Vietnamese Sweet and Sour Fish Soup
(Canh chua cá)

The sour fish soup originates from the Mekong region of Vietnam – the river which flows through the south of the country.

Traditionally, of course the fish would come fresh from the Mekong Delta itself, and the sour taste comes from tamarind, and is offset by the sweetness of pineapples, along with tomatoes and other vegetables. It's simply fish soup with veggies but for a truly wonderful taste sensation!

It's an authentic dish that's popular in Southern Vietnam. It has the perfect blend of sweet, sour and spice, with more than three types of fresh herbs used in the soup which really enhance the flavor.


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

  • 2 to 4 fish heads, tails, or fillets. (Fesh Basa/catfish/red Tilapia or other fish like tuna and salmon work well too.)
  • 2 to 3 stalks of Elephant ear stalks/stems (bạc hà)
  • 2 tomatoes
  • ¼ fresh pineapple
  • 1 cup bean sprouts
  • a dozen or so okra pods (đậu bắp)
  • 1 shallot (hành tím), minced
  • 2 or more cloves garlic, minced
  • 1~3 fresh hot chillies
  • A few sprigs Vietnamese rice paddy herb (rau om) and Vietnamese coriander (rau răm)
  • 2 tblsp tamarind (paste/powder/liquid. Adjust amounts if necessary.)
  • Vietnamese Fish Sauce (nước mắm), salt, sugar, to taste

Optional: 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


Wash the catfish, then use a paper towel to pat the fish slices dry. Rub the fish slices with chili. Sprinkle both sides with salt. Then let them marinate for 30 minutes.

okra pods (đậu bắp), sliced in 1-inch segments

tomatoes: cut in wedges

fresh pineapple: cut in wedges

Elephant ear stalks/stems (bạc hà) : peeled and sliced along the diagonal

bean sprouts: washed, drained well

Mix tamarind paste with 1 cup of boiling water. Let it sit


Add a few drizzles of oil to the pot and saute shallot, garlic, and lemongrass until fragrant. Add cleaned fish.

(Optional: Saute until the garlic smells good and turns light brown, then take the garlic out, add fish. Before serving, sprinkle with fried garlic.)

Then, leaving the ingredients in the pot, fill your stock pot 3/4-full. Bring to a boil, turn heat down to medium to simmer, and scoop out any excess foam. You can either remove the lemongrass stalks at this point if you don't want to have to do that while you're eating. Use a sieve to strain off the pulp and seeds only pour the juice of the tamarind paste in the pot.

Add tomatoes, pineapple, and okra and let simmer. Add fish sauce to taste.

After maybe 15 minutes, when the fish is fully cooked and the veggies have slightly softened, taste soup again and add fish sauce, sugar or salt if needed. Taste the soup for a balance of sweet, sour, spicy, and salty flavor. Adjust to your liking.

Add elephant ear stems, bean sprouts when the soup is almost done since they cook almost immediately.

(Optional: you can use other vegetables/flowers to increase the flavor such as: Water mimosa, Sesbania grandiflora/vegetable hummingbird, Sesbania sesban/Common sesban, Sour-soup creeper... ) (I love to add Water mimosa, love their favor.)

When the soup is done, add Vietnamese rice paddy herb / Vietnamese coriander.  Vietnamese rice paddy herb has a taste and scent like fresh cumin. It adds a lovely dimension to the soup.

Serve with rice or fresh rice noodles.

Basa fish

I love to eat fish dipped in chili fish sauce. It's very tasty!

Catfish soup with Common sesban increases sour flavor

And when combine with many kinds of vegetables and flowers, we have a great hotpot. So Yummy!!!!