The Best Coconut Soup, Ever

I have friends in high places, meaning I got buddies who can cook.

One of those friends is Kiki, and ironically, we met in design school. We loved what we did at the time, never imagining that both of us would end up in a completely different place – the food world. Just one year after graduation, Kiki enrolled in culinary school and trained classically to become a chef. I went another route, choosing to focus more on organic, permaculture, and biodynamic farming, and became obsessed with food through growing it. It was a while before I could admit to myself that cooking was my true passion and a path I should follow. I continued to beat the drum of what I “should” have been doing, plugging away at graphic design while keeping a close eye on Kiki as she gleefully navigated her way through gastronomic territory.

Years later, we are living in Copenhagen. Coincidence? Completely. We both came for love, but mine was in the form of a tall, blonde man, and hers was in the form of a restaurant, called Noma. Kiki did a three-month stage (like an internship) there and warmed up to Denmark so much that she decided to stay! Lucky, lucky me. Now when we get together, it’s all food, all the time.


Kiki is from Bangkok, Thailand, and her food always tastes so special and exotic to me as she often cooks the authentic dishes of her culture. I remember the first time she made Pad Thai for me and it wasn’t orange. I looked at her and said, “um, I think it’s missing something”, to which she replied, “well, I don’t put ketchup in mine!” I learned that this is something Western versions often include. I was pretty excited to learn how the Thai dishes that I was familiar with were seldom made the same way in the region from where they originated. This is of course typical of most countries adapting flavours and ingredients to suit the general tastes.

A few months back Kiki came over to make some dinner together and brought the ingredients for a Thai coconut soup, called Tom Kah. Upon first slurp I nearly fell off my chair.
To say this dish is good would be the understatement of the year. It is so explosively flavourful, so complex, so beguilingly delicious that you will want to make it over and over again, as I have. It is also disappointingly easy; just throw everything into the pot and simmer for a bit, strain, and voila! It’s kind of like making a big pot of tea. It just goes to show that when you have the right ingredients, delicious food can be so delightfully simple.


Your pal, Galangal
Galangal is a rhizome, used heavily in Thai, Indonesian and Vietnamese cuisine. At first glance galangal looks very similar to ginger and one may assume it is just another variety, but they are actually quite different. Galangal tastes more like pepper, citrus, or pine than ginger. The skin of galangal is tighter and lighter in colour, and its flesh is far denser – almost as hard as wood.

Similar to ginger however, are the numerous medicinal uses and health benefits this little rhizome boasts. Galangal has turmeric-like, anti-inflammatory qualities and is therefore very helpful in treating arthritis and rheumatoid arthritis, as well as the inflammation caused by ulcers. If you are feeling nauseous, chewing on a little hunk of galangal will help ease symptoms – it has been used to treat motion and morning sickness. Galangal improves circulation and digestion, and helps alleviate diarrhea.
Nutrients in galangal include iron, vitamin A and C.

Galangal is commercially available fresh, which is the best for flavour, but you can also find it dried and powdered. If you are using whole pieces of the dried tuber, soak it in hot water before using it. If you are using powdered galangal, replace about half inch (1.25cm) of peeled and chopped fresh galangal with 1 teaspoon of galangal powder.


Yes, this ingredient list requires a trip to the ethnic grocery store, but it is well worth it. Kiki went so far as to say that if you cannot find each and every ingredient don’t bother making the soup at all. I found this slightly discouraging, as I know many of you don’t live anywhere near a market that would sell many of these items. With this in mind, I made the soup a second time and used a few more ubiquitous elements. For instance, I have a hard time finding galangal in my neighborhood, so ginger worked well in my batch. I realize that this does change the flavour of the soup a great deal, and I can no longer call it Tom Kha, (as “kha” is the word for galangal) hence the name, The Best Coconut Soup, Ever.
I used coconut sugar instead of palm sugar because that is what I had on hand. If you are vegetarian, omit the fish sauce and use tamari or just sea salt in a pinch. Kiki insisted that we use fish sauce for authenticity’s sake and I’ll admit that when we taste-tested the bowls with and without fish sauce right next to one another, the fish sauce version won me over. Later, when I made it myself, I just used tamari and it was super yummy, but I also had nothing else to compare it to. I leave this decision up to you.


