Bangkok, Thailand, is known as the Land of Smiles...and the land of amazing food. I love the foods of Southeast Asia. Fragrant rice paper rolls from Vietnam, Singaporean Laksa, Philippine Pansit, etc. The incredible array of street foods available at every corner make traveling anywhere in this part of the world a culinary treat. But personally, the food of Thailand is amazing and something I never tire of.
I was in Bangkok in April to present food trends and attend a meeting of our top operations leaders in Asia. It was three days of great food and cutting edge presentations at the spectacular JW Marriott Bangkok. Though my purpose was to share the latest in global food, and to reacquaint with old friends, my real goal was to steal away for a few minutes into the Thai kitchen and learn from the real expert, the chefs at the hotel's Thai cuisine restaurant White Elephant. I was lucky enough to have Chef Pairoj Kaoropwongchai take me through how simple it is to make one of my favorite soups, Tom Yam Goong. Tom means soup, Yum means the flavor of sweet, salty, sour, and spicy, and Goong means prawns. This just has to be good.
Chef K first goes through the ingredients: River prawns (he explains that these must be freshwater prawns as the natural fat on the shell really makes the soup), chicken stock, kaffir lime leaves, coriander (cilantro), chilies, galangal (a Thai ginger), lemongrass, cherry tomatoes, straw mushrooms, coconut milk, lemon juice, fish sauce, and sugar.
First, he brings the chicken stock, galangal, kaffor lime leaves, shallots, and lemon grass to a quick boil. Next, the coconut milk, tomatoes, chili paste, fish sauce, and sliced chilies are added and brought just below the boiling point. "Do not boil the coconut milk", Chef warns.
Once the broth comes just below the boil, the prawns are added. A few minutes of a slow simmer cooks the prawns through, and the soup is ready. That's it, so simple to do. A few things to watch for though. Freshwater or river prawns are the best and plays a large part in making the broth so rich. If you use regular shrimp, you will not have such a well rounded and complex soup, Chef K advises. Finish the soup with fresh coriander and an additional squeeze of lime. Now, this is what I call comfort food.
Chef Pairoj K of the White Elephant JW Marriott Bangkok