Recipe: Vietnamese Sour Soup (Canh Chua)

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Recipe: Vietnamese Sour Soup (Canh Chua)

The salmon steak reminds me of Vietnamese Sour Soup, one of the childhood dishes my mother would make. While Vietnamese Sour Soup is commonly made with catfish, my mother often substituted salmon steak. So when I saw salmon steak on sale recently while grocery shopping, I picked up a piece and decided to put together a pot of Sour Soup.

Vietnamese Sour Soup, as known as Canh Chua, has a unique and fragrant taste. It combines sweet and sour flavors with an option of spicy. The sour flavor comes from tamarind and the sweet comes from fresh pineapple. There are many variations of this soup. It typically includes tomatoes, taro stem, okra, bean sprouts, pineapples and is topped with aromatic herbs like rice paddy herbs, sawtooth coriander, and basil. The soup can be served accompanied by a bowl of warm rice or noodles.

Taro stem (bac ha) is an interesting ingredient that might be harder to find. Tarm stems are the leaf stalks of the taro plant. They look like celery from the outside but are spongy in the inside. They must be peeled before use. The stems contain an irritant so they must be cooked before consuming to remove the calcium oxalate. They are flavorless by itself but absorbs surrounding flavors when cooked. It’s a pretty neat ingredient and adds a nice texture to the soup. It is most commonly found in Asian markets, but if you can’t find them, celery makes a good substitute.

The soup wouldn’t be complete without the herbs. Rice paddy herb (ngo om) brings an earthy citrus flavor. Sawtooth coriander (rau ram) is similar to cilantro but stronger. Thai basil is bolder, with hints of licorice and anise, compared to sweet basil. These are not all necessarily required, but just commonly used herbs found in the soup.

In this version of the sour soup, I used salmon steak but you can also use catfish, shrimp, or even make it vegetarian with a few modifications. I substituted the rice paddy herb with ground cumin since I didn’t find them at the store, but I did grab a handful of fresh Thai basil leaves. This soup is simple to make and can be ready in under 30 minutes.

Ingredients (6-8 servings)

  • 1 lb salmon steak
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • Coconut oil to searing salmon steak
  • 8 cups chicken broth
  • 2 tbsp tamarind paste
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1 cup pineapple, cut into chunks
  • 1 cup okra, cut into one-inch pieces
  • 3 roma tomatoes, cut into wedges
  • 1 cup fresh mung bean sprouts
  • 3 celery stalks, thinly sliced along the diagonal
  • 4 tbsp fish sauce
  • Salt, to taste


  1. Heat the coconut oil in a pan with the garlic.
  2. Lightly sear the salmon steak and remove from heat.
  3. Transfer for the salmon steak into a large pot.
  4. Add broth and bring it to a simmer.
  5. Stir in the tamarind paste, fish sauce, and cumin. Bring it to a boil.
  6. Add okra and celery. Let it simmer for a few minutes.
  7. Add tomatoes and pineapples. Let it simmer for a few minutes.
  8. Add salt to taste.
  9. Turn off heat. Add mung bean sprouts. The heat will cook the bean sprouts.
  10. Top with basil leaves.
  11. Ready to serve.

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