Tom Yum Pla

Thai Fish Chowder


Tom yum needs no introduction, but the uninitiated may be daunted by its spiciness. Fret not; the number of chillies used can definitely be reduced, as it isn’t just about the spice. The soup is also fragrant with lemongrass, coriander, galangal and fish sauce, all of which combine to produce a lemony, refreshing broth. Tom yum is best eaten with steamed jasmine rice, to temper the spiciness.


  • 2 tablespoons cooking oil
  • 15 dried chillies, seeded, then soaked to soften and drained
  • 6 cloves garlic, peeled
  • 8 shallots, peeled
  • 4 cups (1 litre) chicken stock
  • 3 coriander roots, bruised
  • 3 stalks lemongrass, bruised and sliced lengthwise in half
  • 5 kaffir lime leaves
  • 5-cm knob galangal, peeled and finely sliced
  • 8 bird’s eye chillies, bruised
  • ¼ cup (60 ml) fish sauce (nam pla)
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 500 g Spanish mackerel fillet, cut into bite-size pieces
  • coriander leaves


  1. Heat the oil in a pan over medium heat. Add the dried chillies and stir-fry until crisp. Remove and drain well.
  2. In the same pan, fry the garlic and shallots for 2–3 minutes or until lightly browned. Remove and drain well.
  3. Using a mortar and pestle or blender, pound or process the fried dried chillies, garlic and shallots into a fine paste.
  4. Bring the chicken stock to a boil. Add the coriander roots, lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves, galangal, bird’s eye chillies, fish sauce and salt. Stir and continue to boil for about 5 minutes.
  5. Add the dried chilli paste and mackerel and cook for another 5 minutes.
  6. Dish out and garnish with coriander leaves. Serve hot with rice and other dishes.