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  6. Jayne


    I made this exactly as the recipe reads – all the exact ingredients, and I have to tell you that I literally had to force myself from chugging the soup. It was unbelievable. Thank you SO much for sharing this!


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  10. Vicki

    Followed the directions to a T. I was so excited to finally try my hand at making this. I had such high hopes for this soup, since this is my favorite Thai soup and feels so good when my Ulcerative Colitis is flaring. I have never made it, but get it all the time at our favorite Thai restaurants. I was very disappointed as it had a bitter undertone and was too limy. Tastes nothing like the places I purchase it from. I couldn’t put my finger on it, but wasn’t good. I’m having to dump the entire batch. Sorry, next time I’ll try to reduce the lime to only 1 and add slowly to taste. Perhaps that was also causing the bitterness. I used all fresh ingredients and didn’t leave anything out. I just think it was way too much lime.

    • ROb

      I too found it too limey, but i think thats because different limes can yield different amounts of juice? i am trying again though! I also added tofu.

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  18. Jeffrey

    I made this last night. Had it all except for the sugar. Went went agave which gave it a sweet note. Veggie here, but yes, the fish sauce seems essential. I wish we had made a double batch. It’s that good. Thank you.

  19. Geneve

    Hi Sarah! We made this soup tonight…couple of questions. 🙂 We added juice of three limes–but I think it was too much–about how much, in tablespoons or comparable, do you think the recipe should have? Also–we smashed both the galangal and the lemon grass–and it looks like the pix above of Kiki pouring into sieve–but we couldn’t distinguish it–esp the galangal. We peeled fresh galangal–but the instructs are not clear–do we smash it, and also chop it? And we simmered for 15 minutes–but it didn’t get tender like in image above. Anyway–for some reason we thought we were doing something wrong? Also–we couldn’t get cilantro roots–the guy at the asian market said they don’t “really do that anymore”–lol. Any hints? Thanks!! Love your recipes!

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  22. Jessica

    I just made this for New Year’s Eve and I had to offer compliments to the chef- this soup is off the chain. A bit of prep work, but cooks quickly. Flavor profile is off the chain- perfect balance of salty, sweet, tart and creamy. Highly recommend!!!!

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  24. Phil

    great recipe, would like to try.
    but like another poster, I would like to inquire about the amount of coconut milk is to be used, since the size of the cans is not mentionned
    thanks for help

  25. Stephanie

    I followed this recipe to a tee tonight and it was FANTASTIC, thanks so much for sharing! The only change I made was dicing up some boneless, skinless chicken breast in the soup (Tom Kha Gai) because my boyfriend wanted something a little more hearty/filling. The flavors of this recipe were incredible, I felt the Galangal did make a big difference vs. ginger. Thanks again, this is a keeper!

  26. GalAboutMT

    I hate to say it, because the photos look SO beautiful and your post is so amazing, but I followed the recipe and I found the taste WAY too strong. It was like a taste explosion…but not in a good way. 🙁 I could only eat a teeny tiny bowl. Maybe I did something wrong…

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  28. Jette

    Mjjjjaaam! Delicious! Unfortunatley the chillis I used weren’t very hot, next time I use more or some that are a bit hotter!

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  30. Beth

    Just wanted to say that my boyfriend and I made this soup and it’s amazing! We used honey instead of palm sugar, and poured it over some steamed vegetables and quinoa—yummm.

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  33. Michele

    Thanks Kendra! That’s the “thing” I learned today! (Learn at least one new thing everyday!)
    Love this soup!! I think one might be able to open a soup stand with this one soup alone! 🙂

  35. Ashley

    Sarah! I made this last night and it was incredible! I poured it over broccoli – it was just perfect by itself, too.

  36. Kendra

    Michelle, no not macadamia nuts- that is palm sugar. And I had to post and let you know Sara that I made your soup tonight and it was beyond delicious.

  37. Michele

    This soup will be a hit with family and friends; can’t wait to serve it at our next get together! Question: Are those macadamia nuts in the top left of the first ingredient picture? They don’t look like garlic or mushrooms, but very much like macadamia nuts… are they used in this soup, too?

