Hot and sour soup is a classic, popular, Chinese soup full of tofu, vegetables, and so much flavor. It’s usually served at the start of a Chinese meal, but it’s also super filling as a main.
Are you a soup person? I LOVE soup. Especially soup with things in it. Forget simple broths, soup with fillings is where it’s at. And this hot and sour soup has ALL the fillings: umami rich mushrooms, soft tofu and silky egg ribbons all in glossy, satisfying bowl. This hot and sour soup will blow your mind.
What is hot and sour soup?
Hot and sour soup is a classic Chinese soup that’s savory, spicy, and just the right amount of tangy. It’s filled with mushrooms, tofu, and silky ribbons of egg. It’s both a take-out favorite and a staple at Beijing or Sichuan restaurants.
What makes it hot and sour?
The hot, aka spice, comes from white pepper and the sour comes from Chinese black vinegar. That’s it! Two simple ingredients that combine into so much more. Add these two ingredients right before you serve so their aroma and flavor is at the forefront. As the person eating the soup, when you stir it you get a burst of delicious smells, prepping you for a flavor bomb. There are a ton of recipes out there that use hot sauce and white vinegar for the hot and sour, but if you want to be authentic, white pepper and Chinese black vinegar is the way to go.
How to make hot and sour soup
- Rehydrate your mushrooms and marinate the pork. Start off by soaking some dried shiitake mushrooms in hot water and marinating slices of pork with a bit of shaoxing wine and salt.
- Simmer the soup. Bring chicken stock, soy sauce, ginger to a simmer and add in the marinated pork, shiitake mushrooms, and cubed tofu.
- Cornstarch slurry. When the soup is at a simmer, it’s time to thicken it with a cornstarch slurry. In a small bowl, whisk cornstarch with a bit of cold water and slowly stream into the simmering soup. Let it come back up to a simmer.
- Eggs. Once the soup is thick and bubbly, whisk in lightly beaten eggs to create silky, delicate egg ribbons.
- Season and serve. Stir in white pepper for the hot and vinegar for the sour. Enjoy!
The 3 key ingredients for hot and sour soup
Chinese black vinegar aka Chinkiang vinegar
Black vinegar, also known as Zhenjiang or Chinkiang vinegar is a rice based vinegar that is fruity, slightly sweet, malty, and just the bit reminiscent of balsamic. It adds acidity and sweetness and is a backbone in Chinese cooking. It’s used in cold appetizers (like this one!), braised proteins, and as a dipping sauce for dumplings. You can use it just as you would regular vinegar and it’ll add just a touch more complexity. It’s sold in the Asian aisle at most grocery stores, in your local Asian grocery store, or online. If you don’t have any, you can sub rice vinegar or regular white vinegar, but it won’t be quite the same.
White pepper is the same berry (yes, pepper is a berry!) as black pepper with it’s hull soaked off. Underneath the hull, the peppercorns are smooth and white. White pepper has a brighter, sharper, more floral herbaceous note than regular black pepper. Even though they come from the same plant, the flavor of white pepper is not at all like black pepper, so if you’re not a fan of how it tastes, you can season your hot and sour soup with a bit of hot chili oil or even just an abundance of freshly cracked black pepper. White pepper is sold in the spice aisle.
Cornstarch is what thickens the soup as well as giving it that glossy, glistening shine. A little bit of cornstarch whisks with cold water to create a slurry to add to the soup. Making a slurry ensures that the cornstarch won’t clump up when added to the hot soup.
Hot and sour soup ingredients
- Pork – The pork in hot and sour soup is mainly a flavoring agent, there isn’t a huge amount of it compared to say, the amount of chicken in chicken noodle soup. The best cut of pork for hot and sour soup is a somewhat fatty cut, preferably shoulder or a well marbled chop, sliced thin, in strips.
- Dried shiitake mushrooms – They’re sold pretty much everywhere these days, in the Asian aisle at the grocery store or online and they’re very easy to use: rinse them off and soak in hot water for about 20-30 minutes and they become soft and pliable.
- Tofu – I used a medium tofu here but you can go ahead and use your favorite kind of tofu. I’ve even seen hot and sour soups with two types of tofu. Really, it’s up to you! Soft tofu does have a tendency to break up a bit though, so if you’re looking for distinct square of tofu, go with medium or firm.
