This Healthy and Comforting Dish Delivers Big Flavor
You probably know Hot and Sour soup. This stock-based medley of mushrooms, protein (often pork, chicken, or tofu), and tangy flavorings is a staple at Chinese restaurants. With spicy high notes that contrast pleasingly with sour bass notes, Hot and Sour plays a symphony on your tongue.
It’s one of my favorite soups, so I used to order it almost every time we went out for Chinese food. It took me a while to realize that I could prepare it at home. Once I really looked at recipes, though, I finally discovered how easy it is to make Hot and Sour Soup. It does require some special ingredients, but many supermarkets (and all Asian markets) carry them. And because you can make the soup the way you like it, your version is bound to be more pleasing than any restaurant’s.
So I hope that, like me, you’ll find this recipe a win-win: You’ll add a great soup to your cooking repertoire. And next time you visit a Chinese restaurant, you’ll feel free to explore some of those other soups on the menu. You know, the one’s you’ve always ignored because you just had to have Hot and Sour!
Recipe: Hot and Sour Soup
The cuisines of most East and Southeast Asian countries feature some form of Hot and Sour Soup. It’s particularly popular in Vietnam, Cambodia, and Thailand, although the composition of the soup varies from country to country.
The version we’re making originated in China. It gets its heat (spiciness) from freshly ground pepper. Tradition calls for white pepper, but you can substitute black. The “sour” part comes from vinegar, specifically black (Chinkiang) vinegar. If you don’t have this on hand, you can substitute wine vinegar or rice wine vinegar. Most Chinese restaurants in the US thicken their soup with cornstarch. I actually prefer it without the cornstarch, but I include it as an option in the recipe. Most US versions also include some beaten eggs poured into the soup and cooked just before serving. That’s not in my version, but I include information about how to do this in the Notes if it’s something you want to do.
I looked at dozens of recipes while working to formulate my own, and probably borrowed ideas from all of them. But the two most influential sources were Fuchia Dunlop’s Land of Plenty and James Peterson’s Splendid Soups.
Cooking time for this soup is only a few minutes. But you do need to prep some ingredients, including soaking and rehydrating dried mushrooms. So figure at least 45 minutes from start-to-finish when you prepare this dish.
This recipe yields 3 to 4 main-course servings, and about 8 smaller first-course servings. Leftovers will keep refrigerated in an airtight container for a few days.
- 6 to 8 medium dried black Chinese mushrooms
- ¼ cup dried tree ears (also called wood ears; about ½ ounce)
- ~20 lily stems (also called golden needles or tiger lily buds; very optional)
- 4 or 5 ounces leftover roast pork (may substitute uncooked; see Notes)
- 1 container firm tofu
- 1 8-ounce can bamboo shoots
- 5 cups chicken stock, preferably homemade
- 1 tablespoon Shaoxing rice wine or dry sherry
- 1 teaspoon light soy sauce (see Notes; most supermarket soy sauces are of the light variety)
- 1 teaspoon dark soy sauce (see Notes; if you don’t have dark, substitute light soy sauce — in which case you’ll be using 2 teaspoons light soy sauce, total)
- 3 tablespoons minced cilantro (optional, but tasty; you can also use some whole leaves as garnish)
- salt to taste
- freshly ground white pepper to taste (usually about a tablespoon; may substitute black pepper)
- ~2 tablespoons green ends of scallions, minced
- 4 tablespoons cornstarch (optional; I rarely use this)
- 6 tablespoons cold water (for mixing the cornstarch)
- ~6 tablespoons Chinese black vinegar (may substitute wine vinegar or rice wine vinegar)
- 1 to 2 teaspoons sesame oil, preferably toasted
- Place the dried black mushrooms, the tree ears, and the lily stems in separate bowls, and cover with boiling (or very hot) water. Let soak for 20 to 30 minutes until soft and reconstituted. Once they’re softened, you’ll drain and rinse briefly (to remove any lingering grit). Chop the mushrooms into thin strips, or into pieces about the size of a quarter. For the lily stems, cut off the hard stem end, and either cut or shred lengthwise; or tie the stem into a knot (this is shown in all of the photos, but the knot is particularly visible in the third photo – the one below this section and before the Notes).
