Spicy Coconut Milk Soup with Chicken: Tom Kha Gai

Arguably one of the most flavorful soups you’ll ever taste. Bold flavors perfectly balanced – richness from the coconut milk, heat from the chilies, depth of flavor from the fish sauce, and acidity from the lime juice.

I adapted this version from a recipe I used at the Samui Institute of Thai Culinary Arts in Koh Samui. It is hands down the best Tom Kha Gai I’ve ever tasted.

2 cups coconut milk
½ cup water
1 lemongrass stalk, white part only, bias-sliced *
2 fresh kaffir lime leaves, stems removed and torn in half **
2 inches fresh galangal, thinly sliced ***
3 fresh red chilies, bias-sliced
2 shallots, sliced
1 crushed coriander root or 2 full sprigs chopped
1 tablespoon chili paste, tom yum paste or Thai chili paste
1 cup fresh oyster, straw or button mushrooms, sliced or quartered ****
3 cherry tomatoes, cut in half
½ a chicken breast, cut into bite size slices
1 tablespoon fish sauce
¼ cup scallion, bias-sliced
¼ cup coriander stems and leaves, chopped
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
6 small dried red chilies

  • In a pot (or wok) heat the coconut milk over medium heat until it comes to a boil. Add the lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves, galangal, red chilies, shallots, coriander root, and chili paste. Boil until fragrant, about 1 minute.
  • Add the mushrooms and tomatoes. Boil another minute
  • Add the chicken, without stirring boil for 30 seconds. Stir and boil another 40 seconds.
  • Add the fish sauce, scallion, and chopped coriander. Boil another 20 seconds
  • Remove from heat. Add the lime juice and taste. If necessary add more fish sauce or a pinch of salt
  • Garnish with dried red chilies and fresh coriander leaves.
  • Serve immediately

Cook’s Tips:

*Bias-sliced: cut at an angle so that you end up with oval rather than round pieces

**If you can’t find fresh kaffir lime leaves you can use 3 dried leaves instead. Soak in room temperature water for 5 minutes before using

***You can substitute the fresh galangal with ¼ cup of dried. Soak in room temperature water for 5 minutes to reconstitute

**** It’s best not to use dark mushrooms in this soup, their favor is too rich and will overwhelm many of the other ingredients

You can use a white fish, shrimp, mussels, or squid instead of chicken if you’d like (the version in the photo). Or make it semi-vegetarian by adding tofu (remember it will still have fish sauce).


  1. This soup looks and sounds absolutely delicious, Sharon. I look forward to trying it–it will be a nice change from Italian!

  2. Thank you Domenica, it is definitely one of my all-time favorite soups. And I’ll have to try one of your recipes… I’m always in the mood for Italian.

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