- Eggs – When you swirl lightly beaten eggs into the simmering hot and sour soup and they become delicate, golden silky egg ribbon swirls. Hot and sour soup just isn’t hot and sour soup without egg ribbons.
- Soy sauce, ginger, sugar – These are the main flavoring agents, aside from the white pepper and black vinegar. More on soy sauce below.
Shiitake mushrooms have a huge amount of flavor and umami. They’re one of those things that keep almost indefinitely in the pantry and are perfect for pulling out when you want to give your food a boost umami. But, if you don’t want to go the dried shiitake mushroom route, you can always go with fresh shiitakes, which won’t have as much of a concentrated flavor. Other fresh mushrooms you can consider are: white, crimini, portobello, king, oyster, trumpet, enoki, shimeiji.
The soy sauce adds umami and color, the ginger adds warmth, and the sugar (which is optional) adds just a touch of sweetness to balance out the sour. Please try and get a good naturally brewed soy sauce – it will make such a huge difference in flavor Some brands to consider: Lee Kum Kee, Amoy, and Pearl River Bridge.
If you’re wanting to make your hot and sour soup even more authentic, try adding in these ingredients:
- Wood ear mushrooms – I absolutely LOVE wood ear mushrooms but realize that they can be a little difficult to find. While you can pretty much find dried shiitake mushrooms at your everyday grocery store, wood ear mushrooms are definitely a special trip to the Asian grocery store or online order. They are worth it though! Wood ear mushrooms add a delicious crunch. They’re very mild – some would say tasteless, but their texture is what is prized in Chinese cooking. They’re always sold dry and just need a quick soak in a bit of cold water to hydrate. They come whole or sliced, either work in this soup but if you get the whole ones, be sure to cut them into bite size pieces. Add them (after you’ve soaked them in water for 30 minutes) into the soup when you add the shiitake mushrooms.
- Bamboo shoots – bamboo shoots are pretty common in hot and sour soup, but I find them hit or miss depending on what kind of bamboo shoot quality you can find. If you do use them, julienne and add them along when you add the tofu. They add a pleasant crunch and mild nutty earthy flavor.
- Toasted sesame oil – if you want a lovely nutty finish, a little drizzle of toasted sesame oil will add a lovely toasty aroma.
I hope you give this hot and sour soup a try. It’s funny, but making something at home, from scratch, can give you so much satisfaction, especially if it’s something you’ve been eating out and are familiar with. This soup just might be the soup that convinces you that you can cook authentic take out Chinese food at home!
Hot and Sour Soup
Hot and sour soup is a classic, popular, Chinese soup full of tofu, vegetables, and so much flavor.
- 8 dried shiitake mushrooms rehydrated
- 8 oz pork shoulder or a well marbled pork chop, sliced
- 1 tsp shaoxing wine optional
- 1 tsp cornstarch
- 8 cups chicken stock sodium free preferred
- 2 tbsp soy sauce
- 1/2 inch ginger julienned
- 1/4 tsp sugar optional
- 8 oz tofu
- 1/4 cup cornstarch whisked with equal parts water
- 2 eggs lightly beaten
- 1-2 tbsp black vinegar
- 1/2-1 tsp ground white pepper
- green onions sliced, to serve
Rehydrate the shiitake mushrooms by covering with hot water. Let sit for 20-30 minutes, then drain, cut off the tough tip of the stem and slice.
While the mushrooms are rehydrating, marinate the sliced pork in a small bowl with the shaoxing wine, 1 teaspoon cornstarch, and a pinch of salt. Set aside.
In a large pot, add the chicken stock, soy sauce, ginger, and sugar. Bring to a simmer and add in the pork, shiitake mushrooms, and tofu. Simmer gently for 6-8 minutes.
In a small bowl, whisk together 1/4 cup cornstarch with 1/4 cup cold water until smooth. With the soup at a simmer, slowly stream in the cornstarch slurry while stirring. Let the soup come back up to a gentle simmer, until it thickens slightly.
Keep the soup at a simmer and use a ladle to stir in a circular motion while slowly drizzling in the lighten beaten egg.
Stir in the vinegar and white pepper and enjoy hot with sliced scallions. Serve with extra black vinegar and white pepper so you can adjust to taste while eating.
Hot and Sour Soup
Amount Per Serving
Calories from Fat 75
% Daily Value*
Saturated Fat 2.3g14%
* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2000 calorie diet.