Filipino taste buds yah?! I can understand however that some would prefer the authentic flavor more but as a business man’s point of view for example it would only make sense to have their Thai restaurants catered to the Filipinos as they are the bigger market. May i ask the obvious? How do you determine the authenticity of the dishes? If the Chef is Thai? In all honesty i do give full credits to the local Filipino Chefs who can cook Thai cuisines well. Just like in other countries i give full credits to Filipino Chefs who can cook other nationality’s food well whether it’d be Italian, Spanish etc. Well done Filipino Chefs! Ok on a different topic, i heard there will be a new semi fine dining Thai Restaurant and Bar opening soon in San Miguel by the Bay. From what i hear they will cater more to the Filipino taste buds though – which i guess it’s alright. I heard the ambiance is amazing also. I’m not sure lang when they will open but when i hear more i will update you all. Anyway as a Thai Food Enthusiast i always wish there was something more Thai Restaurants could offer us Filipinos, i just can’t think of anything else they actually can that’s all. I mean seriously everyone, what more could they offer to us that’s never been offered before???

  40. About Kaffir Limes, in market-market that would have to be Q-Dy’s vegetable stand (just near the round-about between serendra and market market). They can sell leaves in bulk at a very affordable price. However, its by order. I’ve heard from them that most foreigners prefer buying the leaves that are freshly picked from the tree. I’ve seen for a fact that if you wash and refrigerate them, they lose a significant amount of flavor. So yep, if you’re not a restaurant owner, having your own tree is still the best option. We have small seedlings of the plant; you can email me if you’re interested. Thanks



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