- While the mushrooms and lily stems are soaking, cut the pork into thin strips of about an inch long and ¼ inch wide. Set aside.
- Open the tofu and cut into strips. If you wish, you can steep in gently simmering salted water for a few minutes to refresh the tofu (I usually don’t do it for this dish since putting it in the soup does more or less the same thing).
- Open the can of bamboo shoots, drain, and cut them into thin strips. Simmer in water for a couple of minutes to refresh.
- About 5 minutes before your mushrooms finish soaking, put the chicken stock in a 4-quart pot and bring to a simmer.
- Once the stock is simmering, add the mushrooms that you’ve soaked and cut up, along with the lily stems that you’ve soaked and cut up (or tied into knots), and the pork and tofu.
- Add the rice wine, soy sauce, and minced cilantro. Add salt to taste and ground white pepper to taste (you want a very spicy broth).
- Simmer for 3 minutes or so (this time is a bit flexible, but no more than 5, otherwise the flavors begin to lose their brightness). Meanwhile, mince the green scallion ends.
- If using cornstarch to thicken the soup, blend the cornstarch with cold water to form a smooth paste.
- Remove soup from heat and stir in the cornstarch (if using) and the vinegar to taste (as sour as you like).
- In each serving bowl, put a quarter teaspoon or so of sesame oil and a sprinkling of the green scallion tips. Ladle soup into serving bowls. Garnish with extra green scallion tips or cilantro leaves if desired.
- Although lily stems are traditional in Hot and Sour Soup, don’t worry if you can’t find them (or choose not to use them). They do add a bit of flavor, but just a tiny bit, so you probably won’t miss them.
- If you elect to use raw pork rather than leftover roast pork, cut it into pieces about an inch long and ¼ inch thick. Marinate in a mix of soy sauce and Shaoxing rice wine (or dry sherry) for 20 minutes or so. Then sauté with a tablespoon or so of oil for a few minutes until cooked, and add to the soup in Step 6.
- If you want to include egg in your soup, crack 1 or 2 eggs into a small bowl and beat. Pour them into the soup in a thin stream towards the end of Step 8 — you want the egg to heat for a minute or two, until fully cooked. If you’re worried that the egg won’t cook completely (and thus may pose a salmonella risk), consider using pasteurized eggs.
- BTW, if you want to make a vegan version of this soup, it’s quite easy. Just skip any animal protein and use tofu. Substitute vegetable stock for chicken. That’s it.
- Speaking of stock, when you’re making a version that you intend to use for Asian dishes, don’t include onion, carrot, celery, or green herbs in your stock pot. Instead, include a piece of ginger about an inch long, and 3 or 4 crushed garlic cloves. I sometimes add a few scallions, too.
- Shaoxing wine is the most famous variety of Chinese rice wine. Its flavor is very similar to dry sherry (which makes an excellent and readily available substitute). Most Chinese groceries stock Shaoxing. But because it is an alcoholic beverage, local laws may place restrictions on its sale. The alcohol content is fairly low, so once opened this wine will last longer if stored in the refrigerator (the same goes for dry sherry).
- Soy sauce comes in “light” and “dark” varieties. Light soy sauce is thinner than dark and much saltier. If the bottle doesn’t specify which kind it is (in American supermarkets, most bottles don’t), assume that it’s light. Dark soy sauce is darker colored than light and is sweeter, less salty, and has a heavier consistency. Pearl River Bridge is one widely available brand of Chinese soy sauce of good quality, and comes in both light and dark varieties. If you can’t find dark (or don’t want to buy it just for this recipe), you can substitute light soy sauce.
- The “lite” soy sauces you see on supermarket shelves just have reduced sodium; they are not the same as either dark or light Chinese (or Japanese) soy sauces.
