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Gaeng Om Gai (Clear Thai Chicken Soup With Isan Herbs)

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Gaeng om gai, a clear Thai chicken soup with Isan herbs, is my favorite dish for a cozy night in. It’s a comforting bowl of herbal, aromatic delight with perfectly crisp vegetables, all in a water-based curry that doesn’t need coconut milk. This recipe is easy, healthy, and packed with authentic Thai flavors!

Authentic Thai gaeng om soup with chicken, eggplant, and fresh herbs, presented in a clay pot with a side of vegetables.

More Thai curries without coconut milk to try: Kaeng som (Southern Thai sour curry), Thai jungle curry recipe (kaeng pa).

What is gaeng om gai

Gaeng om gai is a traditional Isan soup, a water-based chicken curry known for its clear, aromatic broth with fresh Thai herbs and crisp vegetables. A staple in Northeastern Thailand, this dish is always prepared with dill, giving it its distinctive flavor.

Gaeng om gai, a clear Thai chicken soup with Isan herbs, served on a banana leaf with sticky rice.
  • Gaeng: Translates to ‘curry’ or ‘soup’ in Thai.
  • Om: Refers to a type of Isan food, a water-based curry made without coconut milk, with lots of seasonal and regional vegetables.
  • Gai: Thai for ‘chicken’, referring to the main protein.

Clear Thai chicken soup with Isan herbs

One bowl of this, and you’ll feel like you’re right here in Thailand!

It’s herby, zesty, and so refreshing.

My grandmother always says this soup is her remedy for any illness. A bowl of this and you’re back on your feet in no time, promise.

Close-up of gaeng om gai showcasing tender chicken and mixed Isan herbs and a rich and aromatic Thai herbal soup broth.

This Isan soup recipe has been passed down for generations, it’s a meal that’s full of history and tradition.

In our family, it’s the go-to comfort food for cold days or cozy get-togethers when we’re just in the mood for something different.

Why try this authentic gaeng om recipe

  • Explore Isan ingredients: You’ll get to experiment with staple ingredients of Isan cuisine like toasted rice powder and fermented fish sauce.
  • Easy Thai chicken soup: Talk about easy! Gather your favorite vegetables, protein, and whip up a basic curry paste. Kaeng om is perfect for the home cook, yet the flavors are anything but simple.
  • Authentic Thai soup: This recipe comes straight from my grandmother, a lifelong resident of Isan. It’s a traditional dish that’s full of love and everything good.
  • Authentic cooking: Grind up that homemade curry paste with your mortar and pestle. There’s nothing quite like the traditional way of cooking Thai food.
  • Customizable: Gaeng om is enjoyed all over Thailand, with each region having their own twist. You can basically throw in any soup-vegetables or herbs you have on hand.

What sets this herbal chicken curry apart

Think of a typical Thai curry, and you probably imagine something with rich coconut milk and sweetened with palm sugar.

But not this one! This healthy curry, or soup, is nothing like that.

It ditches those heavy ingredients in favor of a water-based dish, where the natural flavors of herbs like lemongrass and dille truly shine.

Top-view of gaeng om gai, an Isan soup, served with vegetables and spices in a traditional clay bowl.

The result is a dish that’s not heavy, not overly spicy, yet incredibly refreshing. The fermented fish sauce adds umami, complementing the subtle heat from dried chilies. MSG, a staple in Isan cuisine, rounds out all the tastes.

The curry paste is not your typical Thai green curry paste or massaman curry paste. Instead, it’s a light, simple-to-make paste for a chicken curry that’s unique and lets each ingredient have its moment.

After making this, try some of my authentic Thai curry recipes, like this vegetarian Thai green curry recipe, or Thai roasted duck curry, and Thai beef panang curry recipe.

Kaeng om health benefits

Kaeng om is not only insanely delicious, it’s also incredibly good for you.

  • Herbs and spices: Galangal, lemongrass, dille, and chilies, they’re all packed with vitamins and minerals. Chilies are great for revving up your metabolism, lemongrass aids digestion, and galangal is full of antioxidants.
  • Lean protein: Chicken is a great source of protein, it’s also low in fat, making it a heart-healthy choice.
  • Vegetables: Eggplants and bok choy are full of vitamins and nutrition. Eggplants are low in calories but high in fiber, and bok choy is rich in vitamin C.

Isan cuisine

Isan, the Northeastern part of Thailand, is a region that many tourists unfortunately do not visit. Honestly, they’re missing out on the best part.

It’s my birthplace and current home, a landscape of rice fields and natural beauty. It’s a place where cooking isn’t about following recipes, it’s about embracing wild, local ingredients that nature provides.

Blossoming rice fields in Isan, the Northeastern region in Thailand.
The view from my backyard, Isan’s rice fields in Northeastern Thailand.

Isan cuisine is loved for its simplicity and authenticity. Locals make the most of what they have, often enjoying their dishes with a side of homegrown vegetables.

