A trip down memory lane.
Round these parts, when illness strikes of the cold and flu variety, the first thing my mind turns to is soup. Nope, not chicken soup (though I am partial to a good chook broth) but aromatic, zingy, spicy Thai soups.
A hot liquor that can make me sweat out some of the yukkines while simultaneously soothing my sorry sinuses seems to be something my brain and body seek out like a homing pigeon. And who am I to argue with such a craving when it’s in the name of good health.
The other trouble with being ill is not being able to do anything, cos you know, I'm always up to something. So I decided I’d make this soup and take a picture of it too, to distract me from not being able to hear out of one ear and all. Woe is me.
While it was blipping away on the hob I began thinking about the first time I’d tried a soup like this. It was in a backstreet cafe somewhere in Bangkok about 15 years ago. It was hot and smoggy, we were fresh off the plane and jet lagged, on a long journey further south and we were very hungry. We collapsed inside and ordered beers and food. I ordered a hot and sour soup.
The cafe was brightly coloured inside, with tatty wooden furniture and loud threadbare fabrics that spoke of a thousand other travellers who’d passed through its doors. And through the din of the Thai TV and the awful euro pop, and probably fuelled by a bit of a Singha haze, I couldn’t help but imagine some of their adventures... Thailand was a well trodden backpacker spot but that didn’t matter; this was the start of our adventure.
I wanted the photograph of this soup to capture in some small way how that cafe felt to me that day. The colours, the textures, the messy, rugged mismatched nature of everything in it, and how communal everything was. It was a theme of our whole trip in fact. We picked people up along the way and took them with us and they became part of our story, which like this picture is not as clear as crystal, but slightly faded like old memories often become, though no less enjoyable for it.
Lemongrass, galangal, kaffir lime, ginger, chillies and garlic make for a formidable soup base that can give a cold a much needed shove while tingling the tastebuds a treat. I can’t promise it will eradicate illness but it can certainly provide temporary relief and a hit of pleasure. And perhaps even a trip down memory lane.
- 1 can full fat coconut milk
- 600ml chicken stock
- 2 large pieces galangal, roughly chopped (easy to get in the fresh section of an Asian supermarket)
- 3 lemongrass stalks, roughly chopped
- 1 large piece of ginger, roughly chopped
- 1 large red chilli, roughly chopped
- 1 golden onion, roughly chopped
- 2 cloves garlic, peeled and roughly chopped
- 3 tbsp palm sugar
- 4 fresh kaffir lime leaves
- 5 tbsp thai fish sauce
- Juice of 2 juicy limes
- Glass noodles for two, cooked as per pack instructions and set aside
- 8 or 10 large tiger prawns
- A handful diced fried beancurd (easy to get in the fresh section of an Asian supermarket) or use a diced silken tofu if you prefer and add it right at the end of cooking
- A few sprigs fresh mint and coriander
- Chilli sauce to serve (Sriracha or your favourite type)
- A little oil for frying
- In a large saucepan on a medium heat add a little oil and fry the onion, garlic and ginger until gently softened, then add the galangal, lemongrass, kaffir lime, chilli and stock, bring to a simmer and add the palm sugar, lime juice and fish sauce. Leave it to cook gently bubbling away for about 20 minutes.
- Once this is done strain it through a sieve in to another saucepan and bring the liquor to a simmer again, adding the coconut milk and beancurd to it, leave it to cook for about 10 minutes.
- Taste the seasonings, and adjust — you’re looking for a good balance of sweet, salty and sour so adjust the fish sauce, palm sugar and lime juice as you fancy.
- Add the prawns and let them simmer away for a few minutes until they cook through, then spoon the broth and tofu on to bowls with the noodles and top with the fresh herbs and extra chilli if you want more of the good stuff.