Tom yum goong maybe the most famous soup of Thailand, but its milder creamier sister, tom kha gai, is my personal favourite. This comforting Thai coconut chicken soup recipe is infused with the classic Thai herbs: lemongrass, galangal, and makrut (kaffir) lime leaves. It's so easy yet so loveable that when someone asks, "I'm new to Thai food, what should I try/make first?" Tom kha gai is my answer.
What is Tom Kha Gai?
Tom kha gai, which is sometimes spelled tom ka gai, is one of the most popular soups amongst Thai food lovers. Tom means to boil, kha means galangal, and gai means chicken. So it's a chicken soup whose main flavour comes from galangal, but another key component not mentioned in the soup is coconut milk.
Tom kha gai soup is available at nearly every Thai restaurant overseas, but because it's such an easy recipe, it's a dish that's perfect for simple weeknight home cooking. Though chicken is the original version, you can make tom kha using other proteins. Typically in Thailand, alternative proteins are fish or seafood, as they pair best with the flavour profile of tom kha soup.
Tom kha gai is a great dish to make for a party because it is gluten-free, not too spicy, has easy-to-love flavours, and it can be made vegan with modifications I provide later on in this article.
Here are all the ingredients for my tom kha gai recipe. There aren't that many, but each one is critical to the flavour of the soup. Kha refers to the galangal, so that's the one ingredient that's an absolute must and cannot be substituted.
If you want to learn more about some of the Thai ingredients listed below, simply click the link to watch my "101" videos on them!
- Boneless skinless chicken thighs (chicken breast is okay to use, but the methods need to be modified as per the notes in the recipe card)
- Chicken broth or stock, unsalted, preferably homemade
- Coconut milk
- Makrut lime leaves (aka kaffir lime leaves)
- Thai chilies
- Oyster mushrooms or another Asian mushroom
- Fish sauce
- Palm sugar (or light brown sugar)
- Cilantro or green onions for garnish
- Fresh lime juice
How to Make Tom Kha Soup
Here's a bird's eye view of how to make tom kha gai, but to ensure success, be sure to watch the video tutorial in the recipe card below as it's always good to see how it's done, and I often include extra tips you don't want to miss!
- Bring chicken stock and salt to a boil, add the chicken.
- Simmer the chicken for 15 minutes or until fork tender.
- Add coconut milk.
- Add the herbs and simmer for another 5 minutes.
- Add the fish sauce and sugar and bring back to a boil.
- Add the oyster mushrooms.
- Cook the mushrooms for a minute or so.
- Turn off the heat, add the lime juice, then it's ready to serve with a cilantro and/or green onion garnish!
Even though chicken is at the heart of this soup ("gai" in tom kha gai means chicken), there is a way to make a vegan version that's equally satisfying. Here are some simple modifications:
- Use vegetable broth instead of chicken. I recommend checking out the veggie stock I made for my mushroom tom yum recipe. I don't recommend Western-style store bought vegetable broth as those tend to have a flavour that doesn't work here.
- Instead of chicken, I love using just a fun mix of Asian mushrooms. Oyster, shimeji, fresh shiitake, or maitake are all great candidates. Of course you can substitute tofu instead if you like it.
- Add some tomatoes. Since there's only mushrooms, to add some variety and extra umami, I love to add tomatoes. Using halved cherry tomatoes are better as they are less likely to turn to mush in the soup. The combination of tomato and coconut is divine.
- Use soy sauce instead of fish sauce.
Frequently Asked Question
For this dish, nothing. kha means galangal, so you really can't make this soup without it. However, if fresh isn't available, look for frozen galangal which works perfectly, and if needed you can use dried galangal as well.
No, ginger is not a good substitute for galangal. But if you decide to use ginger instead anyway, know that the flavour of the soup is going to be quite different from the galangal version.
Tom kha is a great soup to make in advance and it keeps well and reheats well. It should keep in the fridge for a week. Ideally you should add the lime juice when ready to serve for the best flavour, but I know it can be easy to forget, so put a note on the container to remind yourself to add the lime! Also save the green onions and/or cilantro for serving time.
Authentic Tom Kha Gai (Thai coconut chicken soup)
- 2 cups chicken stock, unsalted, preferably homemade
- 1 ½ cups coconut milk
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt, or half the amount of table salt
- 1 lb chicken thigh, boneless skinless, bite-sized pieces (see note 1)
- 1 stalk lemongrass, bottom half only, smashed and cut into 2-inch pieces
- 12 thin slices galangal, (see note 2)
- 5 makrut lime leaves, roughly torn into big chunks, center stems removed
- 3-4 Thai chilies, bruised or cut into large pieces
- 2 tablespoon fish sauce
- 1 teaspoon finely chopped palm sugar, or granulated sugar
- 5.5 oz oyster mushrooms
- 2 ½ tablespoon lime juice
- chopped green onion and/or cilantro, for garnish
- Jasmine rice, for serving
- If using chicken breast, cut into ½-inch thick slices and marinate in 1 tablespoon of fish sauce while you're prepping. Skip step #1 as chicken breast does not need to be simmered and is best cooked only briefly, and omit the salt. Reduce the chicken stock to 1 ½ cups and add it at step #2. Add the chicken breast to the soup at the end along with the mushrooms in step #3 and cook for a couple of minutes just until the chicken is done. Be sure to taste and adjust the salt at the end!
