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Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Canh Chua Tom (Vietnamese Sour Shrimp Soup)

Sometimes I get a craving for Canh Chua Ca (Vietnamese Sour Fish Soup), but I don't want to actually eat the fish, I just want the sour flavor.

Canh Chua Tom (Vietnamese Sour Shrimp Soup)

And the bac ha (Vietnamese taro stem). Although bac ha may resemble elephant ears, make sure you've got the alocasia odora variety or else you'll have a very allergic reaction. I just love how the spongy stalks soak up all the flavors.

Canh Chua Ca (Vietnamese Sour Fish Soup) 2

My cousin, however, eats it for the pineapples. I tossed in half a fresh pineapple in this pot and she still wanted more.

The sourness in the soup is achieved by tamarind. I was lazy and used tamarind soup powder but after looking at the ingredients, which included several unpronounceable words, I think I'm going to stick to real tamarind pulp instead. As I said before, make this with whatever vegetables you wish, but for me no canh chua is complete without bac ha, fresh pineapples, and okra.

This time around, I cut a few sprigs of ngo om (Vietnamese rice paddy herb) from my youngest uncle's garden. The ngo om has a fresh cumin-like fragrance that really enhances the soup.

Canh Chua Ca (Vietnamese Sour Fish Soup) 6

Canh Chua Tom (Vietnamese Sour Shrimp Soup)

For a 5-quart stock pot, you'll need:

As much shrimp as you'd like, peeled and deveined
2-3 stalks of bac ha, or celery if you can't find it, peeled and sliced on the diagonal
2 tomatoes, chunked
1 to 2 cups fresh pineapple chunks
1 cups bean sprouts
A dozen or so okra pods, sliced in 1-inch segments
2 stalks lemongrass, bruised and cut diagonally into about 3-inch segments or big enough to make them easy to remove from the soup pot
1 shallot, minced
2 or more cloves garlic, minced
A few sprigs ngo om or rau ram (Vietnamese coriander)
2 tblsp tamarind (I buy seedless tamarind in blocks. They also sell it in paste or liquid concentrated form. Adjust amounts if necessary.)
Nuoc Mam (Vietnamese Fish Sauce)

Add a few drizzles of oil to your pot and saute shallot, garlic, tamarind, and lemongrass until fragrant. Then, leaving the ingredients in the pot, fill your stock pot 3/4-full with water and toss in the shrimp shells. Bring to a boil, turn heat down to medium to simmer for about 15 minutes to create a shrimp stock. Scoop out any excess foam. Remove shrimp shells.

You can either remove the lemongrass stalks at this point if you don't want to have to do that while you're eating. I like to leave them in so they can flavor the soup even more. Leaving the lemongrass in big sections makes it easier to find and to remove from the soup later. Add tomatoes, pineapple, bac ha, and okra and let simmer. Add fish sauce to taste.

After maybe 10 minutes, when the veggies have slightly softened, add the shrimp. Taste soup again and add fish sauce or more tamarind if needed. Add bean sprouts and ngo om or rau ram when the soup is almost done since they cook almost immediately.

Ladle into a big soup bowl to serve. Spoon over rice.


My other Vietnamese canh recipes:
Canh Bap Cai Bac Thao (Vietnamese Napa Cabbage Soup)
Canh Bap Cai Nhoi Thit (Vietnamese Stuffed Cabbage Soup)
Canh Bi Voi Tom (Winter Melon Soup with Shrimp)
Canh Bi/Bau Nhoi Thit (Vietnamese Pork-Stuffed Winter Melon Soup)
Canh Chua Ca (Vietnamese Sour Fish Soup)
Canh Cu Sen (Vietnamese Lotus Root Soup)
Canh Du Du (Vietnamese Papaya Soup)
Canh O/Kho Qua Nhoi Thit (Vietnamese Stuffed Bitter Melon Soup)
Canh Rau Cuu Ky (Vietnamese (Chinese) Boxthorn Soup)
Canh Tao/Rong Bien (Vietnamese Seaweed Soup)

1 year ago today, Asian pear and prickly pear cactus gelato at Gelateria Naia - Berkeley.


  1. I'm all over this soup and it's -10 up here...perfect for this cold weather.

  2. I once cooked this with what I thought was bac ha, but was actually elephant ears. Luckily, it tasted funny and made the insides of our mouth all tingly like, so I stopped my guests from eating it and we all ordered pizza instead. Oh, how we laughed at my attempt to poison my friends. Good times.

  3. Peter,
    -10 degrees? Brrr. This soup will hopefully warm you up.

    Yeah, I read on a forum somewhere, where that happened to someone else too.

    It's one of my favorites.

  4. Mmm... canh chua and rice... pure comfort food!

  5. Ahh, canh cua to me is what kimchi jigae is to Koreans.

  6. Chuck,
    Must be the weather or the heavy holiday eating, b/c all I've been doing lately is VNese comfort foods.

    Me too. :)

  7. OMG! thank you!!! i am 18 years old and my vietnamese (reading) isn't so good and my mother's cooking instructions are minimal so this was the BEST CANH CHUA TOM recipe i've seen so far!

    by any chance, is this any different if i were to cook Canh Chua Thai?

  8. Thank you!! best recipe for canh chua tom in english I've seen!

  9. helloGIRL,
    Haha. Thanks. Seems like no one's VNese mama is teaching them how to cook. Canh chua Thai might be closer to tom yum?


  10. I was looking for Bac Ha recipes and came upon yours. Thank you for the detailed instructions. You have a wonderful blog, many new recipes for me to try!

  11. Sheela,
    Welcome! I hope you try some recipes. Be sure to let me know how you like them.

  12. Made this soup with celery and added some chiles to spice things up! Just like grandma used to make and MUCH easier than I thought it would be! I would recommend putting the shrimp shells in a cheese cloth so they will be easier to remove.

  13. Nikki,
    You can also strain the whole stock through a colander. I like sauteing the shrimp shells to bring out flavor.


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