What’s Cooking: Gaeng om

If there’s a good place to start for a Thai food cooking virgin, it’s with this tasty Northeastern Thai “soup”. It’s full of good-for-you greens, bright and light with fresh, herbal flavor, and crazy easy to make. Felt like I robbed a bank with this one.

Gaeng Om (for four)
-1 head white cabbage, chopped

-2 g Thai lemon basil (bai maeng rak)
-2 g dill, chopped
-2 g scallions, cut into 1-in pieces

-2 stalks lemongrass, cut in half
-1 large piece galangal, sliced
-12 shallots
-12 small red chilies

-3 g oyster mushrooms (het nang rong)

-300 g white fish filets, skin-on, cut into pieces*

-2 Tbsp fermented Thai anchovy juice (nam pla rah)**

-200 g chicken stock

-200-300 g water

-1 Tbsp fish sauce (plus more to taste)***

1. Set water and chicken stock to simmering boil in pot. Meanwhile, mix lemongrass, galangal, shallots and chilies in blender or food processor until finely diced.
2. Once simmering boil is achieved, add chili mixture to stock.
3. Add pla rah juice, 1 Tbsp fish sauce and fish pieces. Do not overstir, or fish will get mushy. Cover.
4. Increase heat to rolling boil. Add mushrooms and white part of scallions.
5. When water returns to the boil, add cabbage and the rest of greens. The pot should look like this:

6. When vegetables lose some volume, carefully “fold” into broth. Taste and add more fish sauce if needed.
7. Shut off flame. Pot should look like this:

Cover and let “marinate” for a few hours (cool and place in fridge if leaving overnight).

*If you’re a meat person, use sauteed chicken wings or pork ribs instead.
**You can buy Thai anchovies in any supermarket here in Thailand, but Khum Gon, my Thai food tutor, claims homemade is best (obviously). Fermented Thai anchovies look like this:

If this isn’t available to you, try mashing regular good-quality anchovies instead.
***Khum Gon believes that fish sauce from shellfish (such as razor clams) is best because it smells less fishy than other types. Frankly, I am not that sensitive to the smell, but if that is an issue, then take Khum Gon’s advice.

What we ended up with:


In the end, it was … pretty good. I’d use all chicken broth next time. And more Thai anchovy juice. But it was everything I expected and wanted from my first Thai cooking experiment. Next up: a veggie-rich gaeng liang.


Filed under Asia, Bangkok, fish, food, Isaan, seafood, Thailand

12 responses to “What’s Cooking: Gaeng om

  1. David

    Shouldn’t this dish be called gaeng pa plaa or om plaa. I always understood gaeng to refer to a curry that included coconut milk and gaeng pa (or ba) to be roughly curry of the forest ie without coconut milk.

    • It would make better sense for “gang” to refer to a coconut milk-enriched curry and for “pa” to denote the lack of coconut milk; after all, you could say “tom” (for dishes like tom kloang and tom yum) gets its flavor from infusion and “gang” from a paste. It isn’t a hard and fast rule for all dishes called “gang” though. “Gang om” comes from the Northeast (although Northerners have a version too that I think is adapted from Isaan) and because Isaan typically doesn’t use much (or any) coconut milk, this dish reflects that. However, some Thai “gangs” (like “gang jued”, served to offset spicy dishes) don’t have coconut milk either, so it’s confusing. Sorry for the convoluted answer. Long story short: “Gang pa” is a type of curry without coconut milk, but there are other curries that don’t have coconut milk for various reasons, whether they are regional specialties or meant for children or whatever.

  2. This recipe would be even more “crazy easy” if you made it for me. πŸ™‚

  3. Somehow that reminds me of Sicilian salted sardines….you see them in the markets here. But nam pla is so much more delicious! (yet I’ll always have a soft spot for nuoc mam from Phu Quoc)

  4. Chissa

    Great recipe! Is the dill the same as in states? Is there a way to turn regular nam pla from Chinatown to nam pla rah?

    • It is the same dill, which is referred to as “pak chee Lao” here.
      I don’t think you can turn nam pla into pla rah, unfortunately. You need to take small fish, salt them, stick them in a jar and bury them for at least three months. That’s the way to make pla rah, I’ve been told.

  5. neda

    Gang Leang is my favorite! It’s actually the only Thai curry that u can eat all the veggies….good luck πŸ™‚

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