Chinese Hot and Sour Soup

Soup and StewChinese

Craving Hot and Sour Soup just like your favorite Chinese restaurant? This recipe will hit the spot! It's made with Chinese mushrooms, bamboo shoots, tofu, and a beaten egg.

Photography Credit: Elise Bauer

Hot and sour soup is a lot like chili; every family has their own recipe, and each family thinks that theirs is the best.

When I was in the local Chinese market perusing the mushrooms I asked one of the other shoppers, a tiny and ancient woman half my height whose etched wrinkles framed a friendly smile, where the wood ear mushrooms were.

“What are you using them for?”

“Hot and sour soup,” I replied.

“What? You don’t want those. Here,” she grabbed a bag of dried shiitake, “use these.”

“No! You don’t want those for hot and sour soup!” cried another, more stout lady behind me. She said something in Cantonese to the first lady before grabbing a fresh bunch of enoki mushrooms and throwing them in my basket. “This is better.”

Hot and Sour Soup

Soon, nine women were having an all out argument in the middle of the aisle. I was stuck in the middle, caught between volleys of angry insults and defenses of cherished family recipes for hot and sour soup, both in Cantonese and English.

People insulted each other’s families, critiqued the various provinces of China (all were in agreement that the people in the North, apparently, can’t cook good soup), and altered the contents of my shopping basket at whim.

Eventually, a decision was reached that you absolutely have to use black fungus—an apt, but unappetizing name for a delightful ingredient—and lily buds. The other mushroom is up to you. Whatever one you decide on be sure to be ready to defend your choice.

Mushrooms and Lily buds for Chinese Hot and Sour Soup

What Is Hot and Sour Soup?

Hot and Sour Soup is a favorite Chinese menu item, and it has a long history in traditional Chinese cuisine. As you can tell by the story above, there are many “right” ways to make it!

The predominant flavors in the soup are a spicy and sour, with earthy flavors from the mushrooms. The textures are also a contrast between silkiness from the tofu and egg and the crunchy, chewiness of the mushrooms.

What are the Ingredients for Hot and Sour Soup?

The hardest part about making hot and sour soup is really just collecting all the ingredients. Once you have those, you can have a bowl of restaurant-worthy soup on the table in under an hour!

Here are some of the specialty ingredients you’ll need:

  • Dried Chinese black fungus
  • Dried wood ear, black, cloud, straw or shiitake mushrooms (or one bunch fresh enoki mushrooms)
  • Lily buds
  • Can of bamboo shoots
  • Rice vinegar
  • White pepper (do not substitute black pepper)
  • Tofu

You can sometimes find these ingredients at a well-stocked gourmet grocery store, but your best bet is to head to your closest Asian supermarket.

BONUS: The mushrooms and lily buds will keep for quite some time in the pantry. You can have hot and sour soup whenever the craving hits!

Vegetarian Hot and Sour Soup

My version of hot and sour soup is made with chicken broth, but you can easily substitute vegetable broth for a vegetarian version.

Storing and Freezing

This soup is really best eaten as soon as its made and does not freeze well. If you have leftovers, reheat them gently on the stovetop over low heat.

More Classic Chinese Recipes!

Updated February 18, 2020 : We spiffed up this post to make it sparkle. No changes to the original recipe.

Chinese Hot and Sour Soup Recipe

  • Prep time: 25 minutes
  • Cook time: 15 minutes
  • Yield: Serves 4

You can use gluten-free soy sauce in this recipe, and use vegetable stock to make it vegetarian. However, do not substitute black pepper for the white pepper. The mushrooms and lily buds can be found at any Chinese market.