- The lemongrass, galangal and makrut lime leaves are meant for infusion only and not meant to be eaten. Please inform your guests or remove them before serving.
FULL VIDEO TUTORIAL
All my recipes come with step-by-step video tutorials with extra tips not mentioned in the blog post, so make sure you watch the video to ensure success. If you enjoy them, consider subscribing to the YouTube Channel to not miss an episode. Thank you!Subscribe to my YouTube Channel
- Bring chicken stock to a boil, then add salt and chicken. Let simmer gently for 15-20 minutes or until chicken is fork tender.2 cups chicken stock, 1 teaspoon kosher salt, 1 lb chicken thigh, boneless skinless
- Add coconut milk, lemongrass, galangal, makrut lime leaves, chilies, about half of the fish sauce, and sugar. Simmer for 5 minutes to infuse.1 ½ cups coconut milk, 1 stalk lemongrass, 12 thin slices galangal, 5 makrut lime leaves, 3-4 Thai chilies, 2 tablespoon fish sauce, 1 teaspoon finely chopped palm sugar, or granulated sugar
- Add the mushrooms, bring back to a simmer, and cook for 1-2 minutes or until cooked through.5.5 oz oyster mushrooms
- Taste and add more fish sauce as needed. Turn off the heat and add 2 tablespoon of the lime juice, then taste and add more as needed. Top with green onions and/or cilantro.2 ½ tablespoon lime juice, chopped green onion and/or cilantro, for garnish
- Serve with jasmine rice as part of a larger Thai meal, or you can put rice in the soup and enjoy on its own. (Note: the herbs are for infusion only and are not meant to be eaten. Either remove them before serving or inform your guests.)Jasmine rice, for serving
Could only get dried galangal - hard as a rock, but it works. Any suggestion as to how much to use? Had to split up the pieces by hitting a screw driver with a hammer, so thin slices not possible.
Hard to say without seeing what the pieces look like, but about half a cup of dried pieces should be a good place to start!
Best Tom Kha Gai I’ve EVER HAD!! This recipe is SO FAST AND DELICIOUS. I substituted lime zest for the lime leaves and it was great! I doubled the recipe and only had 1 stalk of lemon grass and it was great still!!$
Hi! How can I make this Tom Khai Lobster??
Could I make it in the morning to serve in evening?
How is this soup if I make it a day head? I was thinking of making the broth today and adding the chicken and mushrooms tomorrow. Have you done this? What do you think?
Go ahead and make the whole thing in advance including the chicken and mushrooms. Leave out the lime juice and the green onions and/or cilantro and add them fresh when you reheat it. It'll be fine.
Hi, I was unable to find any lime leaves, but did find mandarin with leaves attached. Will these work, or should I omit the leaves all together? Thanks in advance! Looking forward to cooking this tomorrow.
Hi Rachel, unfortunately other kinds of citrus leaves do not work as a substitute. Leaving the lime leaves out...the soup will still taste good, but it will not taste the way it "should" because the lime leaves provide a key flavour, so I would encourage you to look for them at least in dried or frozen forms!
No, if you can't find lime leaves, substitute with lime. Either use cut lime wedges, or my favorite is to grate lime rind.
Where is the recipe notes with differences in cooking with chicken filet instead of chicken legs please? thank you!
Hi, yes I agree, how do you adjust the recipe using chicken breast instead of thighs?
Marinate chicken breast in a tablespoon of fish sauce while you prep. Skip the simmering of the chicken in the beginning and omit the salt, then add the breast in the soup at the very end, cooking only for 1-2 minutes or so until the pieces are cooked through. Then add more salt to taste. Hope this makes sense 🙂
I have added this note to the recipe card, sorry about that!
This soup was delicious. I varied it by using a shredded whole chicken including breast meat which was very tender and didn’t therefore have to be cook it as long. I used regular button mushrooms and ginger root and was good even though the recipe says to use galangal only. I will try it with galangal next time! I added a bit more sugar lime juice and fish sauce. So good!
Apologies I missed this, the note has been added! Thank you!
Wow, I’m on a very limited liquid elimination diet due to allergies. I modified slightly based on what I’m allow but I could cry the flavors are so delicious and remind me of a sweet time in Thailand. Thank you for sharing and teaching! Your videos were awesome! My kids helped me make the soup. My daughter wants it instead of pizza! It will be a staple in our home from now on. Thank you!
