Lightly Salted - Versus: Tom Yum Goong & Kaeng Khanun

The incredible diversity of Thai cuisine makes Thailand one of the most dynamic countries in the world. Thai cuisine encompasses dishes from four distinct regions: the Central Plains, the North, Northeast and the South. The unifying factor of the cuisine is the way each region uses spicy, sour, sweet and salty flavours to create vibrant and balanced tastes. Key ingredients include the ubiquitous chilli, which is used to add fire to almost every dish.

These flavours are blended into graceful dishes where no single taste overpowers the other but instead, complements to create a wonderful harmony of flavours. Often compared with each other for their similar flavour profile, Tom Yum Goong and Kaeng Khanun are still delicacies their own right.

Tom Yum Goong

Tom yum Goong is a clear soup laden with fresh tomatoes collapsing in its depths and a warmth that settles in the stomach like a rising cloud, redolent with the titillating scent of torn kaffir leaves. The popular “Tom Yum” has reached global proportions of fame. Its medical properties have been recorded in historical annals, poems and songs and some of the first Thai cook books, Thai royal court, religion, from the Sukhothai to Ratthanakosia periods (1157 to present)

The first known “Tom Yum” recipe was recorded in Thai in 1889. The scholar and astrologer Prayoon Uroochato, said that “Tom Yum” originated during the Ratanakosin period, which began with the founding of Bangkok as the capital in 1782.

It is a fiery and addictive soup with ingredients like galangal, lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves and blisteringly scrumptious chillies. This soup unfolds dramatically in waves of sweet, tart, and savoury; when the heat hits, the harmony is complete.

Kaeng Khanun

Popular in all four regions of Thailand, Northeast cuisine is also the centrepiece of the country’s gastronomy tourism push. The cuisine is said to be far more exciting than that of the Central region. Instead of the ubiquitous Tom Yum Goong from Central Thailand, Northern Thailand has its own rendition, which is Kaeng Khanun.

A hot and sour curry which infuses an added fruity flavouring of young unripe jackfruit and the Northern Thai favourite of cherry tomatoes, it often served with welcome chunks of pork, unlike Tom Yum which is commonly served with seafood. This dish is a vegetarian’s delight, with ample amounts of green jackfruit, cherry tomatoes, betel leaves, dried chillies, and herbs creating a lovely riot of colours. Although it is not considered an extraordinary dish locally, it is similar to Tom Yum Goong with its combination of sweet, sour, salty and spicy flavours.

*Text by Dawn Wong