“Bless thy five wits! Tom’s a-cold...” - Shakespeare, King Lear, Act III, Scene 4.
Tom may be a-cold, but he can warm himself up easily enough with the right kind of soup.
Some years ago, on one of my trips to Thailand, I tasted of a wondrously spicy and delicious dish: tom yum kung.
There are several versions of tom yum, a soup in which hot (spicy) and sour flavor notes predominate. Tom yum kung, specifically, is made with prawns. It’s also loaded with lemongrass and phrik ki nu chile peppers, the latter giving the soup enough heat to register on a Geiger counter.
About those chiles. They’re little bitty things that pack a vicious wallop. Commonly known in English as bird’s-eye chiles, the Thai name translates literally to “mouse turd chile.” I’m pretty sure that’s more a reflection of their size than their flavor... unless Thai mice like to eat spent nuclear fuel rods, used car batteries, and paint remover.
With all those mouse turd chiles in it, just how hot is tom yum kung? All I can tell you is that with my first spoonful, I immediately began sweating profusely. This is likely a desirable side effect in the brutally hot climate of Bangkok, but it’s a bit disconcerting at the beginning of a meal.
There’s a certain irony in the fact that a chile pepper (rendered “chilli” in many Asian countries) will make you feel anything but chilly. A chilly chilli? That’d be silly.
Tom yum can also refer to a tasty male cat... or turkey. And if we invert the words “tom yum,” we of course get “yum tom.” In Hebrew, “yom tam” (the closest equivalent) means Fool Day. Which is entirely appropriate, because today is...