Gaeng om is a herb-y, spicy and hot pork dish with vegetables. I use “spicy” and “hot” separately because… well, it’s funny how so many people say spicy when they mean hot. Spicy can mean any number of things: zesty, piquant, earthy, pungent and, yes, hot. But “hot” doesn’t encompass all the other spicy flavors so to use the two words interchangeably is simply wrong. I must admit that I made that mistake in the past but I’ve learned so this soup is both spicy and hot. It derives various spicy flavors from the garlic, lemongrass and ginger; it gets its heat from the chilies and the ginger.
Gaeng om is often described as a pork curry soup from northern Thailand. But it isn’t exactly a curry and it’s not a soup either. The Atlantic’s Asia-based contributor Jarrett Wrisley wrote in 2010:
I appreciated this Zen description from my host, A-Nong: “It’s not really a soup and it’s not really a curry… it’s om.” Gaeng om is often eaten in concert with larb or grilled meats as a cleansing herbal tonic.
Culturally speaking, therefore, gaeng om is more akin to the granita which the Italians eat between courses as a palate cleanser rather than soup as a starter course in the Western context.
But we are very rarely culturally correct at home. We ate the gaeng om as a main course — with rice. And it was superb. (more)