As an Amazon Associate, I earn a small commission from qualifying purchases.
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!
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: 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.
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.
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.
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, 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.
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!
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.
- 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.
- 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
- 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
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.
- 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
- Khao poon recipe (Lao chicken coconut noodle soup)
- Tom yum gai soup (Thai hot and sour chicken soup)
- Khao piak sen recipe (Lao noodle soup)
- Khao tom (Thai rice soup)
- Thai bamboo soup
- Tom yum kung
- Tom jued soup
- Tom kha gai
Loved reading this gaeng om gai recipe? Please make my day by dropping a star rating and/or a comment below!
Gaeng Om Gai (Clear Thai Chicken Soup With Isan Herbs)
This gaeng om gai recipe can be customized with your favorite vegetables. Pair with rice for a complete meal.
For chicken soup
For curry paste
Curry paste instructions
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.
Add sliced shallots and continue to pound until the mixture is well combined and the shallots are roughly broken down.
Gaeng om soup instructions
Heat oil in a pot over medium and sauté the freshly made curry paste until aromatic.
Add the chicken and fermented fish sauce to the pot, searing until each piece is enveloped in the spices.
Pour in water, add salt and MSG. Bring to a boil and let cook until chicken is soft and cooked through, approx 15 minutes.
Add firm vegetables: Thai eggplants. Let it simmer for approx 5 minutes or until the eggplants are soft to your liking.
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.
Add toasted rice powder and stir to mix. Bring back to a boil.
Remove from heat and stir in dille and lemon basil. Serve immediately.
- 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.
- 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.