Soup is not the first thing you think of when you think of summer, but in Vietnam, it feels like summer all year round. If I were to choose a “summer soup” in Vietnamese cuisine, it would be canh chua. Canh chua was a staple in my household growing up, and it was often served with another yummy dish – ca kho to or Vietnamese carmelized catfish. I seriously always looked forward to it because no matter what time of the year it was, it always felt refreshing and healthy.
What is canh chua?
Canh chua, also known as Vietnamese sweet & sour soup, comes from the Mekong Delta in southern Vietnam. It includes a tamarind broth with fish (typically catfish) from that delta, pineapple, tomatoes, elephant ear stalks, and bean sprouts. There are a ton of variations of this dish in Vietnam made with a combination of different fish and vegetables. And every family has their own version. This version here is my mom’s modern take on this dish. One of the challenges of making this dish in Western countries is access to ingredients. Unfortunately, ingredients like bean sprouts and elephant ear stalks are not readily available. So Vietnamese people like my mom have had to adapt.
Growing up, she still made canh chua with the traditional ingredients, but recently, she created this recipe to use what was available to her. With quarantine, Asian ingredients are not as readily available. That’s why I am sharing this recipe right now. I will write a recipe with traditional ingredients in the future. Promise!
Ingredients, Substitutions & Adjustments
- Salmon – This is the main protein in the dish. Normally, we use catfish for this dish, but salmon is more readily available at local stores.
- Chicken stock – Chicken stock adds some saltiness to the broth. I would recommend using a low sodium chicken stock because the tamarind soup mix has some salt in it already.
- Tamarind soup mix – This soup mix is the core part of canh chua. I like using soup mix because it is easily accessible, but traditionally, fresh tamarind is used. If you choose to use fresh tamarind, make sure to soak the pulp in 1/4 cup of boiling water and then strain it through a fine mesh sieve into the broth. You can use the boiling water from the broth for this.
- Fish sauce – Fish sauce adds saltiness and umami flavor to the broth. I would recommend Three Crabs or Red Boat fish sauce for this recipe.
- Celery – Adds texture to this soup. This is a substitute for elephant ear stalks. Celery provides the same texture as that ingredient.
- Red pepper – Adds texture and some sweetness to the broth.
- Green onions – Adds more flavor to the soup.
- Tomatoes – Tomatoes are one of the traditional ingredients used in this recipe. It adds sweetness and color to the broth. You can use any kind of tomatoes you want, but I love roma tomatoes the best.
- Pineapple – Pineapples add sweetness to the broth. You can use fresh or canned pineapples, but my mom likes to use canned pineapple because they come with that sweet syrup. The syrup helps add more sweetness to the soup.
- Okra – Okra is another ingredient that adds texture to the broth. If you can’t find okra, you can leave it out.
- Cilantro – Cilantro adds freshness to the broth.
Making my canh chua
This probably one of the fastest and easiest soups to make. First blanche the salmon pieces. Bring water to a boil and dunk salmon pieces into the boiling water for 5 seconds. This helps get rid of the fishy taste and gives the broth more flavor balance. Set aside the salmon. Bring 8 cups of water and 1 cup of chicken stock to a boil. Add in salmon, tamarind soup mix, fish sauce, celery, red pepper, green onions, tomatoes, pineapple, and okra. Cook for 10 minutes until the salmon is cooked through. Top with minced cilantro before serving. Serve with white rice.
Tips on how to make the perfect canh chua
- Boil the salmon to get rid of the fishy taste – Salmon often has an unsavory fish flavor that can throw off the balance of a broth. The best way to get rid of that flavor is to boil some water and let it cook for 5 seconds. That brief cooking time eliminates that fishy flavor.
- Adjust the flavor to your tastes – Try the broth before you serve it. If it is too salty, add some sugar. If it is too sweet, add some salt. The key to this broth is a balance of both salty and sweet.
- Using fresh tamarind – Traditionally, this soup is made with fresh tamarind. I like to use tamarind soup mix because it’s easier to find and easier to use. Fresh tamarind has a solid shell with seeds and pulp on the inside. If you choose to use tamarind, add it to a bowl with boiling water. Then strain it through a fine mesh sieve into your broth.
- What do you serve this soup with? – This soup is typically served with white rice and Vietnamese caramelized catfish (ca kho to). You can also serve it with other grains like brown rice, red rice, or quinoa.
Did you make this dish?
If you made this dish, I would love to see!
Modern Vietnamese Sweet & Sour Soup (Canh Chua)
- Bring a pot of water to a boil. Add the salmon to the boiling water and cook for 5 seconds. Take the salmon out and set aside. This will get rid of the unsavory fishy flavors in the salmon.
- Bring water and chicken stock to a boil. Add in the salmon, tamarind soup mix, fish sauce, celery, red pepper, green onions, tomatoes, canned pineapple, and okra. Cook for 10 minutes until the salmon is cooked through.
- Taste the soup and adjust the seasoning to your taste. Add some salt if it tastes bland. If it is too salty, add some sugar to balance it out.
- Top with cilantro and serve.