Isan food is not only affordable but always full of flavor. It’s often strong in flavors – we love the spicy, sour, and sweet combo.

In recent years, Isan food has been gaining popularity in the West – think about dishes like som tum Thai (green papaya salad) and laab – larb.

Many Isan people are moving abroad in hopes of a better life, and quite a few open restaurants or street-side stalls.

The flavors I grew up with, the ingredients my grandmother and I used to pick from our backyard, and the recipes passed down through generations are all gathered here for you in this authentic Thai food blog.

Check out some of these irresistible Isan cuisine recipes!

Ingredients

For the exact measurements, please scroll down to the recipe card at the end of this post.

Top-view of ingredients for gaeng om gai: Thai eggplants, dille, bok choy flower, lemon basil, onion flower stem, water, salt, MSG, toasted rice powder, fermented fish sauce, and chicken.

Chicken soup

  • Chicken – I’ve chosen skin-on chicken thighs, thinly sliced for quicker cooking and richer flavor. Including the bone adds an extra depth of taste.
  • Fermented fish sauce (nam pla ra) – Nam pla ra is a staple of Isan cuisine, bringing depth and umami to our dishes. It’s bold and quite pungent if you’re not used to it. It’s our secret ingredient for adding richness to our papaya salads, and we often add a generous amount.
  • Toasted rice powder (khao khua) – Toasted rice powder is made by lightly toasting and then grinding glutinous rice. You can find it online, at Asian grocery stores, or make it yourself using my toasted rice powder recipe.
  • MSG – MSG is a flavor enhancer that balances and brings out the natural tastes of other ingredients. In Isan cooking, MSG is generously used to round out the flavors, especially in Thai restaurants and street food stalls.
  • Salt
  • Onion flower stem (dok-hom) – Also known as scallion flower, this unique, crispy vegetable brings a mild, sweet onion flavor with a floral note.
  • Bok choy flower (pak kwang tung) – The flower of bok choy adds a slightly peppery kick with a crunchy texture.
  • Thai eggplants
  • Lemon basil (bai maeng lak) – This herb adds a citrusy aroma and flavor, infusing the curry with a distinct freshness.
  • Dille (pakchi Lao) – These leaves contribute a slightly tangy note, which enhances the overall flavors.
  • Water – The base of the soup.

The vegetables and herbs are free to customize. These are my preferred vegetables for gaeng om gai. Some Thai people might add: cabbage, pumpkin, yard long beans, and bok choy (pak choi).

gaeng om curry paste

  • Lemongrass
  • Shallots
  • Garlic
  • Dried chilies
  • Fresh chilies – Opt for Thai bird’s eye chilies or Jinda chilies for a spicy soup, or use milder chilies for a mild soup.
  • Oil – Use a neutral flavored oil with high smoke point like vegetable oil for frying the paste.

How to make Thai chicken soup

Curry paste instructions

Fresh Thai herbs and spices are ground in a mortar until they form a curry paste base for curry.

1. Start by grinding your dry ingredients first: Pound fresh chilies, dried chilies, chopped lemongrass, and garlic in a mortar until they form a coarse paste.

2. Add sliced shallots and continue to pound until the mixture is well combined and the shallots are roughly broken down.

Gaeng om soup instructions

1. Heat oil in a pot over medium and sauté the freshly made curry paste until aromatic.

2. Add the chicken and fermented fish sauce to the pot, searing until each piece is enveloped in the spices.

3. Pour in water, add salt and MSG. Bring to a boil and let cook until chicken is soft and cooked through, approx 15 minutes.

4. Add firm vegetables: Thai eggplants. Let it simmer for approx 5 minutes or until the eggplants are soft to your liking.

5. Add soft vegetables: bok choy and onion flower stem. Let it simmer for approx 3 minutes or until the vegetables are soft to your liking.

6. Add toasted rice powder and stir to mix. Bring back to a boil.

7. Remove from heat and stir in dille and lemon basil. Serve immediately.

Ready to try some of my other Thai curries with chicken? Try this classic gaeng daeng recipe for red curry chicken or this authentic Thai massaman chicken curry recipe for something different.

Kitchen tools

  • Granite mortar and pestle for making the homemade curry paste and grinding the toasted rice powder.
  • Frying pan for toasting the glutinous rice before grinding it into powder.
  • Cutting board and chef’s knife
  • Ladle for stirring and serving.
  • Measuring spoons and cups
  • Soup pot

How to serve

Serve gaeng om gai hot, fresh from the stove. Simply ladle it into deep bowls and make sure each serving has chicken and vegetables.

Garnish with a sprinkle of herbs like chopped green onions or coriander for flavor and color.

Optionally, pair with jasmine rice or Isan sticky rice for a complete meal.

How to store and reheat

Let your herbal curry leftovers cool to room temperature, transfer to an airtight container, and refrigerate for up to 3 days.

Reheating instructions: Reheat in a pot over low heat, stirring occasionally.

