David Thompson’s easy tom yum goong

by Forager on June 18, 2010

The first recipe I cooked from David Thompson’s Street Food cookbook was the Thai laksa with beef and dried prawns and it took me an extraordinary amount of time to prepare the intricate ingredients into various powders and pastes. The second recipe we chose is widely recognised and one of my favourite Thai dishes: tom yum goong, or Thai hot and sour prawn soup.

As the name suggests, this soup is spicy hot; pungent with aromatic fresh herbs like lemongrass, galangal and kaffir lime; fish sauce provides savoury depth and it’s sour from liberal splashings of lime juice and tamarind water.

It sounds simple enough, but there are so many different recipes on this one soup ranging from simple to incredibly complex and just as many different outcomes. I find it hard to bypass the tom yum if it’s on the menu and from establishments in Sydney and Thailand, I’ve tasted every extreme from paltry, watery, fishy, gritty, gelatinous soups to sign-inducing, soul-warming broths and everything in between.

Naturally as I’ve tasted so many different variations, I assumed a good, authentic tom yum would take hours of laborious preparation and, like a good beef pho, many more hours spent simmering the broth to the elusive taste and consistency on the stove.

So I was very pleasantly surprised to find the recipe for tom yum was exceptionally easy and quick – especially surprising given it’s a David Thompson recipe and the last one was so very intricate. What’s even better is that the ingredients are relatively commonplace (I had everything bar the fresh ingredients in my pantry and even the fresh ingredients are easy to source). From start to finish, prep included it takes only a mere 25 – 30 minutes to put this amazing soup together – and most of that is prep time! Cooking the soup itself took about 10 minutes!

Gathering all the ingredients for David Thompson's tom yum goong

Gathering all the ingredients for David Thompson's tom yum goong

Hot and sour prawn soup (tom yum goong)

Ingredients (serves 3 -4):

  • 4 cups of chicken stock
  • good pinch of salt
  • pinch of white sugar
  • 1 large tomato, cut into quarters & deseeded (optional)
  • 1 dried long red chilli, coarsely chopped
  • 8 – 12 raw prawns in their shells
  • 3 – 5 stalks of lemongrass, trimmed
  • 4 – 5 kaffir lime leaves, roughly torn
  • 2 – 3 slices of galangal
  • 5 red shallots, peeled
  • 4 – 5 coriander roots, cleaned
  • 5 – 10 green bird’s eye chillies, to taste (we used 2)
  • 200g straw or oyster mushrooms, cleaned & trimmed (we used pearl mushrooms)
  • 1 – 2 tbsp tamarind water (optional)
  • 2- 4 tbsp lime juice, to taste
  • 1 – 2 tbsp fish sauce, to taste
  • 3 – 10 bird’s eye chillies, bruised (we used 3)
  • pinch of roasted chilli powder
  • 1 tbsp chopped coriander


  1. Bring the stock to the boil, season with the salt and sugar then add tomato and dried chilli. Simmer for several minutes until the tomato begins to break up
  2. Peel and de-vein the prawns, but leave the tails attached; the heads can be left intact for a more pleasing presentation, but it makes for trickier eating later
  3. Using a mortar and pestle, bruise the lemongrass, lime leaves, galangal, shallots, coriander roots and green bird’s eye chillis. Add these to the simmering stock, then cut or tear the mushrooms and add them too. Simmer for a minute or so until the mushrooms are tender before adding the prawns and tamarind water, if using. Simmer until the prawns are cooked – about 2 – 3 minutes.
  4. In a serving bowl, combine the lime juice with the fish sauce, chillies, chilli powder and coriander. Pour in the soup and stir thoroughly. It should taste equally hot, salt and sour – adjust the seasoning accordingly.
  5. Serve with steamed rice.


