Vietnamese Sweet-Sour Shrimp Soup

Authentic Vietnamese ingredients, like tamarind pulp, chili paste, and fish sauce give this sweet-sour shrimp soup rich, bold flavor. 


Makes 4 servings

Recipe from



2 tablespoons tamarind pulp (optional)
1/4 cup thinly sliced shallots
1 tablespoon salad oil
1/2 teaspoon minced garlic
1/2 teaspoon Asian chili paste or hot chili flakes
5 cups fat-skimmed chicken broth
1 pound (30 to 35 per lb.) shrimp, peeled, deveined, and rinsed
1 cup pineapple chunks (3/4 in.)
2 tablespoons Asian fish sauce (nuoc mam or nam pla) or reduced-sodium soy sauce
3 tablespoons sugar
1/4 cup lime juice (6 tablespoons if you don't use tamarind pulp)
2 Roma tomatoes (6 oz. total), rinsed, cored, and cut into 1/2-inch wedges
2 cups (6 oz.) bean sprouts, rinsed and drained
2 tablespoons chopped fresh Thai or anise basil (rau hung que) or regular basil leaves
2 tablespoons chopped rice-paddy herb (ngo om) or fresh cilantro
2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh Thai (hang prik) or serrano chilies


1. In a bowl, combine tamarind pulp and 1/3 cup hot water. Let cool, rub pulp off seeds, and press mixture through a fine strainer into another small bowl; discard seeds.

2. In a 5- to 6-quart pan over medium heat, stir shallots with oil until golden and crisp, 3 to 6 minutes. Lift out with a slotted spoon and drain on towels.

3. Add garlic and chili paste to pan and stir until garlic is fragrant, about 10 seconds. Add broth, cover, and bring to a boil over high heat.

4. Add shrimp, pineapple, fish sauce, sugar, lime juice, and reserved tamarind pulp. Cook, uncovered, just until shrimp turns pink, 2 to 3 minutes.

5. With a slotted spoon, transfer shrimp and pineapple to wide soup bowls. Stir tomatoes, bean sprouts, basil, and rice-paddy herb into hot broth.

6. Ladle soup mixture into bowls and sprinkle with fried shallots. Add chopped chilies to taste.


For a striking presentation, use shrimp with heads; they are sold in Asian fish markets and some seafood markets. Buy 1 1/2 pounds (21 to 30 per lb.) shrimp and devein in the shells: slide a thin metal skewer through each shell, under and perpendicular to vein, then pull skewer up through shell to draw out vein;repeat in several places along shell back. Rinse shrimp and cook in shells. Tamarind pulp is found in Asian and Latino markets. Purple-tinged,Thai or anise basil and the tiny springs of cumin-scented rice paddy herb can be found in vietnamese markets.

Mai Pham, Sacramento, California,

Lemon Grass Restaurant and Cafe,


February 1999
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