Vietnamese Sweet and Sour Soup with Catfish (Canh Chua Cá Bông Lau)

Growing up in a Vietnamese household, family dinner time was really important in my family. No matter how busy my parents were from work, (even when they worked multiple jobs), they always found time to cook up delicious Vietnamese home-cooked meals for my siblings and me. One of my favorite family-style meals included Canh Chua Cá Bông Lau, Vietnamese sweet and sour soup with catfish.

The soup is made with a sweet, sour, and tangy tamarind-based broth filled with buttery and flaky catfish steaks, sweet pineapple, and fresh veggies like okra, tomatoes, bean sprouts, and bạc hà, an Asian vegetable called taro stem or elephant ear, a spongy fresh plant that soaks up all the flavors. We finish off the soup with a sprinkle of garlic oil and herbaceous chopped rice paddy herb called ngò om, which gives it its distinctive Canh Chua taste. This soup is often paired with a savory braised dish like Cá Kho Tộ, braised catfish. Give me a bowl of rice and it’s time to dig in!

Ingredients:
1 pound catfish, cleaned and cut in 5/8 inch steaks
1/4 cup Quoc Viet Canh Chua Soup Base, or 10 ounces cooking tamarind concentrate
8 cups of filtered water
1/4 cup fish sauce
1/3 cup sugar, more or less to taste
8 ounce canned pineapple chunks plus juice
2 tomatoes, quartered
10 okra, halved diagonally
4 ounces taro stem or elephant ear, peeled and sliced diagonally
3.5 ounces enoki mushrooms
2 cups bean sprouts
1 bunch rice paddy herb (ngò om), finely chopped
4 Thai chilies
1-2 tablespoons fried garlic oil

Steps:

Prepare Veggies – Rinse, clean, and prepare veggies and set aside.

Make Canh Chua – In a medium/large stockpot, bring 8 cups of water, soup base, fish sauce, sugar, and canned pineapple to a boil. Add fish and simmer for ~5 minutes. Add Okra, elephant ear, enoki mushrooms, and tomatoes and continue simmering for ~5 minutes. Turn off the heat and add bean sprouts, 3/4 of the rice paddy herb, and Thai chilies. Give everything a good mix. Transfer soup to a large bowl and garnish with garlic oil and remaining rice paddy herb. Serve immediately with rice or vermicelli noodles.

Tips:

  • Tamarind comes in a seasoning form or paste form. You can also buy tamarind pulp and dissolve it in water to make tamarind liquid.
  • Substitute cubed chicken thighs or tofu for catfish if you’re not a fan of catfish
  • Substitute sliced celery for taro stem/elephant ear if taro stem/elephant ear is unavailable.
  • Adjust sugar depending on how tangy you want the soup. I like it more on the sweeter side.
  • Ask your local Asian grocery store fish monger to clean and cut up the catfish for you so you don’t have to do it at home.
  • I like to add veggies in at different times because I like to keep the colors as bright as possible and still have a bit to it and have it not taste too soggy.

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