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How To Make: (Southern Style) Kaeng Som

Posted date:  January 25, 2006

Kaeng som is probably the most well known southern dish within Thailand. Kaeng som is actually the name of a similar central Thai dish, so central Thais tend to refer to the southern version as kaeng lueang, or “yellow curry”, because of its color. This is not to be confused with the yellow curry that most foreigners are familiar with, which is a coconut-milk based curry of Indian origin called kaeng karii “curry curry” by Thais. Confused? Good, now we can begin.

Kaeng som (which I will continue to call it here) actually translates as “sour curry”, but the predominate taste is usually that of spicy. Very spicy. I consider this to be probably the spiciest curry in the country (which says a lot in a country of spicy curries!). The curry paste consists of a few simple ingredients, and the soup consists of fish (or other seafood) and typically one kind of vegetable (or fruit). That’s it.

Here are the curry paste ingredients:

Small fresh “bird shit” chilies 25
Small dried chilies 15
Garlic, chopped 6-8 cloves
Fresh turmeric, chopped 1 Tbsp
Salt 1 tsp
Shrimp paste 1 Tbsp

Using a mortar and pestle, smash all of these together very, very finely (it is important to do this well so you won’t happen upon any large bits of chili in your soup!).

The finished curry paste.

Put the curry paste aside and prepare the soup ingredients. Thinly slice sour, slightly unripe pineapple, about 1 cup. Clean and cut some fish into bite-size pieces until you have about 1-1 1/2 cups. I’m using a kind of fish known as plaa kraphong (sorry, can’t recall English name), which is the most common fish used in this dish. I reckon any white-fleshed sea fish will do. Set both of these aside. For your mise en place you’ll need a bottle of fish sauce, 3-4 sliced limes ready for squeezing, and some sugar.

Bring about 3-4 cups of water to the boil, add about half of the curry paste and stir and simmer until the broth is fragrant. Add more curry paste if necessary, but don’t add it all at once as it may be too much!

Add the pineapple.

Simmer until it begins to soften, 3-4 minutes, and taste the curry. The pineapple should add a slightly sweet flavor to the broth. If you prefer more of this, add a bit of sugar.

Squeeze a few limes’ worth of lime juice into the broth until you reach a tolerable state of sourness.

Remember, it is called “sour” curry, so there should be a definite sour taste, followed by spicy, salty and sweet. Add some fish sauce if it isn’t salty enough.

Now add your fish.

Simmer until the fish is just done, 2-3 minutes, remove from heat, and you’re done!

Serve with rice.

I like using pineapple in this dish as it adds a wonderful sweet flavor, but a variety of other veggies can be used, including pickled bamboo (very common and extremely sour) or slices of unripe papaya.

12 Comments for How To Make: (Southern Style) Kaeng Som

Thanks for correcting me on the Portuguese bit on my blog…I got that off by a century or tow. Big deal! 😛

Now I’m returning the favor. Southern Style ‘Gang Som’ is actually called ‘Gang Lueng’ after the yellow hue from turmeric, the mainstay of Pak Tai spice mixes.


1. “plaa kraphong” = red snapper

2. The sour taste in “gang som” should come from tamarind juice, not lime juice


I think I mentioned that? In my effort to make it as confusing as possible, I may have lost some people though!


1. Red snapper, thanks!

2. Regarding tamarind, you’re correct if you’re referring to the central version of the dish, but southern-style kaeng som (known to central Thais as kaeng lueang) is typically given a sour taste by the addition of lime juice, som khaek (a dried citrus) or from the addition ingredients such as pickled bamboo, and sometimes a small amount of tamarind, but these other ingredients predominate.

Hi, Austin! Just absorbing all your wonderful posts since I discovered your blog a few days ago. Great stuff!

Have you tried Gaeng Som with watermelon rind as the “veggie”? One of my favorites, as it doesn’t give off that “rotten” smell you get when you make it with daikon radish or cabbage.

pla kraphong kao may be Lates calcarifer, barramundi.

Thanks for the recipe. It was one of our family favourites back in Malaysia (my granny is half-thai). It was indeed the hottest food that I’ve encountered in my life, and my tolerance level has greatly decreased eversince I moved overseas.

One thing to note is that in my granny used dried shrimp paste which is made into blocks. Apparently if we bake the shrimp paste first, it will leave a stronger and more fragrant ‘shrimpy’ taste to the soup.

Others add in vegetables like kangkong (water convolvulus) too.

I thought that they were called ‘Mouse shit’ chilli’s and not Bird shit. Prik kee noo. Hey wonderful recipe, so authentic. I’m not Thai but I have been to Thailand on many occasions and have tasted this particular curry in the South. Its wonderful but its not for the faint hearted!

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thanks for the recipe. i love kaeng som! i am an expat living in thailand. i love to cook that. now, i’d like to try it again by making my own paste. thanks again for sharing. “paste” with no shrimp.

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My wife is from Southern Thailand and loves Kaeng Som, although where she is from it’s quite common to make it with pork and pineapple rather than fish, while fish is still her favourite, the pork and pineapple is mine. It does differ a lot between South, Central and North, we bought some Kaeng Som paste from the local market (Chiang Mai), and it was red hot, too hot, so now my wife makes her own.

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