Like all David Thompson recipes, this one is authentically Thai spicy. The recipe calls for anywhere from 8 – 20 bird’s eye chillies! And then a pinch of extra chilli powder for good measure. If you think you can handle spicy food but haven’t tried bird’s eye chillies before – don’t be a hero. The people at my local Thai lunch haunt think I’m Thai and thus can and should tolerate “Thai spicy” dishes. Everytime I forget to tell them “not Thai spicy!”, I end up writhing around my office floor with an acute attack of chilli indigestion.

The Co-pilot and I both consider ourselves fans of spicy Asian food and we put in 5 bird’s eye chillies – and it was already spicy enough, in fact a little too spicy for some of our friends who were frequenting our fridge for milk and yoghurt to douse the flames. For those unsure of how much spice they can handle, I suggest trying a total of 3 bird’s eye chillies to begin with (you can always add more if the amount of spice doesn’t tango with your tastebuds).

Once all the soup ingredients were cut, chopped or bruised, we put the tomatoes, chillis and herbs into a pot and started simmering the broth.

simmering tom yum

The tom yum simmering away

Next, the mushrooms followed suit. We used pearl mushrooms as we couldn’t find fresh oyster and straw mushrooms and their slippery soft texture suited the soup perfectly.

Adding mushrooms to the tom yum

Adding pearl mushrooms to the tom yum

Immediately after the mushrooms (as they require very little cooking to start breaking down their cellulose walls), the prawns were tossed in. We used medium sized Australian tiger prawns that were sweet, fresh and had an amazing crunch once cooked. We also left the prawn heads on to give the soup a stronger prawn flavour.

Tossing the prawns into the tom yum

Tossing tiger prawns into the tom yum

Whilst waiting for the prawns cook, the rest of the seasonings were compiled ready to stir in – fish sauce, coriander, yet more chillies and chilli powder. Though David Thompson’s recipe didn’t ask for any additional ingredients, I added in fresh baby corn and bamboo slivers – all leftovers from the Thai laksa I made and added as they didn’t impart much of their flavour to the soup but added some welcome texture and crunch.

Seasoning the tom yum

Seasoning the tom yum with fish sauce, coriander, chillies and chilli powder

After a quick taste and vigorous appreciative head nodding, the soup was ready. Who would’ve thought something so delicious could really be so simple. It didn’t seem complicated enough!

The tom yum is ready to serve

The tom yum is ready to serve

But it didn’t need to be any more complicated – it was perfect and tasted so authentic. As good as anything we tasted in Thailand – and in some cases, better. David Thompson is a genius! Why hadn’t I discovered his recipes earlier? The soup itself was a little murkier than I’d like – but that was due in part to the type of ready-made tamarind water I used (a second attempt with tamarind water made from soaking and straining dried tamarind yielded a cleaner broth). Although the flavours are complex and multifaceted, I could clearly pick out the flavours of tangy lemongrass, galangal and kaffir lime leaves. The lime juice gives the soup one part of its sourness and tamarind water provides the other, but with notes of extra sweetness. The prawns were just cooked through and their flavour was unmistakable throughout the soup.

David Thompson's tom yum goong

David Thompson's tom yum goong

It was so good in fact that I’ve already made it 4 times now and is fast becoming a permanent staple in our recipe repertoire.

If you like tom yum you have to give this recipe a go – the stark simplicity of this recipe will ensure you’ll never go back to pre-made tom yum pastes or savour a restaurant-made tom yum the same way again.


Foodie in the know:

Most of the ingredients required in this recipe can be found in Thai or South-east Asian groceries like the ones in Thainatown, on Campbell St, near Chinatown in Sydney. It sounds like I’m stating the obvious, but Thai groceries are the best source of ingredients for Thai recipes – not just because there’s a good chance you’ll find all the ingredients centralised in one spot – but because here even common, widely available ingredients like coriander are specially selected for Thai recipes. The aromatic coriander root frequently appears in recipes and you’ll find the root on coriander stocked at Thai groceries is much more generous than most Western green grocers or supermarkets or even many Asian groceries where most of the root is all but gone. For readers in Sydney, Pontip Grocery at 16 Campbell St, Sydney is an excellent source for Thai cooks and stocked all the fresh ingredients required for this dish – right down to the roasted chilli powder and green bird’s eye chillies.


