Thai Chicken Coconut Soup (Tom Kha soup)

Thai Coconut Soup, known as Tom Kha Kai or Tom Kha Gai, is a hearty, savory, and sweet soup. This famous tom kha soup is creamy and rich, has coconut milk as a base with chicken and mushrooms, and is more like a curry.

As flavourful as it is, this soup can be made in less than 30 minutes and is a convenient recipe for busy dinners.

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We love cooking Thai food at home and I have shared many such flavorful recipes – Thai Red Curry, Thai Shrimp Curry, Thai Grilled Chicken, Thai Cashew Chicken Stir Fry,

Thai coconut chicken soup (Tom kha gai/kai) being prepared in a large pan and stirred with a laddle.

Tom Kha Kai/Gai or Chicken Galangal Soup

Tom Kha Kai/Gai also literally translates to Chicken galangal soup, which shows galangal (in many cases – ginger too) being the primary flavor driver along with coriander.

Traditional tom kha soup is made with chicken and mushrooms, galangal, lime leaves, lemongrass, coriander, Thai chili, fish sauce, and lime juice. I have not used lime leaves in this recipe since I couldn’t get it locally at this time.

Kafir lime leaves provide an intense citrus fragrance to the dish, and they usually help in overcoming the pungent odor of seafood. I had lemongrass to make up for the citrus flavor in this recipe.

I was lucky to find galangal in a nearby world-style supermarket, and since I make Thai dishes frequently at home, especially soups, I was sure that I could finish the quantity that I bought. If you think finding galangal would be hard for you, check out the FAQ section below for Where to find galangal and its substitute.

Close up picture showing chicken, mushroom, red bell pepper, corianer, lemon grass, bird-eye chili being stirred to make Tom kha gai


Below, you will find a detailed list of ingredients, what they do to the soup, and their substitutes.

  • Chicken Breast – Use breast here because one, we need boneless pieces to slice and second, it comes out perfectly tender while the soup boils for a few minutes just.
  • Mushroom – I have used button mushrooms since it is widely available. You may use Shitake or other varieties based on availability.
  • Coconut milk – builds the base of the soup.
  • Chicken stock – gives body to the soup along with coconut milk.
  • Galangal – or ginger here defines the flavour of the dish.
  • Lemongrass – for that citrus flavour.
  • Shallots – brings sharpness and a slightly sweet taste.
  • Minced garlic – a big fan of garlic which brings flavour to any Asian dish.
  • Bird-eye chili – gives heat and a fruity taste. Two should be spicy enough. If you would like to decrease the spice, just use one.
  • Red bell pepper – is used for that fruity flavour and is an excellent source of vitamins. The bright red color gives a nice color addition to many dishes.
  • Asian fish sauce – punches up the taste of many Asian soups and stews by giving a salty, savory, and umami flavour.
  • Cilantro – Minced and added as an essential flavouring in Asian dishes. This is added a bit earlier to flavour the soup.
  • Sugar – Go for palm sugar if you have it. I have used brown sugar here. Sugar balances the spicy notes in this soup and is widely used in many Thai soups and dishes.
  • Lime juice – (optional) adds a sour component to balance the sweetness.

How to cook

  • Slice the chicken – Slice the boneless chicken and keep it aside to be added to the soup.
  • Heat oil and sauté the shallots, cilantro, chili and garlic.
  • Boil coconut milk, galangal, lemongrass and chicken stock with it.
  • Add the rest of ingredients and cook for 7 minutes.
  • Switch off add fish oil and mix. Garnish with basil.
Thai coconut chicken soup or Tom kha gai/kai plated in a blue bowl with chicken, mushrooms, coriander, bird-eye chili shown on top and garnished with fried garlic and lime slice.


  • Wash your hands immediately after cutting chili and peppers
  • If you use chicken thighs, first add it and let it cook for 5 minutes, and then add the veggies. Chicken thighs need to cook longer than the breast.
  • When adding veggies, add them a bit later to not overcook them and they lose their shape.
  • While adding soft vegetables, add them towards the end just a couple of minutes earlier.
  • Fish sauce is salty enough and you may not need to add salt separately. Do a tasting towards the end and you are the best judge.
  • Prefer to use full-fat coconut milk to get that rich creamy texture like that of gravy. If you are using low-fat milk then whisk it with 1 tablespoon of cornstarch. This will help thicken it up.

Serve with

Thai soup can be a light meal by itself as it has chicken, mushrooms, and veggies like carrots. It is often though served with some sides like Grilled Teriyaki Chicken or Chicken 65


You cannot freeze Thai coconut chicken soup as it has coconut milk that might split. You can refrigerate it for up to 3 days.

Frequently Asked Questions

What does Tom Kha Kai mean?

In Thai, ‘tom’ means boil, ‘kha’ means galangal, and ‘kai’/’gai’ is chicken. So this translates to Chicken Galangal Soup.
Since coconut milk forms the base of this soup, this soup is also referred to as Thai coconut soup, or in this case, as it has chicken, it is Thai coconut chicken soup.

