One of the dinner staples in my parents’ home (and in any South Vietnamese family) is Canh Chua Cá, or Vietnamese Sweet and Sour Fish soup. You can use any white fish, but it’s traditionally cooked using cat fish or mudfish.
It’s one of those most comforting dishes, and it pairs well with sautéed greens, such as water spinach (rau muống). It’s light, healthy, and served over white jasmine rice.
This Vietnamese Sweet and Sour Fish soup is made using sliced elephant ear stems, pineapple chunks, bean sprouts, tomato, and okra. It’s finished with rice paddy herbs, which you can find at most Asian supermarket. Rice paddy herbs have a very distinct flavor, and while you can make Canh Chua Ca without it, it doesn’t have the authentic taste with it.
Traditionally, this Vietnamese soup requires you to have elephant ear stems, which can be found at your local Asian market. Elephant ear stems have a spongy texture, but they soak all the delicious goodness from the stock. Not everyone likes the texture of them, so you can use celery as an alternative. (But it’s not the same and doesn’t taste as good, in my opinion.)
You can also make Canh Chua with Shrimp, but I have been craving more fish in my diet and I’ve had mudfish steaks in my freezer for eons, so it was time for me to make Canh Chua Cá.
Canh Chua Cá Recipe (Vietnamese Sweet and Sour Fish Soup)
- 1 lb catfish steaks (or mudfish steaks)
- 2 tsp fish sauce
For the Soup
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 6 cloves garlic, minced
- 6 cups water
- 1/2 cup tamarind concentrate
- 1 tbsp tamarind soup mix (optional, if you like it more sour)
- 4 tbsp fish sauce
- 4 tbsp sugar
- 1 can (14.5 oz) pineapple chunks, drained
- 2 tomatoes, quartered
- 1 cup okra, chopped
- 1-2 elephant ear stems (taro), thinly sliced diagonally 1/2 inch thick
- 1 cup bean sprouts
- 1 handful rice paddy herb (ngo om), chopped
- Marinate the catfish steaks (or mudfish steaks) with fish sauce. Set aside while you prepare the vegetables (about 10-15 minutes at room temperature).
- In a large pot, add oil and saute the minced garlic for 1-2 minutes.
- Add the catfish steaks. Cook on each side for 2-3 minutes.
- Add water, the tamarind concentrate, fish sauce, sugar, pineapple, and tomatoes. Stir until well-blended. Cook for 2-3 minutes.
- Add the remaining vegetables (okra, elephant stems, and bean sprouts.) Bring the soup to a rolling boil. Turn down the heat to medium-low.
- Taste the soup and adjust the taste to your preference. Add tamarind soup mix if you desire a more sour flavor. If too sour, add more sugar. Add more fish sauce to your desired saltiness.
- Add rice paddy herb, stir into soup. Turn off heat and let rest.
- To serve, remove the fish steaks onto a plate. Pour nuoc cham (Vietnamese dipping fish sauce) over the fish. Spoon the desired amount of Canh Chua Ca and enjoy with rice and the fish.