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{ 32 comments… read them below or add one }

1 OohLookBel June 18, 2010 at 11:36 pm

That is a long list of ingredients! Though I suppose once you’ve prepped everything, you just need to throw them in the pan. I can almost taste the delicious spicy sourness from here.
.-= OohLookBel´s last blog ..Another sausage shortcut: Italian Sausage Ragu =-.

2 chocolatesuze June 19, 2010 at 1:31 am

yum this looks great trina! and perfect for the crazy cold weather!

3 john@heneedsfood June 19, 2010 at 8:48 am

I rarely have this soup when I’m in a Thai restaurant and to be honest I’ve never made it. I absolutely adore the flavour and fragrance of it and your use of just five chillies seems about right for my palate. Using up to 20 would surely kill me!
.-= john@heneedsfood´s last blog ..Luxe Bakery, Newtown =-.

4 Anh June 19, 2010 at 1:07 pm

Another winner! I love tom yum soup, but really cannot stand the commercial paste version! This is the best!

5 Lorraine @NotQuiteNigella June 19, 2010 at 5:25 pm

Glad that not all of the recipes are an epic production. 25 minutes is totally doable on a weeknight too! :)

6 Reemski June 19, 2010 at 10:39 pm

Tom yum is probably my fave thai dish and one I too order at just about every thai joint I wander into, but I’ve only ever made it from paste. I have this book so there’s no excuse for me not to try it!

7 penny aka jeroxie June 19, 2010 at 11:30 pm

I love the heat!! All those chillies is making me salivate.
.-= penny aka jeroxie´s last blog ..Meatless Monday #25 (Guest Post) – New Orleans Style Gumbo Z’Herbes =-.

8 Bonnibella June 20, 2010 at 12:37 pm

I can also handle spicy but I can’t imagine 20 bird’s eye chili. I would need a vat of milk close by.
.-= Bonnibella´s last blog ..My Dog’s Peanut Butter, Banana, Carrot Birthday Cake =-.

9 Ellie (Almost Bourdain) June 20, 2010 at 4:11 pm

I love David Thompson’s recipes. Although the list of ingredients is long but the flavours are authentic. Love tom yum gong and yours look really good!
.-= Ellie (Almost Bourdain)´s last blog ..Peppery Chicken Curry =-.

10 Maria June 21, 2010 at 5:19 am

Looks so chunky (in a good way!) and warming! 😀
.-= Maria´s last blog ..Eating Tour in Cabramatta =-.

11 April @ My Food Trail June 21, 2010 at 9:19 am

Look at all the ingredients in your broth! You won’t be able to find that in any restaurant! :)

OMG at the number of chillis he actually suggests! That’s crazy!
.-= April @ My Food Trail´s last blog ..Dining Out posts instead of reviews =-.

12 April @ My Food Trail June 21, 2010 at 9:20 am

Yay, comment works now! 😉
.-= April @ My Food Trail´s last blog ..Dining Out posts instead of reviews =-.

13 Leona @ pigged-out.com June 21, 2010 at 1:04 pm

hey woman!!! long time no see!!!
That soup is looking amazing! I’ve never made a thai soup in my life. Come to think of it, I havent had tom yum soup all winter, i feel like thai ^_^
.-= Leona @ pigged-out.com´s last blog ..Monkey Magic – Winter Special =-.

14 Richard Elliot June 21, 2010 at 7:33 pm

I didn’t think there were any easy David Thompson recipes! 😉

I’ve got some tamarind water left over from a recent recipe, so I might give this Tom Yum a try.
.-= Richard Elliot´s last blog ..Sydney Harbour Bridge Climb =-.