  38. Candice

    What a coincidence!I just got home from Thailand and took a cooking course while I was there,it’s always cool to discover new ingredients such as galangal . This looks very similar to the Tom Yum Kung soup. Yum!

  39. Louisa

    What you say is true, this is the best coconut soup ever! I just made it for dinner and I LOVED it. I love the balance of sweet and sour against the creamy coconut. Brava, Kiki and Sarah!

  40. Matt

    This looks amazing!! And not only that, it looks so much simpler than many of the other Thai recipes I’ve looked up…
    Thanks for sharing!

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  44. buckwheattobutter

    Oh my YUM! My mom used to make a soup just like this but with chicken and bamboo shoots in it. Never occurred to me to make it vegetarian. I can’t wait to give it a go! Thank you for this. And love the redesign on the site!

  45. Andrea

    Sarah! You have a pal that did a stage at NOMA?! This is coo-coo-bananas to me! So amazing! I am so psyched about this soup!

    You are great.

  46. Genevieve Lawlor

    Timely post — I started in cooking and farming, which led (not illogically) to design. I’m trying to figure out why, despite all my schooling to the contrary, I still find every excuse to be in the kitchen (and garden). Circuitous paths, indeed. Anyway, can’t wait to try the recipe!

  47. Ketmala Phoumalavong

    Great photos as always and nice job on the recipe too! Coconut soup is one of my easy and delicious recipe to go to when I want a heartwarming meal in a breeze. I always have kaffir lime leaves, galangal and Thai pepper handy in my freezer when I am not able to drive to the Asian Market in Philadelphia. Funny, I actually taught an entire class on “Thai Soups” at Ketmala’s Kitchen back in January. You could see the link here:

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  49. Kamayani

    Hi Sarah! I love Thai cuisine, and Tom Kha is an all-time-favourite! I sometimes make Tom Kha at home, and follow a recipe very similar to yours (with ginger – so yes, not Kha). My biggest concerns with coconut-milk-based food are the high calories (I’ve been told a cup of coconut-milk packs in a lot – is it true?), and using a canned product. Is there a way to make fresh coconut milk at home? It would be awesome if there is, and if you could share it here with everyone 🙂

  50. Ann-Louise

    This is a must-cook-recipe. I have one question though – what are the mushrooms in the bowl on the top photo? Are they soaked? I can also see some mushrooms at the bottom of Kiki’s pot when she’s pouring outthe soup… 😉

  51. Bailey

    I absolutely love thai coconut soup, thank you for sharing this recipe! I’m headed to the asian market tomorrow. I love your photography too! I have a question about the photo of your ingredients; what is the ingredient in the top left corner, above the lemongrass? Is that the palm sugar? I’ve never used it before, so I wasn’t sure. I just want to make sure I get all the authentic ingredients! thanks 🙂

  52. Soraiya

    This looks delicious! I’m heading out to our local “ethnic” grocer now to pick up these ingredients. I just wondered Sarah, can you suggest a sugar-substitute alternative to the palm sugar? My husband cannot eat sugar, so we’ll have to make do with something else. Thanks for always inspiring me with your beautiful posts <3

    • Sarah Britton

      Hi Ann-Louise,
      The mushrooms in the top photo were actually dried ones. After much debate, we decided that fresh were better, but I had already taken the photo!

      To Bailey,
      Yes, that is palm sugar in the top left-hand corner. You can use it if you like, but I prefer coconut sugar, as I know it’s minimally processed. I leave that up to you!

      To Soraiya,
      Although it is untraditional, use a light honey to sweeten the soup. Maple syrup’s flavour is too strong I think.

      All the best,
      Sarah B

  53. Steph

    I just relived my trip to Thailand with cooking class where we cooked a similar soup and since then…it’s been my favorite. Thanks for reminding me I shouldn’t go too long before making it again 🙂 Will try your version…pictures are amazing, as usual 😉 Thanks!

  54. Stacey

    Thank you so much for sharing this recipe! The depth of flavor is divine, and is surprisingly complex; it warms my body & soul.

