Canh Chua Ca Recipe: Mastering Traditional Vietnamese Sour Fish Soup

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Written By Hot Thai Restaurant

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Imagine diving into a bowl of Canh Chua Ca, a vibrant Vietnamese sour fish soup that tantalizes your taste buds with its perfect balance of sour, sweet, and savory flavors. This traditional dish, hailing from the Mekong Delta, is not just a feast for the palate but also a comforting embrace for the soul, especially on rainy days or whenever you need a little pick-me-up.


Delve into the vibrant world of Canh Chua Ca by starting with the essential ingredients. Here’s what you’ll need to create this delightful soup.

Fish and Marinade

  • 1 lb of firm white fish (such as catfish, tilapia, or snapper), cleaned and cut into bite-sized pieces
  • 2 tablespoons fish sauce
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 teaspoon ground black pepper

Combine the fish sauce, sugar, and black pepper in a bowl. Add the fish pieces and gently coat them with the marinade. Let them sit for about 20 minutes to absorb the flavors.

Vegetables and Herbs

  • 2 medium tomatoes, cut into wedges
  • 2 cups pineapple, preferably fresh, cut into bite-sized pieces
  • 2 cups bean sprouts
  • 1 cup okra, sliced
  • 2 long green chili peppers, sliced
  • 1/2 cup chopped cilantro
  • 1/2 cup Thai basil leaves

Prepare the vegetables and herbs as described. You’ll add these to the broth later, to enhance the soup with their fresh, aromatic flavors.

  • 4 cups water
  • 1 tablespoon tamarind paste
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • Fish sauce, to taste

Start by heating the water in a large pot. Dissolve the tamarind paste and sugar in the water, and bring to a gentle simmer. Add the minced garlic and a few splashes of fish sauce for that perfect umami flavor. This broth will form the base of your Canh Chua Ca, enveloping all other ingredients in its tangy and sweet embrace.

Required Tools and Equipment

To make Canh Chua Ca, ensuring you have the right tools and equipment will facilitate a smoother cooking process. Here’s what you’ll need to gather before beginning:

Cooking Utensils

  • Chef’s knife: For cutting the fish, vegetables, and herbs precisely.
  • Cutting board: Choose a large one to handle all your ingredients easily.
  • Large pot: Essential for simmering your soup. An 8-quart pot works well.
  • Skimmer or slotted spoon: Useful for removing any foam or debris from the broth as it simmers.
  • Ladle: Needed for serving your soup into bowls.
  • Fish scaler: If you’re using whole fish, this tool will help you clean it properly.
  • Fish tweezers: These are helpful to remove any remaining bones from the fish fillets.
  • Bowls: Have a few medium size for marinating the fish and assembling other ingredients.
  • Measuring cups and spoons: For accurate measurement of broth ingredients and seasoning.

Ensuring you have these tools and equipment ready will make your cooking process efficient and enjoyable. Now, let’s dive into the steps to create your tasty Canh Chua Ca.


Now that you have all your ingredients and tools ready, let’s dive into the preparation process of Canh Chua Ca, ensuring every element contributes to that perfect sour and savory balance.

Cleaning and Prepping Fish

First, clean the fish thoroughly. Begin by scaling the fish with a fish scaler, removing all external scales for a smooth surface. Next, use fish tweezers to pull out any remaining bones carefully. Make a shallow cut along the belly and remove the innards, rinsing the cavity well under cold water. Pat the fish dry with paper towels once it’s clean. If using fish fillets, simply check for any bones and pat dry. Marinate the fish with a mix of minced garlic, a pinch of salt, and a dash of fish sauce. Set aside for about 15 minutes to infuse the flavors.

Chopping Vegetables

Move on to the vegetables. Use a sharp chef’s knife and a sturdy cutting board to ensure precision and safety. Start by slicing the tomatoes into wedges; they will help to create a colorful and tangy base for your broth. Next, chop the elephant ear stems (or substitute celery) into thin slices; they should be crisp to add a refreshing texture. Julienne the okra and slice the chili peppers, removing the seeds if you prefer a milder soup. Roughly chop the fresh herbs like cilantro and green onions, setting them aside for garnishing the soup later. The freshness and cut of your vegetables play a significant role in the aesthetics and flavor of your Canh Chua Ca.

Making the Broth

Creating the broth is a crucial step in cooking Canh Chua Ca, as it sets the foundation for its unique tangy and savory flavor profile. Here’s how you can prepare it.

Boiling the Water

Start by filling a large pot with about 2 quarts of water. Place it on the stove and turn the heat to high. Wait for the water to reach a rolling boil. This process typically takes about 8-10 minutes depending on your stove and pot size.

Adding the Tamarind and Seasonings

Once the water is boiling, reduce the heat to medium-low to maintain a gentle simmer. Now, add 3 tablespoons of tamarind paste to the pot. Stir the paste thoroughly to ensure it dissolves completely in the water.

Next, incorporate 2 tablespoons of sugar to balance the tamarind’s tartness, 1 teaspoon of salt, and 2 tablespoons of fish sauce for that umami depth. Stir everything well to combine.

Finally, add 2 cloves of finely minced garlic to the broth, enhancing its aromatic quality. Allow the broth to simmer gently for about 20 minutes. Stir occasionally to make sure the flavors meld together beautifully. During this time, the broth will start to take on a rich and tangy flavor, perfect for the next steps of adding the fish and vegetables.

Cooking the Fish

Now that your tangy broth is simmering, it’s time to prepare the fish, which is the star ingredient of Canh Chua Ca.

Marinating the Fish

Before adding the fish to the broth, you’ll want to ensure it is nicely flavored. Start by patting dry about 1 pound of your chosen firm white fish fillets, such as catfish, snapper, or tilapia. Slice the fillets into 2-inch pieces to ensure they cook evenly and absorb the marinade well.

