What is canh chua?
The Vietnamese dish Canh Chua literally means “sour soup” and is made with whole fish, fish steaks and/or fish heads. There are also plenty of vegetables, such as taro, okra, tomatoes, bean sprouts and shallots. Tamarind provides the sour taste which is balanced with sweet fresh pineapple. The whole is a hodgepodge of colours, flavours and textures.
Although the soup is traditionally made with ca loc, a bass-like freshwater fish, chefs vary the types of fish used. Catfish, tuna, salmon, all are sometimes used in this soup. If shrimp are used, the dish is called Canh Chua Tom.
The dish comes from the Mekong Delta in the southwest of Vietnam and is a good reflection of the cuisine of this region: lots of fish and vegetables. It is mainly eaten at home, as the main meal of the day, during lunch or in the evening.
How to make canh chua
For the soup, a vegetable base of shallot, garlic, tamarind and lemongrass is fried in oil. The fish heads, a generous splash of water and the vegetables are added to make a soup. Finally, the bean sprouts are briefly cooked. The soup is finished off with fresh herbs, rings of chilli pepper and fried onions or garlic.
How to eat
You eat the dish with a spoon or spooned over rice after seasoning with fish sauce and chilli peppers. The fish is also scooped out of the soup and placed in a dish with fish sauce and chilli peppers to be eaten separately. You can optionally wrap the fish meat in soaked rice paper (Banh Trang) and serve as a sort of spring roll.
Why not try?
Hu Tieu is another speciality from the Mekong Delta. It is a sweet pork-based noodle soup. Do you like an exciting, sour soup? Try the pronounced noodle soup Bun Rieu, made with freshwater crabs and tamarind.
In the past the soup was served side by side with Ca Kho To – the head and tail of the fish went into the soup, the body was stewed in a clay pot. This isn’t seen much anymore, although there are still restaurants where you can order both dishes side by side. However, the soup makes a complete meal with a simple bowl of jasmine rice.