I first enjoyed this treat at the famed Oriental Hotel in Bangkok. Arriving late in the evening after a long and exhausting flight, I needed something soothing and restorative. I ordered this dish, Khao Tom, described on the menu as a rice soup. When it arrived, I saw that it was a Thai version of something very familiar to me, a Chinese congee (or conjee) – a porridge or gruel made from grains, beans and vegetables. In south China it is regarded as a ‘cooling’ or ‘balanced’ food, just right for calming the nerves. Ginger, of course, is famously medicinal too. That evening I had discovered what would become one of my favourite Thai dishes.
The Thai version is more soup-like than a congee and it may be served at any time. It is a true ‘comfort food’, savoury and nurturing, and so popular that it is served as a speciality on Thai Airways. Any type of cooked meat or fish may be added to the soup but I prefer it plain and simple.
In a large pot, combine the cooked rice and stock and bring the mixture to a simmer. Add the fish sauce, soy sauce and pepper to the mixture and continue to simmer for 5 minutes.
Heat a wok or large frying pan over high heat until it is hot. Add the oil, and when it is very hot and slightly smoking, add the garlic and stir-fry for 20 seconds or until it is slightly browned. Remove and drain on kitchen paper. Pour the rice and stock mixture into the wok and simmer for 2 minutes. Turn into a soup tureen, garnish with the cooked garlic, spring onions, ginger, chillies and coriander leaves, and serve at once.
© 2001 Ken Hom. All rights reserved.