tom kha gai (chicken coconut milk soup)

Ah, Thailand. What a great place to spend time eating. This past December I spent 10 days in Chiang Mai. It was my second trip to Thailand, but first time in the Northern part of the country. During the 10-day holiday I experienced many things, including a day at a Thai cooking school. During the full day class I learned to make basic Thai dishes that are consumed widely throughout the country.

Thai Akha Kitchen was a great overall cooking school experience for our group, which consisted of my husband and three friends, all of whom like to cook. In the span of our seven-hour class we shopped at a local fresh market, learned about basic Thai ingredients, made about 11 dishes, and ate everything we made.

Our group, along with our teacher Niti, pictured on the far left.

Take a look at our cooking school experience below, as told by my friend JP, pictured above on the far right. He’s a YouTube travel vlogger who left his life in the US to travel the world. If you need inspiration, have the desire to see the world, or want to simply travel vicariously from the comfort of your computer, JP is documenting his adventures on YouTube. Check out his experiences here. 

One of the many dishes we made at Thai Akha Kitchen was the widely popular tom kha gai (chicken coconut soup). I’ve loved tom kha gai for many years, and I’ve had a few good versions, and many that were overly sweet with no flavor. I’m excited that I will no longer need to experience a mediocre version again. When I have a craving, I can whip up my own.

There are four main ingredients that distinguish real deal tom kha gai from the Americanized version: lemongrass, galangal, kaffir lime leaves and Thai chilies. A real deal bowl of tom kha gai is rich, sour, salty and spicy all at once.

If you have access to an Asian market, it’s worth making tom kha gai with the traditional Thai ingredients. This soup is easy to make, and is well worth a trip to a local Asian market.


My kitchen notes

Galangal, lemongrass, Thai chilies and kaffir lime leaf can be found at Asian markets.


Galangal is related to, and used like ginger root in Thai cuisine, but has an entirely different flavor.


Kaffir lime zest, and its leaves are widely used in Thai cuisine. It has a very different flavor than limes. If you can’t find kaffir lime leaf, do not substitute, leave out. 

Thai chilies can be found both red and green in color. As our cooking  school teacher taught us, the red ones pack a spicier punch.

You may want to remove the inedible galangal slices, lemongrass and kaffir lime leaf pieces when serving. I like to leave everything in the soup because it adds flavor, and that’s how it’s done in Thailand.

Like with all soups, the longer it simmers, the deeper the flavor.

Tom Kha Gai (Chicken Coconut Milk Soup)

Serves 4 

1 1/2 cups coconut milk

1 1/2 cups water

1 stalk lemongrass, smashed and chopped in half (see my kitchen notes)

2 slices galangal (see my kitchen notes)

3 small Thai chilies, smashed (see my kitchen notes)

1 tomato, cut into quarters

1 onion, cut into quarters

3-5 mushrooms, cut in half (I use enoki mushrooms because I like the flavor, however, you can use any type of mushroom you prefer.)

1 tablespoon lime juice

2 kaffir lime leaves, torn into quarters (see my kitchen notes)

Remove the center stem from the leaf by tearing.

4 ounces skinless boneless chicken breast or thigh, cut into small pieces

1 teaspoon salt

Cilantro for garnish


  1. Put coconut milk and water into a medium pot over high heat and bring to a boil.
  2. Add smashed lemongrass, galangal slices and smashed chilies. Reduce heat and let simmer for 5 minutes to allow aromatics to blend into coconut milk.
  3. Increase heat to a boil, add chicken and cook for 3 minutes.
  4. Add tomato, onion and mushrooms. Cook for 2 minutes.
  5. Lower the heat and add lime juice and kaffir lime leafs. Add salt to taste. Let simmer for 15 minutes.
  6. Remove from heat, serve immediately and enjoy.

One thought on “tom kha gai (chicken coconut milk soup)”

  1. Oh my goodness, I JUST discovered this at lunch yesterday and loved it! I’m so glad you posted this recipe. Will have to do a Thai meal a la Planks & Sticks one of these upcoming weekends! 🙂

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s