Tom kha kai
What is tom kha kai?
Tom kha kai (pronounced “tom kaa kye”) is a fragrant soup in which chicken (kai) is cooked (tom) in coconut milk, drawn with galangal (kha), lemongrass and lime leaf, and seasoned with fish sauce and lime juice. The result is fresh and creamy at the same time.
The dish has been found in Thai cookbooks since 1890. It was originally a simpler dish: chicken poached in coconut milk with galangal and intended as a curry. Just like many of the other curries – red, yellow and green – tom kha kai is soupy rather than sauce-like. The Thai eat it as a main course, with rice.
East vs. west
In Thailand, chefs often use pieces of chicken with bone and skin, sometimes even entrails and legs to make a tasty broth, which is eventually enriched with coconut cream, small hot chilli peppers and coriander. In the menus of western restaurants, a mild, extra creamy, sometimes almost sweet version is usually made with chicken fillets. Both versions are delicious.
How to make tom kha kai
Concentrated chicken broth and creamy coconut milk are heated and simmered with lime leaves, lemongrass and thin slices of galangal. The chicken is poached with mushrooms – ordinary or oyster mushrooms. Crushed hot chilli peppers, lime juice and possibly some fish sauce are added to give some extra flavours. By tasting and refining, the cook ensures that the soup is initially sour, but also salty in taste. The coconut milk gives everything a subtle sweet note. Finally, some coriander is sprinkled over the top.
How to eat tom kha kai
Be like the Thai and don’t serve the tom kha kai as a soup, but with a plate of steamed pandan rice as the main course. Before you start eating, remove the lemongrass, lime leaves and a few of the chilli peppers.
Are you a fan of the sour taste of the tom kha kai? Vietnamese restaurants also serve a “sour” soup called bun rieu. This noodle soup contains crab and tamarind.