Help me to reverse-engineer this excellent tom yum soup
April 24, 2014 8:50 AM   Subscribe

A local Chinese restaurant makes the best tom yum vegetable soup I've ever tasted. I'd like to make it at home, but I don't have the recipe.

The soup is unlike any other tom yum soup I've ever tasted. I've posted a photograph here. It's absolutely delicious.

Here's what I know or can deduce:

It's slightly sweet, slightly sour, and has a mild flavor (not spicy).

It's not orange or oily, like a lot of tom yum soups.

It's made with vegetable broth, not chicken broth (I asked).

It does not contain coconut milk.

It has bean sprouts, carrot shreds, and some other kind of unidentified vegetables that are slightly crunchy and are in the form of long sticks / shreds.

I think it has basil in it.

I'm pretty sure it has no onions or garlic, though I wouldn't swear to it.

I'd love to be able to make this at home, but a cursory Google search didn't come up with much. (Maybe it's not really tom yum soup?)
posted by akk2014 to Food & Drink (10 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Tom yum soup is a Thai soup and not a Chinese soup, which makes me think that what you order at this restaurant isn't an "authentic" dish, which is probably why you aren't coming up with it when you do a google search. I don't know about the broth, since I'd have to taste it, but I do see some bamboo shoots mixed in with those veggies. Does it taste like lemongrass?
posted by ohmy at 9:05 AM on April 24, 2014 [1 favorite]

Have you asked them for the recipe or suggestions on how to find a written recipe?
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 9:07 AM on April 24, 2014

I see Napa cabbage, and I wonder if the white sticks/shreds you say are slightly crunchy could be daikon radish, or possibly a mild variety of turnip. (I'm thinking about a white turnip called kabu in Japanese, and navet in French, and I don't know what in English.)

That looks like Thai basil, which has flatter leaves.

(On preview, maybe what I thought was daikon or turnip is actually chopped bamboo shoots?)
posted by snorkmaiden at 9:08 AM on April 24, 2014

Veg broth
Sugar or Palm Sugar
Fish Sauce

Shredded Napa Cabbage
Shredded Carrot
Bean Sprout
Bamboo Shoot (probably canned)
Ginger and/or Galangal

I think you are right - the herb is basil, not cilantro

I think you are right - I wouldn't exactly call that Tom Yum

Are you SURE it is veg and not chicken stock? It is possible they sauté all the veg before adding to the liquids, otherwise, I'm suspicious.

Upon Edit - yes, find out if they put Lemongrass in it, too!!
posted by jbenben at 9:08 AM on April 24, 2014

I considered daikon radish, but closer inspection made me choose bamboo shoot.

Source: former professional chef, lived on edge of China Town in NYC, big BIG fan of Tom Yum Soup!!
posted by jbenben at 9:10 AM on April 24, 2014

Best answer: This looks/sounds more like a vegetarian version of canh chua, Vietnamese hot/sour soup, than tom yum (which is Thai). Mystery as to why a Chinese restaurant would be serving either one.

Canh chua is often clear, depending on how much tamarind you use. The flavoring tends to be fairly simple - tamarind for sour, sugar for sweet, fish sauce for salt. Fish stock (you could certainly use veggie stock, but I'd make your own for this rather than use a prepared stock that uses Western herbs). Protein, herbs, and veggies as desired.

(Also I see bamboo shoots and shredded cabbage in your picture)
posted by peachfuzz at 9:50 AM on April 24, 2014 [1 favorite]

In addition to the vegetables mentioned above, I would also guess the bamboo is pickled/sour bamboo that you can find in a jar. Maybe a google of Chinese pickled bamboo/veg soup would help narrow it.
posted by inevitability at 10:13 AM on April 24, 2014

I'd call a soup "tom yum" if it has lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves, lime juice, chilis, and fish sauce. You could add a sweetener for less sourness. This soup would be clear (unless you use lots of ground chili, chili oil, or chili paste). The kaffir leaves give it the delicately floral sour taste that I associate with tom yum.
posted by zennie at 10:19 AM on April 24, 2014 [1 favorite]

peachfuzz: In the small-ish midwestern town where I grew up the Chinese restaurants were actually operated by the local Vietnamese families. Something like that may explain what's happening here.
posted by sevenless at 10:38 AM on April 24, 2014

Response by poster: Yes, the owners of the restaurant in question are definitely Vietnamese.
posted by akk2014 at 11:05 AM on April 24, 2014

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