Tom Sab Leng - ต้มแซ่บเล้ง

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tom sab leng tom sab leng

Another thing that’s great about Thai food that it’s alive and ever-changing, with a complex meandering journey. The Tom Sab I had known as a kid has transformed and now branched out into new directions.

‘Tom Sab’ originates from Isan or northeast of Thailand. Over 20 years ago, when you referred to ‘Tom Sab’, it meant a spicy dish with a clear soup, full of chewy tripe and inner beef organs. Now, Tom Sab is an entire category of dishes.

With the rise in popularity of Goddess Guan Yin, many followers stopped eating beef and turned to pork instead. Combining the spicy soup from the northeast and a Chinese cut of pork, Tom Sab Leng was born. Leng is a Chinese name for pork backbones.

Some restaurants took Tom Sab Leng even further into the Chinese style by adding daikon. Others, added carrots reflecting the new foreign root vegetable.

Now it seems every restaurant in Bangkok has rushed to put this part Chinese, part northeast soup on the menu. Let’s find out why the soup is so good that everybody wants to claim a style to it.

4-6 Servings, Prep Time: 30 Minutes, Total Time: 2 Hours30 Minutes

Tips and Techniques

  • You can also break up the process into 2 steps: slow cook the pork backbones and season the soup. You can let it cook during the day and come home to have the soup at night. Or you can cook it the day before and let it sit overnight. Heat up the soup the next day and have it for dinner.
  • If you let the soup sit overnight and your kitchen is cold, you can easily remove the solid fat floating above the broth in the morning.
  • You may need about 2 limes or more. A lime can give as many as 4 tablespoons of juice. 
  • You can substitute pork ribs for pork backbones.
  • Culantro (not a "cilantro" misspelling), aka sawtooth coriander, is available at some Asian markets, usually Chinese, Vietnamese, Cambodian, Laotian and Thai markets. Cilantro will be the closest substitution.
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