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Coconut Milk Soup: One Year Later | Tom Kha Gai | ต้มข่าไก่

About this time last year, the boyfriend and I were toying with the idea of starting a Thai food blog.  We were making Thai food several times a week already and were thinking that blogging would be a good way to archive the recipes we already knew as well as a good incentive to expand our repertoire.  Almost one year later, this blog has done that and more.

Over the past year, I have learned so much about Thai food and cooking.  I’ve encountered herbs, spices, and pastes that I never knew existed.  I’ve eaten more rice than I ever thought possible…  And along the way, I’ve learned bits and pieces of Thai language, history, and culture that I don’t think I would have picked up otherwise.

So in tribute to one year of Thai food blogging, I thought it would be nice to, over the next few weeks, revisit some of the first dishes that we made on this blog.

First up is the soup that still holds the title of my all-time-favorite Thai soup, tom kha gai.  This soup is commonly called “coconut milk soup” in English, although the Thai name actually translates to something more like “galangal soup with chicken”.  I find this to be a more accurate representation of the soup because the galangal, lemongrass, and kaffir lime leaves really are the stars of the show.

Over the last year, I’ve learned several tips and tricks for working with these key Thai ingredients.  Galangal, for instance, is quite hard and fibrous.  The easiest way to prepare it is to slice it into paper-thin rounds with a very sharp knife and freeze the slices in a ziploc bag in single layers.  Then, when you need galangal, it’s super easy to grab the bag from the freezer, break off a few pieces, and throw them into the pot.  The bottom, tender part of lemongrass can also be sliced into very thin slices, on a diagonal.  That way, these herbs are small enough that you can eat them along with the other vegetables in the soup if you wish.

The vegetables that are most commonly used in this soup are mushrooms, specifically straw mushrooms if you want to mimic what you’d find in Thailand.  But many times I’ve found myself wanting this soup without mushrooms on hand, so have substituted a variety of different vegetables.  I like the combination of bamboo shoots and onions the best so far, which is what the recipe below features, but I imagine that any hearty vegetable that can withstand boiling would work.

I’ve also had a chance to experiment with slightly different flavors in my tom kha gai over the last year.  The traditional recipe that I posted last year does not include roasted chili paste (nam prik pao), but I’ve found that I kind of like this addition.  It adds a certain pop of flavor to the soup that really enhances all of the other flavors already present.  That’s not to say that the traditional way of making tom kha gai without nam prik pao isn’t good or “right”.

Because one of the other things that I’ve learned over the past year is that everyone has their own personal variations of their favorite Thai dishes.  And that’s perfectly okay.


Coconut Milk Soup: One Year Later | Tom Kha Gai | ต้มข่าไก่

Makes 3-4 servings

Coconut Milk Soup: One Year Later | Tom Kha Gai | ต้มข่าไก่


  • 2 cups chicken broth
  • 2 cups water
  • 1/2 cup coconut milk
  • 1 cup chicken, sliced finely
  • 4-5 kaffir lime leaves, torn
  • 1" piece of galangal, sliced thinly
  • 1 stalk lemongrass, sliced thinly
  • 3 red Thai chili peppers, smashed
  • 1/2 cup bamboo shoots, sliced
  • 1/4 cup onion, sliced
  • 1/4 cup cilantro leaves, chopped
  • 1 Tablespoon roasted chili paste
  • 1 Tablespoon fish sauce
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • juice from 1 large lime


  1. Heat the water and chicken broth over medium heat. Add the torn kaffir lime leaves, sliced galangal, and sliced lemongrass to the pot and allow to simmer for 20-30 minutes, until the aroma of these herbs is somewhat strong.
  2. Add the coconut milk and stir into the other liquid. Then add the chicken, smashed chilis, and bamboo shoots. Let the chicken cook until it's done.
  3. Next add the fish sauce, roasted chili paste, sugar, and lime juice. Start with the juice from half a lime and taste the soup. I've found that an entire large lime gives the right amount of tartness for me, but taste as you add to get the soup just right for you.
  4. Once the soup has just the right flavors, add the onion slices and cook until they're done. Scoop the soup into a bowl and garnish with cilantro leaves.

Recipe adapted from RealThaiRecipes.com

24 comments… add one
  • Gypsy December 26, 2014, 7:18 am

    Made this for Christmas dinner, wonderful soup! Found a recipe to make the chili paste too. One satisfied customer! : ) Thank you for your recipes. I’ll be trying more.