My boyfriend is pescatarian is it better to use fish stock or vegetable stock as the base? I plan to use shrimps as the protein
Fish stock would be better. And add your shrimp at the end and let them cook just for 30 seconds to a minute until done.
Hi I am making this tomorrow night. I have all of the ingredients except galangal ): I live in Mexico so it is not possible to get here! At least I have t found any fresh. At the Asian market I found a jar of ground galangal. Can I use this? I assume the flavor won’t be as strong but hoping it will work cause this soup is my favorite!
I don't know how ground galangal is going to work as I've never tried it, but if it's your only option then it's probably worth a try. Couldn't be that bad I think!
Can you use skinless chicken legs instead? If so, should i cook the chicken in the stock longer?
Absolutely! But if using whole chicken legs you'd need to cook them for about 30-40 minutes until fork tender.
I’ve saved the recipe.
Will be back on your site for more recipes.
If I only have dried kaffir lime leaves, should I put them in whole or grind them into powder first? Do I need to take out the stems if I put them in whole? How many dried leaves should I use? And thank you for your wonderful authentic recipes!! Your instructions are so easy to follow and I love how you explain everything!
Hi! Thank you! Just put them in whole, and I would double the amount. You don't want to crumble them as they can become too small and then hard to fish out when eating.
I am so so in love with your recipe. Had mine with plain porridge and i'm so mind blown with how nice it is
My brother called it chicken rendang in white sauce soup.
Hi, Pailin, I have been following your YT videos for months and love all of them. For this soup, can I replcae chicken with something like shrimps? If so, how much cooking time would you recommend for your step 1? 15-20 mins seem a bit long for cooking shrimps.
Hi! Thanks for watching! If using shrimp, put them at the very end after the soup is done and cook them for literally 1 minute. Keep everything else the same.
I love Tom Kha and have tried many recipes. This is by far the best and I now use this recipe exclusively. I prefer to use homemade chicken only using garlic (the American version with carrots, celery, etc adds too much western flavor). I wanted to ask about the infusion time. I always feel like 5 min is too short. Would you set me straight on this? Thanks for all the great recipes!
Hi Matt, so glad to hear you love it! With these herbs, traditionally they're always infused only for a few minutes, and I find I get the flavours I need in that time, plus the remaining time on the stove with cooking the mushrooms of course. You can do it for longer if you're not sure, it's not going to hurt it, but just watch your liquid volume as you'll be losing more due to evaporation.
I always love your recipes! This is a favorite in our house. Thanks for sharing.
This looks so good! We love Thai soups like tom ka gai and tom yum, but my husband is allergic to mushrooms. Is there anything you can recommend replacing them with?
You don't have to replace them with anything, it can be an all-chicken soup, but adding onions and letting them cook till tender is pretty good 🙂
Thank you so much! I’ll try this then.
I wonder is there a 101 on rhizomes?
In this particular case can I substitute krachai for galangal? Are galangal and krachai more similar to each other than they are to ginger? While these things are not on obtainable in Western Europe they are rather expensive. So if I can cut down on the number of ingredients that keep in the fridge or freezer that's a good thing. If however that would be detrimental to the taste of the dish I'd rather go whole hog.
I hear you about the freezer! But unfortunately grachai and galangal taste very different from each other, so I think it's best to go whole hog!
Delicious! I tasted this in Thailand and couldn’t get enough. Visiting my home country Norway, I saw a spice package mix and was mortified to see that their Tom Kha Kai had no kha (galangal) in it 🙈🙈🙈 They substituted ginger, I think 😬🤦♀️
Thankfully I found a good Asian food store with everything I needed to make the real deal 💪🏻
This was delicious!
Being vegan, I omitted the chicken/ chicken stock and fish sauce. Then I substituted it with mushroom stock, kombu sheets and filled it up with a variety of veggies and tofu.
Thank you for such a simple yet delicious recipe!
I made it last night. It was so easy & delicious!
thank you - love your style and your personality - greetings from Poland
Well-balanced spice and creaminess. Warms the soul!
Thanks Pat. Best homemade recipe I've found. I usually double it because 4 servings just isn't enough its so good!
Tom Yum may be the most world renowned Thai soup, but to me, Tom Ka got my love even more, so comforting and satisfying. I usually don't just eat it straight up as a soup, but turn it into a noodle soup, equally good.
I’m excited to make this today! If we sub seafood for chicken, do we still need 2 cups of broth or just 1.5? Thanks!
If you’re making seafood, you may want to have a look at this:
Hi! You'd probably need a little bit less because the broth won't have time to evaporate, so start with 1.5 and and you can add more if it tastes too strong at the end. Add the seafood at the very end, cook it just a few mins until done and turn off.
One of my favorit Thai soups.
The freshness because the lime leaves, lemongras and lime juice is great.