  55. sarah @ two tarts

    thank you thank you thank you! I have had such a hard time finding a REAL recipe (not westernized) for Tom Kha soup and this looks like a great one. I spent a couple of months in Thailand and after experiencing the real version of this amazing soup, the westernized versions just do not compare for me. Trip to the asian market coming up soon….! 🙂

  56. rini100783

    Can i add turmeric? To add the color of the soup. But i will try this recipe coz i only cook tom yam soup but never try this one. More soup recipe please. I ♥ this site so much. Thank u

  57. Nirrimi

    How absolutely perfect that we have galangal in our garden (and lemongrass, shallots and coriander)! I know what I’m making next rainy afternoon.

  58. Stephanie

    Thank you for posting this. I have long suspected that the coconut soup from my local Thai restaurant had none other than Campbell’s tomato soup in it! Now I am nearly positive it does. Their soup is delicious, but I would much rather be able to make it myself, minus the can. Take care and keep up the brilliant work <3

  59. Caroline Rossignol

    OMG. I just discovered your website and I AM VERY VERY much in love!!!!!!
    Thanks a lot. Beautiful and AMAZINGLY creative and yummy recipes. This is SOOOOO perfect.
    What I was looking for forever!!

  60. Kathleen

    I am sooooooo making this soup and I totally appreciate Kiki’s insistence on getting the right ingredients!!! I am trying to transition to vegan this year but fish sauce will be my dark secret because I can’t imagine this soup without it!!! I didn’t look through the other comments super carefully so this may have been mentioned already… Import Food .com is an amazing website that has all things Thai….cooking-wise that is!!! They have cooking utensils, spices, palm sugar, coconut milk (that doesn’t taste weird!!), AND fresh produce!! Galangal…lemon grass…kefir lime leaves!!! The produce is first come first served and they only sell it when it is fresh fresh fresh but they are totally worth a try if you are a stickler for authenticity and live in a place that doesn’t have some of the ingredients at hand!! Great blog BTW!!

  61. Laura

    Oh man. I cannot wait to make this one. Lucky for me, I have kaffir lime leaves, lemongrass and galangal in my fridge right now. Whoop whoop rhizomes! 🙂 Gorgeous, Sarah.

  62. la domestique

    This soup looks so good and I love having a reason to visit my local Asian market. There’s a handy little app for the iPhone called Asian Market Shopper that I came across recently. It’s a guide by Andrea Nguyen and Chronicle Books with tons of great photos, info, and audio pronunciations for Asian ingredients. Some might find it helpful when venturing to the market to make this soup.

  63. Brød og elefanter

    So funny you posted that today. I made Thai coconut soup for lunch and when I clicked in to your blog after lunch, there it was, pretty much the same soup. Cool coincidence 🙂 Looks lovely, am going to try this recipe the next time I feel like coconut glory.

  64. Sasha

    It is funny how we think of a dish as being something set in stone; whereas, in the other cultures the name of a dish usually refers to a whole category of cooking as opposed to a very specific list of ingredients.
    And boy, does this ever look good. This soup is definitely more than the sum of its parts and I look forward to finally making it at home.

  65. Shelley Alexander

    Hi Sarah,
    When I saw this beautiful soup picture and the headline of the best coconut soup ever in my newsfeed on Facebook, I knew I had to stop by and see the recipe. I adore your blog and your recipes are always fantastic! I really enjoy having delectable foods with health benefits as a holistic chef and your recipes always delight me! Please have your dear friend Kiki do some more Thai food recipes for your blog because this is one of my favorite cuisines!


  66. Penny

    Delicious! I did a vegetarian Thai cooking class in Bangkok and loved how much easier everything was to make than I thought! And so much fresher than most Thai restaurants in Australia too. Your soup looks beautiful!

    • Sarah Britton

      Hi Staci,
      I used an organic coconut milk from the grocery store, called Santa Maria. Thr fish sasuce Kiki brought over so I don’t know!

      Yes coconut milk from the can with the solid top cream and all!

      Love to all,
      Sarah B

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  68. Marta

    Hi Sarah!
    This looks super lovely so I’m going to give it a try! 🙂 I have one question: Do you use the whole coconut milk from the can, including the more “solid” part? Tak!!

  69. Grace

    love it! as a person of south east asian origin i firmly believe that, it’s always good to pay respect to and maintain the authenticity of a dish but as those dishes were originally experiments too, it’s great to see possible variations of them, especially when they maintain a high health and nutrition focus. always love your work Sarah and all the inspiration you draw from, well done!

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