Tom Yam Kung

Bangkok-based food writer and photographer Austin Bush ( says this is the best way to make this most famous of Thai soups—tom yam soup with shrimp. “You'll probably never see a measuring spoon in a Thai kitchen because Thai people cook by feel and taste, adding ingredients and tasting continuously until they reach a flavor they like. Try it, it works.”—Austin Bush


Fresh shrimp (shells and all, not just shrimp meat), 10 or so depending on size

4 cups water

Galangal, a thumb-sized piece, peeled and chopped into big disks

3-4 stalks lemongrass, outer layer removed and bruised

6 shallots, peeled

4 coriander (cilantro) roots, cleaned well

Fish sauce, to taste

Sugar (if desired), to taste

6 straw mushrooms, quartered

4 cherry tomatoes, halved

6 sawtooth coriander leaves, thinly sliced

Chilies, to taste, roughly chopped and pressed with the side of a knife

2-3 limes, depending on how sour you like your food

3 kaffir lime leaves, halved


Wash, behead, and peel the shrimp, reserving the shells and heads. Devein shrimp, butterfly (if desired), and set aside in the fridge. Bring water to a boil in a medium saucepan and add shrimp shells and heads. When water reaches a boil again, stir, and push on the shrimp shells to extract as much shrimp flavor as possible. Simmer for about five minutes. Strain and discard shrimp shells, reserving water.

In the same saucepan, bring shrimp broth to a boil again and add galangal, lemongrass, shallots, and coriander roots. Allow to reach a slight boil, then simmer. Add a few drops of Thai fish sauce until the broth tastes slightly salty. Sugar is optional; if you like it, add now to taste.

After about three to four minutes, when your broth is fragrant, add prawns, mushrooms, and tomatoes. After another two to three minutes, when mushrooms are slightly soft and prawns done, squeeze in the lime juice and add the lime leaves. Taste. Add more fish sauce (or sugar), if necessary, plus the chilies and sawtooth coriander.

Servings: Serves two

Kaeng Massaman

"Kaeng massaman ('Muslim curry') differs from most Thai curries in that it doesn’t have a curry paste that’s pounded up in a mortar and pestle; the ingredients, mostly dried spices, are added step by step. Thai-Muslim food tends to be sweet, so if you don’t like sweet dinners then reduce the amount of sugar in the last step.”—Austin Bush, Bangkok-based food writer and photographer


1 pound beef

1 cup thick coconut milk (directly from the can)

1 cup thin coconut milk (canned milk diluted 50 percent with water)

3 tablespoons freshly roasted and ground coriander seed

2 teaspoons freshly roasted and ground cumin seed

2 tablespoons chili powder

1/2 teaspoon turmeric powder

2 teaspoons ground pepper

3/4 cup cooking oil

1/4 cup chopped shallots

3 pieces cinnamon

3 star anise

10 Thai cardamom

1/2 cup water

2 medium potatoes, quartered

1 teaspoon shrimp paste

20 peppercorns, crushed

1/2 cup shredded ginger

1 1/2 tablespoons salt

4 tablespoons tamarind paste

5 tablespoons palm sugar

1 onion, sliced


Wash beef and cut into bite-sized pieces. In a medium saucepan, cover beef with water, bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer until beef is tender, at least 40 minutes.

Combine ground coriander, ground cumin, chili powder, and ground pepper. Set aside.

In a large saucepan over medium heat, add oil and fry shallots with cinnamon, star anise, and Thai cardamom, until golden and crispy. Add dry spice mixture, stirring well to combine. When fragrant, add thick coconut milk followed by water. Bring to a slight boil and add potatoes. Simmer until potatoes are just done, about five minutes, and add beef. Combine shrimp paste with two tablespoons of the hot curry mixture and return to saucepan, stirring to combine.

Add peppercorns and ginger. Bring to a boil and reduce heat, simmering until fragrant and flavors have combined. Add thin coconut milk and season with salt, tamarind paste, and palm sugar. Bring to a boil and add onions. Simmer until onions are soft, and remove from heat.

Serve hot with rice.

Servings: Serves four

Pad Thai

Pad Thai is found at street stalls everywhere and is probably the most popular Thai dish among Western travelers.


8 ounces rice noodles

3 tablespoons vegetable oil

3 garlic cloves, minced

1/4 cup fish sauce

1/4 cup sugar

2 tablespoons tamarind juice

1 tablespoon paprika

1/2 cup fried tofu

1/4 cup dried shrimp (optional)

2 tablespoons dried unsalted turnip, cut small

1 egg, beaten

1/4 cup chives, chopped in 1-inch lengths

1/4 cup ground roasted peanuts

1 cup bean sprouts

1 lime, quartered

4 banana flower slices


Soak the rice noodles in cold water for 30 minutes, or until flexible but not totally soft. Drain, and set aside. Heat a wok and add oil. Add garlic and (optional) dried shrimp; stir-fry. Add noodles and stir-fry until translucent. If the noodles stick, reduce the heat.

Add fish sauce, sugar, tamarind juice (or white vinegar), and paprika. Stir-fry until thoroughly combined. Stir in the tofu, turnip, and egg. Cook on high heat until egg sets. Stir-fry mixture thoroughly and continue cooking over medium-high heat for about two minutes until most liquid is reduced. Mix in the chives and bean sprouts.

Pour onto the serving plate and sprinkle with peanuts. Serve hot with a banana flower slice and a wedge of lime on the side, raw chives, and bean sprouts on top.

Servings: Serves three or four


About Bangkok and Thailand

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