Tom Yum Gai (Tom Yam Gai) is Thai hot and sour chicken soup. It gets its spice from nam prik pao (Thai chili paste) and Thai bird's eye chiles, and the sour from lime juice. This recipe is easy to make when craving this beloved Thai favorite.
(This recipe was originally published in October 2017, but was updated with new photos and content in 2020).
I love hot and sour soup! I particularly adore this delicious Thai version, tom yum gai! There's something about the combination of spicy and sour together which really works. It provides ultimate comfort in a bowl of chicken soup.
The recipe for Thai hot and sour chicken soup itself is super easy to make. It features several traditional ingredients, but there are ways to source them even with limited accessibility to specialty markets.
Ingredients for Tom Yum Gai
- Kaffir Lime Leaves: These are the actual leaves from the kaffir lime tree, and are very common in Thai cooking. You can purchase them fresh or dried. Fresh kaffir lime leaves can be frozen for longer shelf-life, and are my personal preference for this soup. You can also try dried kaffir lime leaves.
- Galangal: This is a root closely related to ginger and turmeric. Dried galangal is inferior to fresh, but is easier to source and still works well. Just make sure you allow some time to soak them in water before starting your soup. You can also substitute fresh ginger for the galangal, although it's not as authentic.
- Lemongrass: Lemongrass comes in stalks, and features a lemony scent and flavor. It’s common these days at many supermarkets, and is found with the other fresh herbs. It also freezes really well, so if you buy more than you need just toss the excess in a freezer bag for next time.
- Thai Bird’s Eye Chile: These small, spicy Thai chiles are the authentic ones to use in this tom yum gai recipe. They’re about 10 times hotter than a jalapeño but half the heat of a habanero, and are usually 1 to 1 ½-inches in length and either red or green. I’ve found frozen bird's eye chiles at my local Asian market and used those for this recipe, but have also gotten tiny fresh ones (pictured above) from a local farm before. Many well-stocked supermarkets will also carry them fresh. Be sure to wear food safe gloves before handling these chiles.
- Fish Sauce: This is very common in several different Southeast Asian cuisines including Thai and Vietnamese. Fish sauce is made with anchovies and salt, and although its odor is very strong, the flavor is key to making authentic Thai hot and sour soup.
- Nam Prik Pao: Also known as Thai chile paste, nam prik pao is available in jars in the Asian aisle of many supermarkets, in Asian markets, and online.
How to make it
You can use chicken breast or chicken tenders for this recipe. Thinly slice them into approximately ¼-inch-thick pieces. If your chicken breasts are large, cut them crosswise into more bite size lengths.
Saute the chicken in a little oil until all the pieces are cooked through, then remove them from the pan. Add a bit more oil and some chopped onion, cooking until softened.
Follow up with chicken broth, sliced mushrooms, and the spices and aromatics (kaffir lime leaves, galangal, lemongrass, chile, fish sauce, nam prik pao, and sugar). Simmer until the mushrooms are cooked through, and then add the cooked chicken, and sliced tomatoes.
When the tomatoes are cooked but not falling apart, remove the soup from the heat, and stir in fresh lime juice and chopped cilantro. Adjust the seasonings, discard the lemongrass, galangal, and kaffir lime leaves, and serve.
Expert tips and FAQs
This recipe for tom yum gai is extremely easy to make, but may seem intimidating simply because of some of the uncommon ingredients. Note that most are available for ordering online, and keep well in the freezer or pantry. Once you purchase these ingredients, you’ll have them at the ready for future hot and sour chicken soup cravings!
Definitely wear food safe gloves when handling spicy chile peppers! Their oils can remain on your fingers even after washing your hands, and if you touch your face or eyes you will be in a lot of pain afterwards.
Tom yum gai (tom yam gai) is the version of this soup made with chicken, but there are other variations of tom yum soup. Another popular one is tom yum kung (tom yum goong) which swaps the chicken for shrimp.
Both tom kha and tom yum are types of Thai hot and sour soup, however tom kha also features coconut milk. This results in a creamy soup, which is also higher in fat and calories. Tom yum soup has a clear broth and is a bit lighter.
Fresh serrano peppers could be substituted for Thai bird’s eye chiles, however they are less spicy, and you would require more peppers to yield the same amount of spiciness in the recipe.
Other recipes you may like
- Chinese Hot and Sour Soup
- Chicken and Thai Basil Dumplings
- Thai Pineapple Fried Rice
- Shrimp Pad Thai
- Pomegranate Sriracha Shrimp
- Spicy Vegetable Fried Rice
- Browse all Thai Recipes
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Tom Yum Gai (Thai Hot and Sour Chicken Soup)
- 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 12 ounces chicken breast or tenders thinly sliced
- 1 small onion diced
- 1 quart chicken broth or stock
- 10 ounces sliced button or cremini mushrooms
- 6 kaffir lime leaves scored
- 6 slices galangal about ⅛-inch thick (I use re-hydrated dried galangal slices, but you can also substitute ginger if needed)
- 3 stalks lemongrass cut into 2-inch pieces and scored
- 1 Thai bird's eye chile stemmed, seeded, and finely chopped
- 2 tablespoons fish sauce
- 1 ½ teaspoons Nam Prik Pao (Thai chile paste)
- 1 teaspoon granulated sugar or raw sugar
- 2 small tomatoes (like plum tomatoes) seeded and cut into 8 wedges each
- 1 lime juiced
- A handful of cilantro leaves roughly chopped
- Kosher salt
- In a medium pot or Dutch oven, heat half the oil over medium-high heat. Add the chicken, stirring occasionally until the chicken is just cooked through. Remove from the heat, remove chicken from the pot. Return the pot to medium heat and add the remaining oil. Add the onion and saute for a few minutes until starting to soften.
- Add the chicken broth, mushrooms, kaffir lime leaves, galangal, lemongrass, chile, fish sauce, Nam Prik Pao, and sugar. Cover, bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for about 10 to 15 minutes. Add the cooked chicken, and tomatoes and cook another 1 to 2 minutes until the tomatoes are cooked but not falling apart.
- Remove from the heat and stir in the lime juice and cilantro leaves, if desired. Adjust seasoning as needed with salt. Serve immediately, discarding the lime leaves, galangal and lemongrass pieces either directly from the soup pot or from each bowl as you eat.
*All nutritional information is based on third-party calculations and should be considered estimates. Actual nutritional content will vary with brands used, measuring methods, portion sizes and more.*