Tom Yum Soup

published Dec 22, 2021
Tom Yum Soup Recipe

You can make this flavor-packed soup in just under 20 minutes.

Serves2 to 4

Prep5 minutes

Cook13 minutes

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Tom yum soup (a type of hot and sour Thai soup, usually cooked with shrimp. Tom yum has its origin in Thailand) with shrimp in a white bowl, with a green cilantro garnish on top
Credit: Perry Santanachote

Tom yum is a Thai soup with shrimp and a broth that features salty, sour, sweet, and spicy flavors. “Tom” translates to “boiled” and “yum” translates to “medley,” which refers to the soup’s dressing. Yes, this soup has a dressing. Thai salads are called yum, and yum vinaigrette is made up of fish sauce, lime juice, palm sugar, and chilies. Add boiling hot broth to it and you’ve got tom yum, or “salad soup.” 

In addition to the yum, the soup features herbs — lemongrass, cilantro, and makrut lime leaves — that give it a bright aroma. The makrut lime plant is used more for its leaves than its fruit. The leaves offer a strong, earthy-citrus scent and can be found in many Asian grocery stores (either in the produce section or frozen).

What Does Tom Yum Soup Taste Like?

The flavor of tom yum should be sour upfront from lime juice, then salty from fish sauce, with a mild sweetness from nam prik pao paste. You might not be able to necessarily taste the lemongrass and makrut lime leaves, but these aromatics should hit your nose while you slurp.

What’s the Difference Between Tom Yum and Tom Kha?

These are the two most popular soups outside of Thailand, and while they both contain similar ingredients (lemongrass, makrut, lime juice, Thai chilies), there are distinctions that set them apart.

  • The main difference between the two soups is galangal, a fragrant root, which tom kha is named for. Tom yum sometimes has galangal too, but it’s not the star ingredient.
  • Tom yum contains nam prik pao paste (also known as chile jam), which is a roasted chile paste that contains dried shrimp, shallot, garlic, and tamarind. 
  • Tom yum is often made with shrimp, while tom kha is commonly made with chicken.
  • While tom yum can sometimes have coconut milk, tom kha always has coconut milk.
Credit: Perry Santanachote

Can You Freeze Tom Yum Soup?

The beauty of many Thai dishes is that they freeze really well. All of the aromatics (lemongrass, makrut, chiles) freeze beautifully, so you should buy them in bulk and keep them wrapped and frozen. The soup itself is also amenable to being frozen — just keep the shrimp out, which might turn mealy upon reheating. 

Tom Yum Soup Recipe

You can make this flavor-packed soup in just under 20 minutes.

Prep time 5 minutes

Cook time 13 minutes

Serves 2 to 4

Nutritional Info


  • 1 stalk


  • 5

    fresh makrut lime leaves (each leaf looks like 2)

  • 1 quart

    unsalted chicken stock or low-sodium chicken broth

  • 8 ounces

    oyster mushrooms

  • 2

    medium limes

  • 8 ounces

    uncooked peeled and deveined large or jumbo shrimp

  • 2 tablespoons

    nam prik pao paste (also known as chile jam)

  • 2 tablespoons

    fish sauce

  • 3

    fresh Thai or birds-eye chiles

  • 1/4 cup

    fresh cilantro leaves


  1. Trim off about 1/2 inch from the root end of 1 lemongrass stalk and 2/3 off the top. Peel off and discard the tough outer leaves until you reach the smooth and pale inner leaves. Cut this portion into 1-inch lengths and smash the pieces with a heavy object until they split. Use the heavy object to also bruise 5 fresh makrut lime leaves, then tear each leaf into about 8 pieces.

  2. Place the lemongrass, makrut lime leaves, and 1 quart unsalted chicken stock or low-sodium chicken broth in a medium pot or large saucepan. Bring it to a boil. Reduce heat to medium and simmer for 5 minutes. The lemongrass and lime leaves will be very fragrant. Meanwhile, cut 8 ounces oyster mushrooms into bite-sized pieces and juice 2 limes until you have 1/4 cup juice.

  3. Remove and the discard the lemongrass and lime leaves. Add the mushrooms, 8 ounces peeled and deveined large or jumbo shrimp, 2 tablespoons nam prik pao paste, and 2 tablespoons fish sauce. Simmer until the shrimp turn opaque, about 2 minutes. Remove the pot from the heat.

  4. Trim the stems from 3 Thai chiles. Add the chiles and lime juice to the pot and stir to combine. Sprinkle 1/4 cup fresh cilantro leaves on top just before serving. Warn your guests the chilies are there to add flavor and spice, and that they probably don’t want to eat the chilies whole (or remove them before serving).

Recipe Notes

Storing: Refrigerate leftovers in an airtight container for up to 2 days. Reheat gently in a pot over medium-low heat or in the microwave.