Vietnamese Sweet & Sour Tamarind Fish Soup with Elephant Ear Taro (Canh Chua Ca Nau Bac Ha)

Vietnamese Sweet & Sour Tamarind Fish Soup with Elephant Ear Taro (Canh Chua Ca Nau Bac Ha) with Vietnamese caramelized shrimp (Tom Rim)

Vietnamese Sweet & Sour Tamarind Fish Soup with Elephant Ear Taro (Canh Chua Ca Nau Bac Ha) with Vietnamese caramelized shrimp (Tom Rim)

When I was a kid, my family had a garden filled with elephant ear taro. These plants grew huge and very-small-for-my-age 8 year-old me loved to walk through them in a make-believe jungle before being chased out by mom with her slipper.

These big stalks with large elephant-ear-shaped leaves are known as bac ha in southern Vietnam and doc mung in northern Vietnam. They are in the taro family and sometimes referred to as simply elephant ears.

Bac ha is very a finicky plant to grow but in the right conditions, it can grow very tall. The leaf is usually discarded and the stalk is used as a vegetable in many Southeast Asian dishes. In Vietnamese cuisine, we usually have bac ha in our sweet and sour soups (canh chua).

To prepare the stalk, you have to remove the fibrous outside membrane. Simply chip off a piece of membrane at the end of the stalk with a knife and pull it off in strips. Once you have it peeled, slice the spongy interior thinly and add them at the end of cooking, as they cook up very fast.

Below is a classic Vietnamese home cooking dish of sweet and sour fish soup using elephant ear Taro. Enjoy!

Vietnamese Sweet & Sour Tamarind Fish Soup with Elephant Ear Taro (Canh Chua Ca Nau Bac Ha) with Vietnamese caramelized shrimp (Tom Rim)

Vietnamese Sweet & Sour Tamarind Fish Soup with Elephant Ear Taro (Canh Chua Ca Nau Bac Ha) with Vietnamese caramelized shrimp (Tom Rim)

Vietnamese Sweet & Sour Tamarind Fish Soup with Elephant Ear Taro (Canh Chua Ca Nau Bac Ha)

Serves 3-5

Ingredients

    Soup

  • 1 lb fish steaks (salmon, bass, catfish or milk fish preferred; wash with a bit of salt and drain dry)
  • 1 quart water
  • 2-3 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 4 large cloves garlic (peel and mince)
  • 12 grams seedless tamarind pulp
  • 1 tablespoon fish sauce
  • 1 tablespoon chicken or mushroom stock powder
  • 1 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 2-1/2 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • Vegetables

  • 1 lb elephant ear taro stalk (remove fibrous outside membrane and slice thin)
  • 2 to 3 large tomatoes (cut into wedges) or a handful of whole cherry tomatoes
  • A handful of chopped cilantro, Thai Basil or Rice Paddy Herbs (optional for garnish)
  • 2-3 Thai chili peppers (optional; slice thin)

Instructions

  1. At a bottom of a medium-size non-stick pot, add vegetable oil and pan fry garlic until golden brown. Transfer garlic (leave oil) to a small bowl and set aside. To the pot with garlic oil, pan fry fish steaks until fragrant (10 seconds per side). Add 1 quart water to the pot bring it to a boil then reduce to a low simmer and cook for 15-20 minutes.
  2. Place tamarind pulp into a small bowl and ladle in about a cup of hot water from the stock pot. Dissolve tamarind pulp by pushing on it with a small spoon. Sieve the pulp through a fine-mesh strainer. Discard pulp and transfer tamarind liquid into the pot.
  3. Season fisk stock with fish sauce, chicken/mushroom stock powder, sea salt and sugar. The broth should be really bold in flavor at this point. It will mellow out once vegetables are added.
  4. Add in elephant ear taro and tomatoes and immediately turn off heat. Residual heat will cook the vegetables.
  5. When ready to serve, garnish with chopped cilantro, Thai basil or rice paddy herb, and fried garlic. Add sliced chili peppers for spiciness.