- Black and white peppercorns come from the same plant. Black peppercorns are picked while still green, then dried in the sun until they turn black. White peppercorns are allowed to ripen fully on the plant. Black peppercorns are somewhat hotter than white ones.
- Black (Chiankiang) vinegar can be found in any Chinese grocery. The flavor of wine vinegar isn’t quite the same, but in this dish it makes a good substitute.
Our Favorite Chinese Meal
Mrs. Kitchen Riffs was making gentle slurping noises as she sipped her Hot and Sour soup. OK, I can’t lie — I was doing the same thing.
“Gosh this is good!” she exclaimed when she came up for air. “We always order it when we eat at Chinese restaurants. We’ll save a bundle making our own at home.”
“And the flavor is so much better,” I agreed. “It’s a perfect starter for a Chinese meal. And it works well at the beginning of many western meals, too.”
“Speaking of which,” Mrs K R inquired, “what’s the rest of our menu for today?”
“What we always have in a Chinese restaurant — Singapore Noodles! What could be better?”
“One of my favorites!” she said, approvingly. “Only thing we’re missing are some pot stickers.”
“That’s a recipe we still owe our readers,” I replied. “But it’ll be a while before we get to it.”
“That’s OK,” Mrs K R responded wistfully. “They’d be great with this meal, but I guess I’ll just have another helping of this wonderful soup instead. And a big serving of Singapore Noodles. I’ll manage!”
I have to admit that Mrs K R handles adversity well.
You may also be interested in reading about:
Vegan Mapo Tofu
Quick Vegetable and Pork Stir-Fry
Red-Braised Beans and Sweet Potatoes
Pasta e Fagioli
White Bean and Potato Soup
Black-Eyed Pea and Collard Green Soup
Bean and Cabbage Soup
Tuscan Bean Soup
Easy Lentil Soup
Split Pea Soup with Greens
Split Pea Soup with Bacon
Curried Cauliflower Soup
Soupe au Pistou
Sweet Potato Soup with Chilies and Corn
Fennel Soup with Shrimp and Beans
Wonderful recipe, wonderful info -- a home run or a Super Bowl, Kitchen Riffs
Hi FJK, good to see you! And I agree this recipe makes a Super Bowl of soup. ;-) Thanks for the comment.
Love this John - one of my absolute favorite soups! I love to add lily buds as well but didn't include them in my version b/c I just thought they might be too hard to find. You guys are eating so well!
I love hot and sour soup. The vinegar and the pepper are just the best! I love making it in winter because it warms you right up! And I just made pot stickers the other day. To bad we don't live closer. I could have made Mrs. KR's day!
Love seeing the endless variations of hot and sour soup that exist. Interesting, no fresh ginger, and I only use beaten egg whites at the end, not the whole egg. We made mee goreng (with chicken instead of tofu) last night from the Plenty cookbook that I got for Christmas. If you don't have, check it out at the library and see what you think. Appears to be a winner, full of great veg-based dishes.
Looks great. I would also not use the cornflour. I like Asian soups to be runny just like yours. Interesting about the different way to make Asian stock.
Hi Alyssa, you definitely need to find an Asian grocery store to buy lily buds, at least in my experience. They look kinda cute when tied into that little knot, don't they? Thanks for the comment.
Hi Abbe, you really would have made her day! And this is such a great cold weather dish - which of course is why we're making it now! ;-) Thanks for the comment.
Hi John! I love a good hot and sour soup. Sadly I have yet to find a decent one in my city. Thanks so much for sharing this and giving me a push to make it myself. Looks delish!
Hi Denise, I often use ginger when I'm making the dish in a wok, and stir-frying some of the ingredients. That way the ginger flavors the oil, which in turn flavors the soup. But ginger doesn't add much using this method, at least in my experience. Although if you add ginger when making stock, then you do taste its flavor. I definitely need to check out Plenty. Thanks for the comment.
Hi Suzanne, I'm with you - I can't think of an Asian soup that's better without the cornstarch. And I really like making an Asian stock with the ginger and garlic - the flavor is subtle, but really nice. Thanks for the comment.
