During my internship in Amsterdam, an American roommate offered to cook Vietnamese for me. When I held his creation in my hands, I saw to my surprise that it was Canh ca chua. My roommate had created a simplified and vegetarian version, but Canh ca chua is not an obvious choice, and so I was even more impressed. I found it funny that a student from America had prepared a classic Vietnamese dish in the Netherlands. It reflects the fact that Vietnamese cuisine has been popularized in America.
Canh chua is a sweet and sour soup with fish (ca) or shrimp (tom). It is a typical southern dish with fresh fish from the Mekong River. The acidic broth is from the tamarind fruit and, together with the pineapple, tomato and bean sprouts, it is indispensable. The traditional recipe calls for the citrus and cumin spice like rice paddy or Kayang leaf, whose earthy flavor is not everyone’s favorite. This also applies to the fruit vegetable okra (lady’s finger or female finger). It has not so much flavor of itself and after boiling it gets a little slimy. That slime acts as a binder so the okra absorbs all the flavors of the soup and gets a pleasant bite. Canh ca chua is mainly prepared with fish or large prawns, but because of the amount of fresh vegetables, the soup is also delicious without meat.
Canh ca chua has many ingredients and omitting some of them won’t harm the dish, but tamarind, pineapple, tomatoes and bean sprouts make the dish. Rice paddy (Rau om) gives Canh ca chua the typical citrus flavor and the true connoisseur will miss culantro (Ngo gai) as garnish. Personally, I love Canh ca chua to taste sweet and spicy, so I use a lot of sugar and garnish generously with chili.
For the Vietnamese style use fish steaks (preferably with fish head) and for convenience just cod fillet.
- ½ kilo steaks of firm white fish (pike perch, sea bass, catfish), cod fillet or king prawns (peeled or unpeeled to taste); or both fish and prawns
- 120 ml tamarind or 4 tbsp tamarind dissolved in warm water to 120 ml
- 1 garlic, minced
- 1 onion, one half chopped and the other half thinly sliced
- 1 tbsp sugar
- 1 tsp salt
- 2 tbsp fish sauce
- 1½ l boiled water from the kettle
- ½ fresh pineapple, cut into small cubes; the hard core removed because they can taste bitter
- 2 celery steals, thinly sliced
- 4 okra, sliced diagonally
- 2 tomatoes, in wedges or 200 g halved cherry tomatoes
- a few branches rice paddy/Kayang leaf (Rau om), stems removed and the rest in pieces of 2 cm
- 1 red chilli, sliced
- 2 spring onions, sliced
- a handful of bean sprouts or more to taste
- 4 branches culantro (Ngo gai), minced (optional)
Canh ca chua can accompany a rice table, the basic fish dipping sauce Nuoc cham is then served on the table. So you can dip the fish and prawns in it to give extra flavor. You can also use tamarind fish dipping sauce, Mam me. When cooking Canh ca chua I basically have all the ingredients for this tamarind dipping sauce already available. I than mix some tamarind juice, sugar, chopped chilli and fish sauce together, and garnish with chopped coriander. But you can also follow the recipe.
- Fry the chopped garlic and chopped onion in a large pan with hot oil. As soon as the fragrances are released, add half of the tamarind juice, sugar, salt, fish sauce, and the boiled water.
- Put the fish steaks and / or shrimp in the broth. When cod fillet or other fish fillet is used, add the fish in step 3. Continue cooking the soup, remove the foam layer.
- Add the pineapple and celery. When using fish fillet, the fish is now added. Let cook for about 1 minute and then add the okra, tomatoes and rice paddy.
- Add the red chili, thinly sliced onion and spring onion in the broth, stir and add the bean sprouts. Season to taste with extra fish sauce, sugar or tamarind. The bean sprouts only needs a few seconds, make sure the soup is hot and turn the heat off.
- Pour the soup into rice bowls, or serve in Vietnamese style in a large bowl to share with a rice table. Garnish with the crispy and lightly spicy culantro.
- Dip the fish and / or shrimp in the chosen fish sauce dippings.