The daily Thai table is traditionally laden with dishes. But when I grew up Thailand, the center of attention when we went out was always the pot of steaming hot Tom Yum soup.
My uncle would ladle the soup into small bowls for everyone. Some of us couldn’t wait and jumped on the soup immediately. Others of us sat still, mouths watering in anticipation. As for me, I would take a spoonful of the soup, blow on it, and make a “mmmm” sound.
Tom yum is a Thai soup, characterized by the distinctly spicy and sour flavors and fragrant herbs used in the broth. The basic broth is made with stock and ingredients such as lemongrass, galangal, lime juice, fish sauce, and chilies.
It’s also very healthy. A joint study by Thailand’s Kasetsart University and Japan’s Kyoto and Kinki universities has found that the ingredients in Tom Yum soup are 100 times more effective in inhibiting cancerous tumor growth than other foods.
So earlier this week, I went to Sookk, a Thai restaurant on the Upper West Side. I asked Dr. Seksan Narkwong, one of the partners behind Sookk, to teach me a Tom Yum recipe.
Narkwong was dressed in a stylish black sweater and a pair of dark blue jeans, and possessed a tan complexion and slender figure. He is also deputy permanent secretary at the Thai Ministry of Tourism and Sports.
He is in his early 60s, but he looks like a 40-year-old. “It’s the chilies,” He said, “They make me look younger.” He adores spicy food. Indeed, he includes chilies in every meal, including breakfast.
He patiently showed me the ingredients used in Tom Yum. He explained that it’s hard to find some of the Thai ingredients here in New York City. It means having to replace certain items with local ingredients sometimes, but he thinks it still works and it doesn’t destroy the taste.
I was surprised by how fast and easy the recipe is. The whole process takes less than 10 minutes. The Tom Yum soup is spicy, sour, and with many dimensions of flavors. It’s a taste of Thailand. I’m happy that this simple recipe took me back to Thailand, even just for a short second.
Tom Yum Soup Recipe
Makes 2 servings
Prep and cooking time: 10 minutes
2 cups chicken broth
5 slices lemongrass
5 slices galangal
1 tablespoon roasted Thai chili paste
2 tablespoons fish sauce
2 wedges of lime
1/4 handful basil leaves
Add chicken broth, lemongrass, galangal, chilies paste, fish sauce, lime juice, and shrimp to a pot and boil for about 5 minutes. Lastly garnish with basil leaves.
(Adapted from Dr. Seksan Narkwong, Sookk, 2686 Broadway between West 102nd and West 103rd St., New York, NY)