15 Tangled Noodle June 22, 2010 at 12:06 pm

I must confess to being partial to tom kha gai (love the creamy coconut milk!) but I could easily be persuaded to have bowlfuls of this tom yum goong! Most ingredients that are available in my area are folded into the larger ‘Asian grocery’, so although I can find close to what I want, you’ve got a point that those stores dedicated to a particular cuisine (i.e. Thai) are more likely to have exactly what is needed. Still, I’m willing to give it a try for just a sip of this!
.-= Tangled Noodle´s last blog ..Fork in the Road: North Platte Noodles =-.

16 Trissa June 22, 2010 at 9:40 pm

Hi Trina – just wanted to tell you I road tested your recipe (or should I say, your’s and David’s) tonight – and you were right – it was quick and delicious… and I was a wimp as I only used 3 chillies!
.-= Trissa´s last blog ..Food you eat alone… aka Beef with Garlic Chips =-.

17 Betty @ The Hungry Girl June 24, 2010 at 5:39 pm

I’m so impressed that it only took 25-30mins! I thought that it would take hours! I do love tom yum, although I don’t think I’d be brave enough to even throw in 3 birds eye chillies!!
.-= Betty @ The Hungry Girl´s last blog ..ATFT Food Photography Workshop @ Mumu Grill, Crows Nest =-.

18 Gourmantic June 25, 2010 at 11:03 am

That looks too hot for my tastebuds! But the end result looks delicious. I like the photo of the green prawn with the mushrooms.
.-= Gourmantic´s last blog ..Dubai Desert Safari and Dune Bashing =-.

19 Maria@TheGourmetChallenge June 26, 2010 at 12:33 pm

yum, I love this hot spicy soup, might give this recipe a go
.-= Maria@TheGourmetChallenge´s last blog ..Persimmon Cupcakes =-.

20 Jen June 26, 2010 at 8:45 pm

I love tom yum goong – I always order it when I have Thai! I’m impressed you pulled this off in under 30 mins!

21 L-bean June 26, 2010 at 9:52 pm

This version of tom yum goong was crazy good. I’m hankering to have it again. Thanks for introducing me to it and a bigger thanks for making it for me! :)

22 mademoiselle délicieuse June 27, 2010 at 8:55 am

A long list of ingredients but very comforting to know the cooking process requires no time at all. Excellent midweek option.
.-= mademoiselle délicieuse´s last blog ..Epicure Recipe Card 37- Smoked Trout Brandade =-.

23 Sara (Belly Rumbles) June 27, 2010 at 1:53 pm

It is a cold Sunday while I am reading this, ooo wow I want a bowl now. Your Thai shopping tips make sense and not something I had considered, thanks :)
.-= Sara (Belly Rumbles)´s last blog ..Tokonoma =-.

24 panda June 28, 2010 at 11:18 pm

i’ve been tempted to buy one of david thompson’s cookbooks but have always changed my mind after flicking through the recipes and looking at the list of ingredients. reading your post, it seems like his recipes are manageable and lol…that’s the sound of me running to the bookshop to get myself a copy :)
.-= panda´s last blog ..choc nut cornflake slice =-.

25 Forager June 29, 2010 at 5:56 pm

Hey Belle – Absolutely, once you read the recipe you’ll realise it’s just throwing it in the pan. The easiest David Thompson recipe by far!

Hey Suze – Definitely a winner for cold weather – the spicyness is perfect!

Hey John – If you like it you should definitely try this recipe! You could find mostof the ingredients in Cabramatta – so it’s perfect for your next foodie trip out there!

Hey Anh – Definitely. Now the commercial paste version pales in comparison and is gritty. Can’t go back now.

Hey Lorraine – Absolutely do-able on a weeknight. If you serve it with rice as the Thais do, it makes for a light but filling meal.

Hey Reemski – This recipe is definitely the basic starting point for David Thompson’s recipes. Most are alot more labour intensive

Hey Penny – A chilli lover? Would you go as far as having the 20 chillies? Go on! I dare you!