Hi Nancy, the nice thing about this soup is once you find the ingredients, it's easy to make (all that soaking does take a bit of time, however). You'll love making your own, and once you start you'll probably do it all the time. ;-) Thanks for the comment.
I've been fighting the flu for over a week now, and if I had the energy I would so make this for myself! In the meantime, I'll feast my eyes on your version :) very soothing, I can almost smell/taste it...
I'm so glad you made the cornstarch optional. So many Chinese restaurants go crazy with the cornstarch, forgetting that a little goes a long way. ;)
Love the soup, make it occasionally and yours looks oh so moreish :) ! Can't get lily buds here in the country, and I know I have mostly used rice vinegar. Personally I do like that touch of cornflour also to give some shine and 'glue' the other ingredients together just a tad . . . as you said, there are a lot of ways :) !
I LOVE this soup. I ALWAYS order it. I NEVER make it. Thank-you so much for this - I thought it much more complicated. And I could do without the cornstarch.
I always get hot and sour soup, and extra spicy too! It's so delicious and pairs nicely with some really good Chinese food, ok now i am hungry!!
Hi John, well, you have mastered yet another perfect and simple meal. I love the amount of research you put into each post. And in Asia you have to slurp to show appreciation, so Mrs KR did quite well. :)
Your Hot & Sour soup looks far better than most I've been served here. That deep-colored broth means great flavors to me and I'd be making slurpy noises, too. I don't make many Asian dishes, always found the prep work daunting. But, you know what? A good hot & sour soup is worth every bit of effort required. I need to make a pantry check and write up a grocery list. I'd love to be able to create a soup like yours, John. Thanks for sharing the recipe with us.
Hi Ala, sorry to hear the flu has been lingering so long! Although it tends to do that, alas. This would be perfect for the flu - good chicken stock, you know. Hope you're feeling better soon, and thanks for commenting from your sickbed!
Hi Carolyn, a little really does go a long way when it comes to cornstarch. Sometimes I'm in the mood for it and use it, but usually not. Thanks for the comment.
Hi Eha, I do like the shine that cornstarch gives a sauce or soup. And in fact I sometimes use it to thicken sauces or gravies just because I like that aspect of it! Thanks for the comment.
Hi Claudia, this really is so easy to make. And as you know, the flavor is unbelievable! Thanks for the comment.
Hi Natalie, extra spicy is the way I usually order it! Good, isn't it? Thanks for the comment.
Hi Marina, Mrs KR (and I!) definitely would do well in Asia when it comes to showing appreciation. ;-) Thanks for your kind words, and comment.
Hi John, part of that nice dark color is from the black vinegar. But it has a wonderful flavor, and if you decide to make this, it's worth searching out (it's inexpensive - only a few dollars for a good-sized bottle). This is a simple soup to make but it does take some time to soak ingredients and so forth. But worth the effort, IMO. Thanks for your comment.
Great soup recipe! And I am looking forward to those pot stickers... :)
Hi Kristi, alas, the pot stickers will probably be awhile. They'll be worth the wait, though! ;-) Thanks for your comment.
I love hot and sour soup and that is the soup that I always order from my favorite Chinese restaurant. But yours compared to any Hot and Sour soup I've had is chunkier and that's what makes it special. You can really see that it is homemade. Thank you, John. It's a good post.
Hi Ray, there's a lot of stuff in this soup! So it is kinda chunky, isn't it? But it is good! Thanks for your comment.
This sounds divine! I make a similar but also simpler version when I'm feeling lazy and can't be bothered to cook. One of my favourite dinners.
Hi Clare, isn't this a great dish? It's really a complete meal, and a tasty one. Thanks for your comment.
We're finally getting the cold weather to accompany the soup recipes many of us are posting this month. Your hot and sour soup looks great. Looking forward to those pot stickers!
Hi Beth, it's certainly chilly enough for soup here! I've got a bunch of other stuff I want to get to before I get around to the pot stickers (so we're probably talking much later this year), but in the meantime this soup should hold you! ;-) Thanks for the comment.