To marinate, mix in a bowl:

  • 2 tablespoons of fish sauce
  • 1 tablespoon of sugar
  • 1 minced garlic clove
  • A pinch of black pepper

Coat the fish pieces thoroughly in this marinade and let them sit for about 20 minutes at room temperature. This brief marination infuses the fish with flavors that complement the soup’s tangy base.

Adding Fish to the Broth

Once your fish has marinated, gently add the pieces to the simmering broth. It’s important to handle the fish gently to prevent the pieces from breaking apart during cooking. Lay the fish in an even layer and simmer for about 7-10 minutes, or until the fish is cooked through and tender.

The fish should turn opaque and flake easily with a fork when done. Be sure to adjust the heat, if necessary, to maintain a gentle simmer, as vigorous boiling can break the delicate fish pieces.

At this stage, your Canh Chua Ca is nearly complete. The fish will impart a rich flavor to the broth, making it a perfectly balanced and hearty dish.

Final Steps

Now that your fish has absorbed the aromatic flavors, it’s time to complete your Canh Chua Ca by adding the vibrant vegetables and herbs, followed by a final adjustment of seasonings.

Incorporating Vegetables and Herbs

Start by gently adding sliced tomatoes and pineapple chunks into the pot. These add lovely color and a natural sweetness that contrasts beautifully with the tangy tamarind. Let them simmer for about 2 minutes, maintaining a gentle boil to keep the delicate texture of the tomatoes intact.

Next, include the elephant ear stems (Bac Ha) if you have them. These stems will take a bit longer to cook, about 4 minutes, until they are soft yet still crunchy. Finally, add in bean sprouts and chopped green onions which need a mere minute to soften slightly, preserving their crispiness and fresh flavor.

The traditional finishing touch involves a generous handful of fresh herbs. Tear Thai basil, cilantro, and sawtooth coriander by hand – instead of chopping – and sprinkle them into the pot. Turn off the heat to allow the herbs to wilt naturally from the residual warmth. This method helps to retain their vivid color and potent aroma, crucial for that fresh burst of flavor in each spoonful.

Adjusting Seasonings

Taste your soup once all the ingredients have harmonized. Now is the perfect moment to fine-tune. Start by assessing the sourness; if it needs more tang, a bit more tamarind paste can do the trick. To heighten sweetness, sprinkle a little sugar.

If your Canh Chua Ca begs for more umami depth, another splash of fish sauce will integrate seamlessly. A slight grind of black pepper might be needed to enhance the other flavors subtly. Adjust slowly, mixing well and tasting as you go, to create a balanced symphony of tangy, sweet, salty, and spicy notes that make this dish uniquely vibrant.

With the vegetables tender and your seasonings perfected, your Canh Chua Ca is ready to serve. This hearty, flavor-packed soup promises not only to warm the belly but also to enchant the palate with its complex, comforting layers of taste.

Serving Suggestions

After carefully crafting your Canh Chua Ca, the next step is to serve it in a way that complements its rich flavors and textures.


To elevate your Canh Chua Ca experience, consider pairing it with a side of steamed white jasmine rice. The subtle, slightly sticky texture of jasmine rice makes it perfect for soaking up the soup’s tangy broth. Additionally, a platter of fresh herbs such as Thai basil, cilantro, and mint can be offered alongside. These herbs allow each individual to customize their bowl to their taste, enhancing the freshness of the dish.

For an authentic Vietnamese touch, include a side of fish sauce seasoned with chopped chili and a squeeze of lime. This condiment adds an extra layer of flavor that can be adjusted to suit personal spice preferences.

Lastly, consider serving crispy fried shallots on top for a delightful crunch that contrasts the soup’s smooth texture. This combination ensures a complex and satisfying meal, balancing the robustness of the soup with simple, complementary sides.

Storage Tips

Storing Canh Chua Ca effectively ensures you can enjoy this delightful soup even after the day it’s made. Here’s how to keep it fresh and tasty.

Refrigerating Canh Chua Ca

  1. Cool Down: Allow the soup to reach room temperature before refrigerating. This prevents condensation which can dilute the flavors.
  2. Use Airtight Containers: Transfer the soup into airtight containers to lock in freshness and prevent the soup from absorbing odors from other foods in your fridge.
  3. Storage Duration: Properly stored, Canh Chua Ca can last in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. Keep in mind that the acidity from the tamarind will intensify over time, which might alter the flavor slightly.
  1. Portion Control: Freeze the soup in individual serving sizes. This makes it easier to thaw only what you need without defrosting the entire batch.
  2. Container Choice: Use freezer-safe containers or bags. Leave some space at the top as the soup will expand when frozen.
  3. Freezing Time: Canh Chua Ca can be frozen for up to 2 months. Beyond this, the textures of the vegetables and herbs may begin to degrade, affecting the overall quality of the soup.
  4. Thawing and Reheating: Thaw the soup overnight in the refrigerator and reheat on the stove over medium heat until hot throughout. It’s best not to reboil the soup to preserve the delicate flavors of the herbs and fish.

By following these tips, you’ll ensure that your Canh Chua Ca remains delicious and safe to consume, preserving the comfort of this traditional Vietnamese dish for days to come.


Now that you’ve got the scoop on crafting and preserving Canh Chua Ca, why not give it a try? This delightful dish not only offers a taste of Vietnamese culinary tradition but also serves as a comforting meal you can enjoy over several days. Remember the tips on storage and reheating to keep your soup tasting fresh. Whether you’re cooking for a special occasion or just spicing up your weekly meal plan Canh Chua Ca is sure to impress. So go ahead grab your pot and let the flavors of Vietnam fill your kitchen!

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