Ingredients

  • 6 dried Chinese black fungus
  • 6 dried wood ear, black, cloud, straw, or shiitake mushrooms, or one bunch of fresh enoki mushrooms
  • 5 dried lily buds
  • 1 (8-ounce) can bamboo shoots
  • 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon white vinegar or rice vinegar
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons of soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch
  • 4 cups chicken broth
  • 1/2 block firm tofu, diced into small cubes
  • 1 large egg, beaten
  • 1 teaspoon of sesame oil
  • 3 scallions, diced
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons finely ground white pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon chili oil (optional)
  • Cilantro (optional)

Method

1 Prepare the dried mushrooms: Pour boiling water over the mushrooms to cover and allow them to soak for 20 minutes, turning the mushrooms over occasionally. It may not seem like a lot but they will grow quite a bit.

After soaking remove any woody ends with a knife. Cut mushrooms into strips. Reserve 1/4 cup of the liquid and mix with the cornstarch. (If using fresh enoki mushrooms set aside as they do not need to soak).

2 Prepare the lily buds: Pour boiling water over the lily buds to cover and allow to sit for 15 minutes. Cut the buds crosswise, then tear them up into a few bunches.

3 Prepare the remaining ingredients: Mix the vinegars and soy sauce together and set aside. Open the can of bamboo shoots, drain well, and cut the shoots lengthwise into strips.

4 Build the soup: Place the chicken broth into a bot and bring to a boil over high heat. Add the tofu, mushrooms, lily buds, bamboo shoots, vinegar mixture, and cornstarch mixture. Mix and bring back to a boil. Once it comes to a boil remove from heat.

5 While stirring the soup slowly pour the egg into the broth in a small steam while stirring the soup allowing the egg to instantly cook and feather into the soup.

6 Add the scallions, white pepper, sesame oil, and chili oil if using. Taste and adjust white pepper, vinegar, and salt to taste. Add cilantro to garnish and for added flavor. Serve immediately.

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Hot and Sour Soup

Garrett McCord

Garrett McCord is a professional writer and recipe developer whose work has appeared in many print and online publications such as Gourmet Live, Saveur, Huffington Post, Smithsonian, and NPR. Past clients also include numerous food companies, wineries, and distilleries. Garrett writes about cocktails on his website, Coupe de Grace.

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16 Comments / Reviews

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Did you make it? Rate it!

  1. Alex

    Wow! Yummy! I made this last night with a few minor alterations. No lily buds so left those out. Then before adding the tofu to the boiling broth, I added 1/2 pound of thin sliced boneless skinless chicken breast and cooked for 2 minutes, then continued the recipe as written. Amazing!

    xxxxxyyyyy

  2. Andrea Charles

    First time I come across a recipe article that also talks about the experience of actually buying the ingredients used for the dish. Thank you dear Garrett for giving us this amazing and special recipe for Chinese hot and sour soup. Ingredients such as black fungus, lily buds and black mushroom adds a completely different aroma and taste to this whole recipe. Tried and loved it is all I would like to add.

  3. Mitch

    Hot and sour soup is my Chinese restaurant favorite. When I finally decided to try making it at home, this is the recipe I made. It’s perfect as is. The reaction from friends when I served it the first time: restaurant quality. Perhaps what I like best about it is that it’s a flexible and adaptable recipe. After making it many times, I’ve slowly adapted it to my personal taste and to what I usually have on hand. I use Chinese black vinegar, Better Than Bouillon for the stock base, more mushrooms than called for, lots more corn starch (I like it thick.), and sambal oelek insteak of the chili oil. Try it!

  4. Amanda

    Wow! I just made this (again) tonight and it is DELICIOUS. Thank you so much for posting such a great recipe. : )

  5. Gordon

    Oh. My. Gosh!!!
    I am still sweating! This was the most delicious soup! I had to add a bit more seasoned rice wine vinegar and red wine vinegar (about 5 or 6 tablespoons each) but once I hit the “sweet” spot that was it. So delicious… Oh, I said that already – well it needs to be said. I WILL make this again, and again, and again…. Thank you Garrett! (and Elise) :)

    xxxxxyyyyy

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Easy homemade Chinese Hot and Sour Soup served in a bowlChinese Hot and Sour Soup