What Is Tom Kha Gai And What Does It Taste Like?

Tom kha gai is a seriously aromatic and memorable soup. It is a Thai classic that is delicious any day of the year — whether it's blustery cold or swelteringly hot. According to Feast At Home, "kha" means galangal, gai means chicken, and tom means cooked. Pretty self explanatory! Some versions, however, include other proteins instead of chicken, so this can easily be made into a vegan or vegetarian variation. Taste Atlas states that the soup hails from Northern Thailand and contains some Laotian influence. The soup is technically called tom kha, and "gai" — or the third word — is usually the name of whichever protein is included in the soup, Thai Food Master explains.

Merely looking at the ingredient list should help you to imagine just how incredibly flavorful this soup is. Most recipes feature galangal, Thai basil, coconut milk, chicken, chicken stock, scallions, lemongrass, fish sauce, kefir lime, cilantro, and chili, and that's not even the full list! There are some super simple swaps that you can make, too, if you're unable to find some of the trademark ingredients, such as ginger in place of galangal, or chicken broth instead of stock, according to Carlsbad Cravings.

Tom kha is both flavorful and nutritious

According to Thai Food Master, The Thai Royal Institute Dictionary calls the soup "a spicy chicken-curry in coconut milk ... similar to coconut-based tom yam soup." The site also reports that the dish actually dates all the way back to the late 19th century. Furthermore, it is noted that the dish was originally a protein — typically duck — that was served with a galangal-forward sauce with lots of chili. Of course, over the years, the dish began to morph a bit and transition into the more soup-esque product that is now recognized as tom kha gai.

Beyond the wonderful flavors, the soup is also nutritious and is an especially warming treat if you're not feeling well. SF Gate says that you can get a good portion of protein from the soup, as well as a decent amount of potassium and trace amounts of vitamins and minerals like zinc, magnesium, and vitamins A, C, and D among others. So, the next time you're feeling under the weather, have a loved one whip up some tom kha — and after an extra squeeze of lime — curl up with a bowl and enjoy the rich, restorative, and deliciously complex flavors.