The Tom Yam upholds a pristine reputation for being one of Thailand’s most iconic dishes.
A remarkable status which was officialised a few months ago by the Ministry of Culture, requesting that this infamous sweet, sour and spicy concoction be included in UNESCO’s intangible cultural heritage list for 2020.
In celebration of this bold decision we wanted to honour this gastronomical legend by exploring its history and flavours.
The word ‘Tom’ which is Thai for ‘boil’ is typically teamed with another word to describe the components of the dish you are about to delve into. This word is featured prominently on Thai menus but is more widely assimilated with Tom Yam, unarguably one of the most famous soups to ever be invented in Thailand. ‘Yam’ translates to the action of mixing ingredients together to achieve the blend of sweet, sour and spicy notes. Therefore, when ‘Tom’ and ‘Yam are used as one they literally refer to a ‘Yam’ broth that is being brought to the boil.
Funnily enough, despite it being one of the country’s most famed dishes, one that has been handed down through generations for as long as anyone can remember, it is still unclear where this scrumptious mixture originated from. All evidence points to the belief that the recipe was invented in Central Thailand, due to the abundance of freshwater shrimp in that region. It is said that cooks experimented with this ingredient by boiling the shrimp and then adding all sorts of Thai herbs and condiments until they got to the irresistible combination of sweet, sour and spicy that we know and love today.
What started with shrimp and herb-infused broth has resulted in an impressive array of different soups which are said to reflect the changes in the Thai diet as well as the accessibility to ingredients across the different regions in the country.
Each place the recipe made its way to saw the fact that they did not possess the same ingredients not as a shortcoming but rather a challenge to see how they could adapt and make something just as tasty! Inherently turning it one of the most versatile dishes in the Thai culinary portfolio.
Similarly to most Thai dishes, the Tom Yam can be modified into all sorts of variations to cater to all foodies’ preferences. No matter which version you are trying to achieve the key ingredients for the base will always be the same.
They include galangal, lemongrass and kaffir lime for its strong and distinct fragrance. Chili gives this dish its notorious spicy kick which contrasts beautifully with the sour flavours of the lemon juice and tamarind paste. Palm sugar is usually added to give the soup its sweet aftertaste, which counterbalances with a dash of fish sauce which adds saltiness to the dish.
Give this recipe a go at home with our Tom Yam Soup Paste.
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