    • Rachel December 26, 2014, 2:55 pm

      Great, glad you enjoyed it! Merry Christmas!

  • Priya August 20, 2014, 12:01 pm

    Hi Rachel, I saw one of the images from this post here:
    They have just given an end credit as ‘Image Credits: Foodgawker and Google’. No mention of your name/blog. Just thought I will let you know.

    • Rachel August 20, 2014, 1:41 pm

      Thanks, Priya!

  • Lilly Gish November 8, 2013, 9:51 pm

    I’ve had a difficult time finding kaffir limes leaves, but just found them on ebay. They were picked fresh, put in a foodsaver bag, and mailed. I had them in two days and in very good condition.

  • Esmeralda August 24, 2013, 5:48 pm

    Do you use raw chicken or boil it before putting it in the soup??

    • Rachel August 24, 2013, 11:12 pm

      Hi Esmeralda, I use raw chicken and allow it to cook in the soup.

  • Barbara May 4, 2013, 4:03 pm

    I found a recipe for Tom kha gai that had anise, coriander, cloves, cinnamon sticks and several other spices. Now I can’t find it. Would you have one.

    • Rachel May 5, 2013, 4:28 am

      Hi Barbara, I haven’t seen a recipe like that…

  • Tim March 2, 2013, 11:25 pm

    Great recipe! The only thing that I would change would be to concentrate the chicken stock, then add equal amounts of coconut milk while skipping the water altogether, otherwise I’ve found it can be a little watery. I also agree that nam prik pao, while not the traditional ingredient for tom kha, certainly does give it that extra flavor. I also agree that there is no substitute for galangal. The only ingredient I absolutely cannot find in Atlanta is the lime leaves. Oh, well.
    Anyways, thanks for sharing!

  • Meghan January 10, 2013, 1:05 am

    This sounds delicious, however, I have searched high and low for galangal and I can’t find it fresh or dried. I live in Canada so I can’t order it online- I know it won’t have the same flavour, but would ginger suffice for a similar taste?

    • Rachel January 10, 2013, 5:33 am

      Hi Meghan – Unfortunately ginger and galagal have pretty distinct tastes, so I don’t think substituting one for the other would work in this case.

    • Courtney November 12, 2014, 10:05 pm

      Silkroadspices.ca. They are based in Calgary and ship country wide. Just went to their bricks and mortar store this morning to get the kaffir and some other great spices.

  • Thai Breeze June 8, 2012, 6:33 am

    What I like about thai food is it is made in coconut oil. It has got some special taste and smell because of that. Lovely information has been shared here.
    Thanks – http://www.thaibreeze.ca

  • kmmrfldt74@gmail.com December 12, 2011, 3:48 pm

    I am drooling as I read your blog this sounds so amazing and I cant wait to try this soup. Talk to you later and thank you.

  • Rachel December 11, 2011, 9:01 pm

    Hi Paula – I’ve never used dried herbs before, so I’m not sure if they would work or not. Let me know if you do try it. Otherwise, there are quite a few online Thai stores offering fresh herbs (www.importfoods.com and http://www.grocerythai.com to name a few). Good luck!

  • Paula December 11, 2011, 5:54 pm

    Hi Rachel,
    This is also my favourite.
    I live in a very small town and all I could find was dried kaffir lime leaves and dried galangal. I know it wouldn’t be as good, but can I use these?

  • Rachel November 28, 2011, 8:17 pm

    Hi Jessica – I typically use the Chaokoh brand of coconut milk (http://www.amazon.com/Chaokoh-Coconut-Milk-13-5-Fl/dp/B0002YB404)

  • Jessica November 28, 2011, 7:42 pm

    what kind of coconut milk do you use?

  • Rachel October 15, 2011, 11:52 am

    Thanks everyone for the kind comments!

  • Dina October 13, 2011, 5:28 pm

    i love this soup! i’m going to try your recipe.

  • sweet road October 9, 2011, 7:22 am

    I find in trying to teach and share with others, you end up learning a whole lot more in the process! Congrats on a year on your blog, I’ll be sure to try out your recipe as I have never made my own tom kha gai!

  • Morgan October 8, 2011, 7:06 pm

    So glad I found your blog! I loooove thai food and this Tom Kha Gai looks perfect!

  • A Kitchen Muse October 8, 2011, 3:34 pm

    This looks delicious and I love coconut soup…and think I’ve found the perfect recipe! I love your blog and look forward to trying your recipes!

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