I'd be happy with your meal, too! Off to check out the noodle recipe.
Hi Lizzie, it's good stuff! Thanks for the comment.
I love the hot and sour soup, especially with a huge dose of black vinegar, yours look really good and delicious!
Hi Jasline, I really like an extra sour (and spicy!) version of this soup, too. So good when made that way. Thanks for the comment.
Your soup sounds wonderful. I love Chinese food, but I actually have never tried hot and sour soup, I am going to have to change that.
Hi Dawn, you should definitely give this soup a try sometime! It totally rocks. I'd try it in a restaurant first, so you'll know whether you actually like it (and will have a frame of reference for when you make your own). Thanks for the comment.
A fabulously healthy soup! It must be very tasty and ever so comforting. Perfect when it's freezing cold outside. Chinese food rules.
Hi Rosa, isn't Chinese food good? And spicy is always welcome when the weather turns cold! Thanks for the comment.
I love hot and sour soup - so comforting and I like the "bite" from the vinegar. I usually have black vinegar on hand, but if I do tend to run out I sub in balsamic, it's got the same kind of slightly sweet and rich profile.
Hi Food Jaunts, the balsamic vinegar is a good idea. I've heard of other people using that, but have never tried it myself - I should someday. Thanks for the comment.
This is real comfort food for cold days and looks delicious!
Find your note about preparation and ingredients of Chinese food very interesting.
I'll try (and enjoy )this soup when the weather here gets a bit cooler, right now it's too hot.
Hi Daniela, you did just move to a hot part of the world, so this isn't the time for this soup! Hope you're adjusting to your new life. Thanks for the comment.
We do get this sometime but at the restaurants, the broth is too salty for me. I will put on the list to try...but lily stems...really??? :)) Well as soon as I get 70% of ingredients, I will try :)
Hi Ilke, I think my reaction to lily stems was similar to yours the first time I learned these were an ingredient in this soup! ;-) That's the challenge with a lot of Chinese cooking - finding the ingredients. Most Asian markets do carry these, but you won't be using them that much, so I'd definitely skip them the first time you make this. Then if you find yourself making this soup a lot, get some and try them - they do add a bit of flavor, but it's more in the background. Good thing about making your own is your can control the amount of salt. Thanks for your comment.
Oh my gosh John! This soup is a symphony for my soul! That broth looks so rich and full of flavor....beautiful color! I am with Mrs. KR...I really can't wait for those pot stickers! I certainly hope it's on your bucket list for this year! Wishing you both a wonderful weekend! : )
The taste of sweet and sour is one of my favorites when it comes to Asian cuisine. I agree soups are the perfect starter for any menu, even better with the weather we have currently. Your creativity in your cooking is very inspiring. Wonderful post.
Hi Anne, I'm hoping to make the pot stickers later this year, although at the moment it's looking like it might be the fall (unless I rearrange my spring schedule, which is quite possible). And isn't this soup great? Thanks for the comment.
Hi Frank, I couldn't do without hot and sour soup - it's one of my favorites! Thanks for your kind words, and comment.
It has been awhile since I have eaten this soup. Yours looks delicious.
I couldn't get over all the ingredients. You and Mrs. Riff have been busy shopping and cooking! This dish is a work of art :)
Hi Judy, probably the hardest part of cooking Chinese is acquiring the ingredients and all the prep work! The actual assembly of dishes is often quite easy. This is indeed a great soup. Thanks for the kind words, and the comment.
I didn't start enjoying hot and sour soup until about 10 years ago. I realized at that time how I was missing out on such a delicious soup! Your recipe looks hearty and delicious, my hubby would love this recipe:-) Hugs, Terra
Hi Terra, isn't this a fun soup? Tons of flavor, and it leaves a tingle on your tongue because of the vinegar. You should make this for hubby. ;-) Thanks for your comment.
This is one of my favorite soups! I like that you leave out the corn starch to thicken it. I always find that those served at the restaurants are way too thick. :) I love your version better.
