My introduction to Chinese hot and sour soup was by way of an instant soup mix. Right, the powdered kind that you pour out of its packet, stir in water, boil and presto! Not a good peg in my past attempts to create a from-scratch version of the beloved soup. No, not at all.
But there weren’t too many pegs in the past. Hot and sour soup did not become a standard in the menu of Chinese restaurants in the Philippines until around ten years ago. Back then, it was always nido (bird’s nest) soup with quail eggs or hototay.
Neither could I find a recipe in the Chinese cookbooks that I had. When I finally acquired one with a hot and sour soup recipe, I felt dismayed to read that there was “Chinese black vinegar” among the ingredients and I had no idea where to buy it.
I’ve come a long way since. Chinese black vinegar has been a mainstay in my pantry for years. And I have a better peg than the instant hot and sour soup in a packet.
The best Chinese soup I’ve ever had was at Lugang Cafe. Hands down. The best, ever. It’s even better than Din Tai Fung’s hot and sour soup including the one served at its Taipei restaurant. That’s my peg. The heat comes from a combination of ginger and chilies. The sourness is provided by black vinegar.
Chinese Hot and Sour Soup
- 250 grams pork shoulder (with a generous amount of fat!)
- 6 to 8 large fresh shiitake mushrooms
- 2 wood ear mushrooms
- 3 cloves garlic
- 1 two-inch knob ginger
- 1 to 2 bird's eye chilies
- 1 small carrot
- 150 grams soft tofu
- 2 tablespoons cooking oil
- 8 cups bone broth divided
- 1/4 teaspoon Chinese five-spice powder
- 3 tablespoons soy sauce
- salt (if your bone broth is under-salted)
- 1/2 teaspoon sugar
- 2 tablespoons corn starch (use more for a thicker soup)
- 2 tablespoons Chinese black vinegar
- sliced scallions to garnish (optional)
- Cut the pork into thin slices; cut each slice into slivers about 1/4 inch wide.
- Pull off and discard the stems of the shiitake mushrooms. Thinly slice the caps.
- Cut off and discard the tough sections of the wood ear mushrooms. Thinly slice the wood ears.
- Peel and mince the garlic.
- Peel and grate the ginger.
- Chop the chili.
- Peel and julienne the carrot (note that bamboo shoot is the traditional vegetable for hot and sour soup, but I like carrot better).
- Cut the soft tofu into half-inch cubes.
- Heat the cooking oil in a pot.
- Saute the ginger, garlic and chili with the five-spice powder in the hot oil until lightly browned.
- Add the pork to the pot and cook until lightly browned.
- Add the shiitake to the pork.
- Pour in 7 cups of broth and soy sauce. Stir in the sugar. Bring to the boil. Lower the heat, cover the pot and simmer for 10 minutes.
- Disperse the corn starch in the remaining broth and pour into the pot. Stir until the broth is thick and clear.
- Add the tofu cubes, wood ears and julienned carrot to the soup. Bring to the boil and simmer for 5 minutes
- Turn off the heat and stir in the black vinegar. Taste. Add more salt if necessary (adding more soy sauce will make the soup too dark).
- Garnish the hot and sour soup with scallions and serve at once.
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