Tom yum is a fragrant and flavorful Asian soup. What's in it?
It's made from a clear broth infused with fresh and pungent ingredients such as lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves, Thai ginger (galangal), lime juice and red chili peppers, then garnished with cilantro sprigs. The modern version has shrimp and straw mushrooms.
(The delicacy is also referred to as tom yum goong or tom yam kung with the addition of prawns as the main ingredient.)
Many enjoy a bowl of tom yum for its healing benefits.
"A recent joint study by Thailand's Kasetsart University and Japan's Kyoto and Kinki Universities has found that the ingredients in Tom yum gung soup are 100 times more effective in inhibiting cancerous tumor growth than other foods," according to thaigrocer.com
All of the restaurants we tried in West County serve delicious foods, including their tom yum soups, each accented by their own balance of spices and ingredients.
Monsoon Vietnamese Bistro 14248 Manchester Rd., Manchester
Monsoon Vietnamese Bistro has a striking and sunny décor with high ceilings, bright yellow walls, one red accent wall and hand-painted artwork. The minimalist décor along with a 15-foot tropical tree give the restaurant a very relaxing feeling.
The hot and sour soup served was tom yum koong for $9 (dinner size). It also had shrimp and straw mushrooms with fresh cilantro. However, the broth was more earthy and spicy with a reddish tint from the chilies. The smell of fish sauce (a common ingredient in most Thai dishes) was a little excessive and somewhat off-putting. Although, once we began eating it, the spice from the chilies, the subtle flavor of lime and warm temperature of the soup was inviting.
The shrimp tail had been removed and no evidence of the lemongrass was in the soup, however, the shrimp was slightly overcooked. The soup only came in a dinner portion. It would be nice to have the option of just having a small bowl.
The good: The depth of flavor and heat in the soup was very authentic.
The bad: The overcooked shrimp and overpowering scent of fish sauce were unpleasant.
Thai Sawadee 171 Hilltown Village Ctr., Chesterfield
Thai Sawadee is a small, family-owned restaurant hidden in the Hilltown Village strip mall. The special care and attention to detail the owners have is evident in their food.
The couple cooks and serves their own delicious version of the soup, Lemongrass Tom Yam Kung for $5, a hot and sour soup with shrimp, mushrooms, lemongrass, and a touch of lime juice. The broth had a subtle and fresh lime flavor with a savory and earthy touch from chicken stock. The shrimp imparted an incredibly sweet, fresh flavor. The shrimp were also perfectly cooked, probably added just minutes before it was put before me, along with some sprigs of cilantro.
The only flaw in the soup was the difficulty of eating it because it included inedible lemongrass stalks as well as shrimp tails still attached to the shrimp. Otherwise the soup had a clean, brilliant flavor with flawlessly cooked ingredients.
The good: The best part of the soup was the sweet, fresh flavor of the shrimp and the delicateness of the broth.
The bad: The inedible ingredients in the soup made it difficult to eat.
Manee Thai 481 Lafayette Ctr., Ballwin
I love going to Manee Thai because its lunch specials offer a variety of foods: an entrée, spring roll, a crab angel and the soup of the day for $7.99. This gives the diner an opportunity to eat different items in the same meal.
Luckily, the soup of the day was tom yum. Tom yum gai or tom yam kai is the chicken version of the soup, and that is what is offered. For an additional $1, the soup may be upgraded to shrimp. Dinner guests may choose a between small or large portion of tom yum for $4.95 and $8.95, respectively.
The spicy broth is flavored with the usual lemongrass, chili, fish sauce and lime juice with the addition of chicken and mushrooms, and a garnish of cilantro and scallions.
I found the tom yum gai (with chicken) does not have the exotic and striking flavor the soups with shrimp as a main ingredient have. Also, the chicken was dry, overcooked and somewhat bland. The broth did have a complexity of flavor and balance with the fish sauce. It had just the right amount of heat from the chilies and sour flavor from the lime.
The good: The availability of a variety of foods for the lunch specials, as well as a choice of sizes for the soup were good, as were the well balanced and independent flavor of the broth.
The bad: The dry and overcooked chicken was bad.
The winner: Thai Sawadee wins for its impeccably cooked shrimp and fresh, brilliantly flavored broth.