May 26, 2020

Chinese Hot and Sour Soup 酸辣湯 

chinese, Hot and Sour Soup, hot and spicy soup, recipe, Soup, 酸辣湯,

This classic Chinese Hot and Sour Soup 酸辣湯 is always on the menu at Chinese restaurants, its bold contrast of sour and spicy and loads of delicious bits of flavors and textures in a thickened broth make it a perennial favorite with all Chinese food lovers.  I remember ordering it with my family when eating out at China town restaurants when I was a little girl and I'm still ordering these days whenever I see it's on the menu.  

Since we've been at home A LOT lately, we've been missing its deliciously vibrant flavors so we decided to try making this soup at home.  Or rather my hubby 老公 decided it, he really loves this soup, has done so since in utero apparently.  (His mom lived off this stuff while pregnant with him!)  We discovered that this Chinese Hot and Sour Soup 酸辣湯 , while requiring a good bit of knife work, is actually quite easy to make at home and comes out just as good as the ones we've had in restaurants and maybe even a bit better!

chinese, Hot and Sour Soup, hot and spicy soup, recipe, Soup, 酸辣湯,

The lovely thing about this soup besides the very lovely sour and the hot punch of it are the many varied ingredients in it, some tender, some crunchy, others chewy...each delicate morsel having its own special flavor and texture as you bite into it.  I think that's one of the reasons this soup is so popular, there's just so much to explore and like in it!

As I've mentioned before there's a bit of slicing to be done.  The reason is that all the different wonderful ingredients need to be sliced down into equally bite sized matchsticks.  This allows the smooth mouthfeel of the soup, no big chunks!  Also it allows each luscious spoonful to pick up a bit of all the different tastes and flavors for your eating pleasure all at once.

Soup,chinese,Hot and Sour Soup,酸辣湯,recipe,hot and spicy soup
Dried shitake mushroom, sliced
Soup,chinese,Hot and Sour Soup,酸辣湯,recipe,hot and spicy soup
Wood ear fungus, shredded

This soup uses some special Chinese ingredients which we'll go through.  The first on the above left is the Chinese dried shitake mushroom 冬菇, a staple of the Chinese pantry.  When reconstituted and sliced into thin matchsticks, it provides an intense almost meaty base to the soup flavor.  Remember to reserve the mushroom soaking water to add to the soup for an extra flavor boost!

Wood Fungus in situ, photo by Josh Milburn

Above right is the wood ear fungus 木耳, also known as the tree ear fungus.  It is a mushroom that grows on trees and is prized in Chinese cuisine for its texture, a crunchy, slippery and slightly gelatinized mouthfeel.  If you buy it dried it must be rehydrated.  Before slicing, cut off any hard nubs.

Soup,chinese,Hot and Sour Soup,酸辣湯,recipe,hot and spicy soup
Bamboo, shredded
Soup,chinese,Hot and Sour Soup,酸辣湯,recipe,hot and spicy soup
Tofu block, sliced to matchsticks

You will also need bamboo shoots 竹筍, which I love for both its distinctive slighty sweet, slighty nutty flavor and its wonderful crunch.  Look for bamboo shoots in the canned section.  If you can find fresh, be sure to prepare the fresh bamboo shoots properly. 

Or as an alternative, lately we've been obsessing over pickled bamboo shoots 香脆筍.  These are fresh shoots pickled in sugar, salt and chili oil and we love using these where bamboo shoots are called for as the marination makes the bamboo extra tasty.

Last is the tofu.  There are many types of firmness for tofu, from silken, the softest, to firm, obviously the firmest.  Which to use depends on what you want to do with it, for example, firm tofu is recommended for stir fry because its firm enough to withstand all the tossing about.  On the other hand, in soups and gentle braises, soft and silken tofu can be used as it will absorb all the flavors into a delicate, melt in your mouth texture.  

For our soup we used soft tofu 懒豆腐, not silken as that is a bit too delicate, and then carefully sliced it to matchsticks.  The trick with slicing tofu is to not saw with your knife, but to push straight through the cut you want to make.

chinese, Hot and Sour Soup, hot and spicy soup, recipe, Soup, 酸辣湯,

The protein for this soup traditionally is a marinated pork, cut to delicate matchsticks.  The second protein traditionally added in is coagulated pork blood 豬紅 or 血豆腐.  It's is a weird thing, I know, if you're not used to it but it doesn't look or taste like what you think it might.  It doesn't really have its own flavor.  It's a texture food and absorbs flavors from the dish it's cooked in.  It looks like brown colored tofu blocks and can be sliced to matchsticks in much the same way as tofu.  

The primary feature of coagulated pork blood is its unique texture.  It squeaks as you bite down and has a texture rather like mozzarella.  You can find coagulated pork blood at the wet markets from same vendors who sell fresh tofu or at some Chinese grocery shops.

You can also sub in shredded chicken, ham or even go completely meatless and vegetarian or, like us, sub in some sweet shrimp for a seafood version.  Or even a combination of everything.  It doesn't detract from this gorgeous soup one bit, the more the merrier!