Difference between Tom Yum and Tom Kha Kai?

These are the two most popular Thai soups that you will often come across, and it is essential to understand the difference between them. Both differ in their flavor profile and ingredients, and taste.
Tom yum is a clear hot and sour soup, whereas Tom Kha is a creamy and curry-like soup. Both use galangal, kaffir lime leaves, and lemongrass and use chicken or vegetable stock, but this is where the similarities end.
Tom means boiling-process and is usually referred to as soup or broth. Yum means mixed and denotes the sweet, sour, and spicy notes, which highlight many Thai soups. Its sour profile comes from tamarind paste, and this differentiates it from Tom Kha dishes.
Tom yum is usually made with shrimp and is named tom yum goong. It is one of the most popular Thai dishes in the world.
Tom Kha Kai/Gai has coconut milk, and this is where it gets its creamy sweetness. Coconut milk also gives tom kha soup a murky white color. The primary ingredient used for flavor in this is galangal, and it’s in the name (Kha).

For a detailed description of other Thai soups, refer to this article on the Thai Michelin guide.

Where can I find Galangal?

You may not find galangal in every grocery store. It may be available in Asian stores, health-food stores, or stores having world-market grocery items.

What can we substitute Galangal?

Ginger is an acceptable substitute if you cannot find galangal. Ginger has a similar taste profile as that of galangal though it is slightly less hot and sweeter. In many Thai recipes, ginger is often substituted in place because galangal isn’t widely available.

Is Thai coconut chicken soup healthy for you?

Not only is Tom kha gai flavorful, but it is healthy in the proper proportions. It is rich in protein and fiber with chicken stock and slices, mushrooms, and veggies like carrots.
Mushrooms are a rich source of fiber, proteins, and anti-oxidants.
Thai coconut chicken soup has many calories and fats that come from coconut milk, so having it with other high-carb food might not be too good. It is essential to moderate portions if you are calorie-conscious.
Coconut milk is lactose-free, an excellent substitute for milk, and a good source of healthy fats. It is a good choice for people with lactose intolerance.

What are the variations of Thai coconut soup?

You can make a vegetarian version of Thai coconut soup by simply substituting chicken stock with vegetable stock and skipping chicken.
This recipe already has mushrooms and carrots, so it becomes a vegetarian coconut soup. Feel free to add green beans, zucchini, or other color peppers.
You can also make a shrimp version of this. Just replace chicken with shrimp, and it will be the same creamy texture with shrimp in it, and this is called tom kha goong.

More Asian Recipes

This popular tom kha soup is creamy and rich and has coconut milk as a base with chicken and mushrooms and is more like a curry
Flavours of Kitchen Logo

Thai Coconut Soup ( Tom Kha )

Course Soup
Cuisine Asian
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 10 minutes
Thai Coconut Soup, known as Tom Kha Kai or Tom Kha Gai, is a hearty, savory and sweet soup. This famous tom kha soup is creamy and rich, has coconut milk as a base with chicken and mushrooms, and is more like a curry.
Servings 6 servings


  • 250 grams Boneless Chicken Breast
  • 1 tablespoon Oil
  • ¼ cup Shallots
  • ½ tablespoon Garlic minced
  • 2 tablespoon Cilantro/Coriander root minced
  • 2 Bird-eye Chilli slit lengthwise (optional)
  • 1 inch Galangal Sliced
  • 2 stems Lemongrass only the white part
  • 1.5 cup Chicken Stock
  • 400 ml Coconut Milk
  • 200 grams Button Mushroom sliced
  • 1 Carrot sliced round
  • 1 medium Red Bell Pepper cut
  • 1.5 tablespoon Brown Sugar
  • 2-3 tablespoon Fish Oil


  • Cut boneless chicken breast to thin slices against the grain (Check video on how to cut).
  • In a soup pot or dutch oven heat oil.
  • Add finely chopped shallots, minced garlic, birds eye chilli if using and minced cilantro stems. Saute for a minute until aromatic.
  • Add galangal and lemongrass. Add stock, coconut milk. Let it come to a single boil.
  • Then add sliced carrot, mushroom, bell pepper and chicken. Season it with salt and brown sugar.
  • Cover and let it cook on low heat for 6-7 minutes.
  • Switch off the flame. Add fish sauce and fresh basil.
  • Serve with a garnish of fried shallot, lemon wedges and fresh cilantro.



Serving: 1serving | Calories: 239kcal | Carbohydrates: 12g | Protein: 13g | Fat: 16g | Saturated Fat: 13g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 1g | Monounsaturated Fat: 1g | Trans Fat: 1g | Cholesterol: 28mg | Sodium: 155mg | Potassium: 590mg | Fiber: 1g | Sugar: 7g | Vitamin A: 2346IU | Vitamin C: 31mg | Calcium: 29mg | Iron: 3mg
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One Comment

  1. 5 stars
    What a fine and easy to understand and follow recipe. I love cooking and will definitely make this awesome soup. Thanks for sharing.

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