I love this soup. It would never have occurred to me to try and make it myself. Your version looks fantastic. I can't say I've every seen black vinegar. I'll have to hunt some down. Enjoy your Sunday!
Hi Amy, isn't it good? The corn starch doesn't add much, IMO - I really do prefer this soup to be on the thin side. Thanks for the comment.
Hi Kristi, you almost definitely need to go to an Asian grocer to find black vinegar - most supermarkets won't stock it. But it's worth getting and only a few dollars. And it adds fantastic flavor to this soup. Thanks for your comment.
Did I miss this or am I this far behind? Just glad I saw it because I do love a steaming bowl of hot and sour soup! I always order it. I've never made it at home and had no idea where to start. Some very robust ingredients with the dried mushrooms and black vinegar. Talk about rich flavor! Thanks for sharing!
Hi MJ, this is a great soup, and one I used to never make at home - it seemed so complicated. It's really not, although assembling the ingredients takes a bit of effort (not much, though - just visit an Asian grocery!). Thanks for the comment.
I love your wide ranges of recipes that you share on your blog! It's always fun to wait what recipe comes next. :) I love hot and sour soup and I sometimes insist to go to this Chinese restaurant because they serve complimentary hot and sour soup. Isn't it amazing? Maybe it's near Stanford and they have lots of students who love going tehre to eat. :) I should make it at home next time!
Hi Nami, we do like to cook lots of different things, that's for sure! Mainly because we like to eat lots of things. ;-) And Hot and Sour soup is one of the world's best dishes, IMO. Thanks for the comment.
This has been one of my favourite soups since being introduced to it at the late lamented Ginsberg and Wong's years ago in Toronto. I do prefer the cornstarch because it just doesn't seem to have the right mouth fell without it. However that is the benefit of making it yourself, you get it the way you like it. I generally use red wine vinegar in this. I have tried black vinegar but since it is not a great vinegar on its own I have never found anything else I wanted to use it in and it just sat around taking up shelf space.
Hi Food Junkie, you're certainly right that uses for black vinegar are limited! At least as far as I know. I may ditch it in favor of red wine vinegar when my bottle runs out. And I sometimes am in the mood for making this soup with corn starch, particularly when I decide to use egg in the soup (for some reason the two go together, at least to me). But good point about the mouth feel. Thanks for the comment.
Hot and sour soup is the way I start every meal at a Chinese restaurant. Nice recipe!
Hi Karen, it's such a good dish! And I always test a Chinese restaurant that's new to me by trying their hot and sour soup - it gives one a good sense for how they're going to handle spicing and flavoring in their entire menu. Thanks for the comment.
I absolutely love love hot and sour soup! It's interesting that I grew up eating a different kind of hot and sour soup in Sichuan but i fell in love with this kind after I moved to the States. Hot and sour soup is probably one of few reasons I visit Chinese restaurants. Your recipe looks right on the money! Thanks for sharing.
Hi Yi, there are so many different kinds of hot and sour soup! And every one that I've had has been good. This is my go-to recipe, although sometimes I change things quite a bit when making this soup. Thanks for the comment.
I never had this soup but it sounds interesting. I have to venture out to Chinese / Asian markets now to get the ingredients. Great blog you have here.
Oh hell I wished I had that vinegar here or at least rice vinegar, the soup just sounds about right for dinner. unfortunately I have only Coconut vinegar in the house otherwise I d make it right now.
Hi Mom S, it's a great soup! Although sometimes you do have to make a special trip to get the ingredients. Thanks for the kind words, and the comment.
Hi Helene, I've never had coconut vinegar, so I don't know whether you could substitute that or not. But IMO it's worth seeking out a suitable vinegar so you can make this - it's really good! Thanks for the comment.
Great recipe. I love these sorts of soups as well. We have a similar sour soup in the Philippines using tamarind which is addictively good!
Hi Christine, the idea of tamarind is really interesting. Sounds like a great idea, and I'll have to look into that. Thanks for the comment.
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