Soup,chinese,Hot and Sour Soup,酸辣湯,recipe,hot and spicy soup
Hot Bean Sauce Doubanjiang
Soup,chinese,Hot and Sour Soup,酸辣湯,recipe,hot and spicy soup
Chinkiang black vinegar

There are many schools of thought as to how the sour of the Chinese Hot and Sour Soup is achieved.  Basically it is achieved by adding vinegar.  But...there are all types of vinegar: white vinegar, red vinegar, black vinegar, rice vinegar, etc. They are all a bit different, some more sour, some milder, others more packed with flavor.  

We went for a combination.  First we added Chinkiang vinegar 鎭江香醋, also known as Zhenjiang vinegar, a Chinese rice based black vinegar with an fruity, intense flavor profile reminiscent of balsamic vinegar but not sweet.  Then we added white vinegar for its straight forward sourness.  We felt this achieved a nice balance between flavor intensity and sourness. 

The heat for this soup also sports different schools of thought.  There's the camp that add Chinese chili oil to their soup, but we kinda think that kind of heat is too far from the original intention.  Then there are the purists that insist that the hot come only from the liberal addition of white pepper 胡椒粉, an underrated flavor powerhouse which produces a quiet spicy heat with a floral, earthy piquancy that is deliciously all its own.  

And lastly there are those who add in Chinese hot bean sauce 辣豆瓣酱, also known as Doubanjiang, a savory umami paste made from fermented broad beans, soybeans, salt, spices and chili peppers.  We again did a combo, the Chinese hot bean sauce for both its umami boost and extra body and the white pepper for its pungent, floral heat.  

chinese, Hot and Sour Soup, hot and spicy soup, recipe, Soup, 酸辣湯,

Decide for yourself how you want to achieve the hot and the sour.  It all works in this amazingly versatile soup so just have fun with it.  We sure did.  Just remember to add the sour and heat ingredients last of all, in order to maximize the effect.  Especially for the vinegar as too much and too long in the heat will boil away the tang.

So...slice, slice slice, then a quick stir fry and then a gentle simmer to meld all the flavors together, thicken, make an egg flower (where the egg 'blooms' in delicate petals in your beautiful!), and finally splash in the hot and the sour.  Pretty easy peasy.  That's really the whole of it.  

And look...just look at the gorgeous result!  Our soup looks ready for twirl or two at an imperial banquet, no?  And you won't believe how good this soup tastes!  

If we had known that we could so easily make Chinese Hot and Sour Soup 酸辣湯 at home that rivals the stuff we get in restaurants we would have been totally making this soup long ago.  But, hey, there's no time like the present so this Hot and Sour Soup's definitely on the rotation dinner list for us!  Which is sooo good...cuz...I really really love me some hot and sour soup!

chinese, Hot and Sour Soup, hot and spicy soup, recipe, Soup, 酸辣湯,
Chinese Hot and Sour Soup 酸辣湯
(makes 1 bowl of soup)  Prep time: 15 mins  Cooking time: 20 mins  



 Slice pork to 1/4" thick strips.  Marinate in small bowl with 2 tsp light soy sauce, 1 tsp sugar, and 1 tsp corn starch.  Defrost shrimp if using frozen shrimp.

Soak mushrooms in hot water for half an hour or until soft enough to slice.  Squeeze mushrooms and slice to matchsticks, reserving the soaking water.  Soak fungus in cool water until rehydrated, slice off any hard nubs, then slice into matchsticks. 

Slice bamboo shoots into matchsticks. (If using pickled bamboo shoots, rinse off the marination sauce first.)  Slice the soft tofu into matchsticks, remembering to slice straight thru without sawing and always lifting the tofu by sliding knife under and then lifting. 

 Heat 1-2 tbsp oil in wok.  Add in pork and stir fry 1 minute.  Add in shrimp, stir fry 30 secs.  Add in mushrooms, fungus and bamboo shoots and stir fry for another minute.  Pour chicken stock, reserved mushroom soaking water and water into wok and heat to a boil.  Turn heat down and let simmer for 15 minutes. Add in light soy sauce, dark soy sauce and bean paste.  Carefully slip in the tofu.  Let simmer another 3 mins.

Give the starch and water mixture a good stir and then pour all at once into soup, stirring gently for a minute until the soup thickens.  

Drizzle beaten egg into wok in a thin stream, drizzling in a zig zag or spiral pattern.  The egg will immediately 'flower' in the soup.  Turn off the heat and add in the black vinegar, white vinegar and white pepper.  Give the soup a stir.  Taste test, adding salt if necessary. Add in sesame oil and a final stir, sprinkle with chopped cilantro and serve hot.  Enjoy your hot and sour!



  1. My oh my! You are making me drool! Added to my cooking list! Thanks a mil!

  2. Is the addition of dry day lilies not typical? Ive seen it in a few recipes..

  3. Hi Gidge - I've seen it with and without, so it's definitely and option! ~ellen