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.
Based on a recipe from Joy’s Thai Food.
- 2 stalks of lemongrass, finely sliced
- 3 bird's eye chilies, chopped
- 4 cloves of garlic, minced
- a knob of ginger, minced
- 2 shallots, finely sliced
- 2 tbsps. of cooking oil
- patis (fish sauce), to taste
- ½ kg. of cooked pork belly, cut into 2-inch pieces
- 4 to 6 c. of meat broth
- 3 c. of cubed squash
- 3 c. of eggplant wedges
- a handful of Thai basil leaves
- sliced scallions, to garnish
- Make a spice paste by pounding the lemongrass, chilies, garlic and ginger together. You can make the spice paste as smooth or as coarse as you like.
- Heat the cooking oil. Saute the spice paste over medium-low heat with a splash of fish sauce.
- When the color of the paste deepens, add the sliced shallots. Continue sauteeing for a minute.
- Add the pork to the pan. Stir to coat the meat with the spice paste.
- Pour in the broth. Season with more fish sauce. Bring to the boil.
- Add the squash. Allow the liquid to boil. Lower the heat, cover and simmer for five minutes.
- Throw in the eggplant wedges and the Thai basil leaves. Taste the broth and add more fish sauce, if needed. Simmer for another seven to ten minutes until both the eggplants and squash are tender.
- Sprinkle in the scallions. Serve hot.