Make in advance

You can make this soup ahead of time and reheat it when you’re ready.

The curry paste can be prepared ahead of time and stored in an airtight container, cooled in your fridge, for up to a week.

Frequently asked questions

Can I use storebought curry paste?

This kind of curry paste is unique not as readily available as the classic green or red curry pastes. Its best to make it yourself, so you can replicate the exact flavors of this recipe.

Is this recipe suited for vegetarians?

To make it vegetarian, simply omit the chicken. At the time of writing, there isn’t a great tasting fermented fish sauce alternative available (as far as I know).

Is this chicken herb soup spicy?

It’s moderately spicy. You can easily modify the spice level to suit your taste by controlling the amount of chilies used.

Can I freeze this?

I don’t recommend freezing it, as the texture of the herbs and vegetables will change and it will impact the flavors.

More Thai soup recipes you’ll love

Loved reading this gaeng om gai recipe? Please make my day by dropping a star rating and/or a comment below!

5 from 2 votes

Gaeng Om Gai (Clear Thai Chicken Soup With Isan Herbs)

Prep Time 20 min Cook Time 25 min Total Time 45 mins
Servings: 4 Calories: 320

Description

This gaeng om gai recipe can be customized with your favorite vegetables. Pair with rice for a complete meal.

Ingredients

For chicken soup

For curry paste

Instructions

Curry paste instructions

  1. Start by grinding your dry ingredients first: Pound fresh chilies, dried chilies, chopped lemongrass, and garlic in a mortar until they form a coarse paste.

  2. Add sliced shallots and continue to pound until the mixture is well combined and the shallots are roughly broken down.

Gaeng om soup instructions

  1. Heat oil in a pot over medium and sauté the freshly made curry paste until aromatic.

  2. Add the chicken and fermented fish sauce to the pot, searing until each piece is enveloped in the spices.

  3. Pour in water, add salt and MSG. Bring to a boil and let cook until chicken is soft and cooked through, approx 15 minutes.

  4. Add firm vegetables: Thai eggplants. Let it simmer for approx 5 minutes or until the eggplants are soft to your liking.

  5. Add soft vegetables: bok choy and onion flower stem. Let it simmer for approx 3 minutes or until the vegetables are soft to your liking.

  6. Add toasted rice powder and stir to mix. Bring back to a boil.

  7. Remove from heat and stir in dille and lemon basil. Serve immediately.

Nutrition Facts

Servings 4


Amount Per Serving
Calories 320kcal
% Daily Value *
Total Fat 21.37g33%
Saturated Fat 4.6g23%
Total Carbohydrate 13.08g5%
Dietary Fiber 3.4g14%
Sugars 4.53g
Protein 20.86g42%

* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2,000 calorie diet. Your daily value may be higher or lower depending on your calorie needs.

Note

  • For the exact measurements, please scroll down to the recipe card at the end of this post.
  • Chicken: I've chosen skin-on chicken thighs, thinly sliced for quicker cooking and richer flavor. Including the bone adds an extra depth of taste.
  • Oil: Use a neutral flavored oil with high smoke point like vegetable oil for frying the paste.
  • Chilies: Opt for Thai bird's eye chilies or Jinda chilies for a spicier soup, or use milder chilies for a mild soup.
  • Vegetables: The vegetables and herbs are free to customize. These are my preferred vegetables for gaeng om gai. Some Thai people also add pumpkin.
Keywords: gaeng om gai, gaeng om recipe, clear thai chicken soup
About Author

Praew

I owned my own Thai restaurant and have years of experience in various other Thai restaurants. I've been whipping up classic Thai dishes by my mother's and grandma's side since I was just a little girl. Now I'm sharing my deep-rooted passion with my authentic Thai recipes on this food blog.

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  1. Brian Griggs

    Amazing information about an area of Thailand we do not know..and will visit. Your description of the local Isan cuisine sounds superb and I can’t wait to try..Living in rural France we cannot get many of the ingredients you use but I will try a few of your recipes the best I can. Where to stay is my next question but I will do a little research and see what we can find.. kindest regards. Brian

    • Praew

      Dear Brian, thank you for your wonderful comment. I understand the difficulty of getting some ingredients used in my recipes. The best thing to do is ask the employees at Asian (or Thai) grocery stores. There are lots of great cities in Isan, for example, Khon Kaen and Nakhon Phanom!

  1. Brian Griggs

    Amazing information about an area of Thailand we do not know..and will visit. Your description of the local Isan cuisine sounds superb and I can’t wait to try..Living in rural France we cannot get many of the ingredients you use but I will try a few of your recipes the best I can. Where to stay is my next question but I will do a little research and see what we can find.. kindest regards. Brian

    • Praew

      Dear Brian, thank you for your wonderful comment. I understand the difficulty of getting some ingredients used in my recipes. The best thing to do is ask the employees at Asian (or Thai) grocery stores. There are lots of great cities in Isan, for example, Khon Kaen and Nakhon Phanom!