Hey Bonnibella – I think a vat of milk would be mandatory with 20 chillies – perhaps to dunk into head first!

Hey Ellie – Aren’t they the best? I’m in awe of the man!

Hey Maria – It’s more authentic and yes, the chillis make it very warming!

Hey April – I don’t think anyone but the Thai’s can probably deal with that amount of chilli. Just insane! Thanks so much for the heads up on the commenting situation too :)

Hey Leona – Yeah it has been ages. We should catch up! As for the recipe – it’s super easy – give it a shot!

Hey Richard – I was just as surprised but yes, easy recipes do exist in his books. Not often, but they exist.

Hey Tangled Noodle – Definitely give it a shot – I promise the scrounging for ingredients willbe worth it! And I suppose the tom kha gai version is just the same with coconut milk added?

Hey Trissa – Excellent! So easy right? Couldn’t believe it myself! 3 Chillies is fine, I only try and test the limits of my chilli indigestion!

Hey Betty – Really? 3 Chillies is a good start, maybe scrape out the seeds for a first try to temper the heat?

Hey Gourmantic – My advice is to just cut down on all the chillies. Try using one bird’s eye chilli – and if that’s too crazy, scrape the seeds out or even use a long red Thai chilli which is milder. You don’t need to be as chilli happy as me!

Hey Maria – Do and let me know how you go :)

Hey Jen – Amazing huh? I seriously thought it would take hours. But nope – 30 mins. Cinch.

Hey L-bean – Anytime babe 😉

Hey MD – Yup – it’s a midweek staple for us, especially as we’ve got all the ingredients now!

Hey Sara – Oh it’d be perfect on a cold day – lunch or dinner. The Thai groceries are great – they’ll inspire you to cook so many yummy things!

Hey Panda – Get one – his recipes are amazingly authentic!

26 Brett @ OnlineReputationEdge.com October 15, 2010 at 11:10 am

What did you use for chicken stock?

Make it yourself, or canned?

I wanted to try this recipe but the idea of making stock slowed me down.

27 Forager October 15, 2010 at 5:21 pm

Hey Brett – I always reserve chicken stock when poaching chicken so have some frozen on hand. But when that’s not available, I actually use powdered chicken stock. I use the Chinese brand of Knorr as I don’t mind the flavour. Hope that helps!

28 Brett @ SocialMediaRockstar.com October 17, 2010 at 12:37 pm

I just made this today (with Knorr) … was underhwelmed at the first hot-off-the-stove taste… I let it mellow and meld for 30 mins – and WOW!

This is one of the best soups I’ve ever had. Just one sip seems to stimulate my palette with a hot and sour aftertaste for an hour ! Bravo David Thompson.
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29 David July 24, 2011 at 11:36 am

I don’t think DT would use powdered chicken stock. He would say use water if you do not have the light chicken stock he calls for in his books. He told me that the thai see stock as a moistening agent rather than a flavouring one. Packet stock risks being too strong, too salty.

30 Forager July 24, 2011 at 10:43 pm

Hey David – Absolutely right! I have no doubt that a purist like David Thompson wouldn’t stoop to taking short cuts like the time challenged urban home cook, and I hope that I didn’t inadvertently suggest that HIS recipe called for powdered chicken stock. No, no – sorry, that’s my own suggestion – nothing to do with this recipe & yes, sully his recipe with powdered chicken stock at your own risk!

31 Nicole June 11, 2012 at 6:57 pm

That was so delicious. Full of flavor and easy to make!! My new soup of the season :)

32 David August 13, 2012 at 8:58 pm

I cooked this last night with david Thompson approved stock (from his Thai food book) and it was stunning beyond words. I used almost all the chillies – perhaps 5 less than he called for, and it was perfectly balanced. Nobody was distressed, just in silent awe. I did use the tamarind paste which he said was optional.

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