More no-have than have


I used to live in SE Asia, and one of the things I really miss, apart from the glorious, glorious food (don’t even get me started on that!!) is the very endearing English that is spoken in those parts. All  of us (`native’ and `non-native’ speakers alike) mutilate the language in different ways, and the English language pretty much`rules’ the world because it gently and cheerfully expands to accommodate local idioms and expressions.

So, back to the point then – One of my favorites phrases was`massimum’ (instead of `minimum’!) eg. `We will take massimum 15 days to deliver the furniture” which meant you had to start waiting only after 15 days…I learned the hard way. Another favourite phrase was `no have’ which is self-explanatory – something that was not available in the shop. My memories of this phrase are ego-crushing. Typically it was used when I went clothes shopping ” Madame  is size XXXL – no have”. Me? XXXL? Scary!! Tells you something about the beautifully petite women of that region.

But this is a food blog right? Oh – ok. So here is my `No-Have’ Vietnamese soup. The correct name is Canh Chua, which translates as `sour soup’. The name is simplistic – the soup is a full-on medley of flavors – sour, sweet, hot and salt. It can be made with fish, prawns or both. Even vegetarian, if you like (certainly some loss of flavor, but well that’s just my opinion).

With this recipe, I digress from my usual obsession with careful measurements of time and ingredients (a source of much merriment to my Indian friends where `andaza’ – estimation of ingredients is considered to be the hallmark of effortless and good cooking). It’s a `taste-as-you-go’ soup, simply because everyone has different preferences of how sweet-sour-hot they like things.

Why do I call it No-Have? Well because many of the key ingredients are no-have, here where I live. Either they are impossible to get (like Bac Ha/Elephant Ears) or not very easy to get (like okra). So I make do with what I have (thank you Ms. Ha, my wonderful Vietnamese cook. I miss you!)  and enjoy the flavors of that exotic country I used to call home.


* Water – 2 litres

* Fresh ginger (powder will just not do) – 2 inches (sliced thin)

* Tinned pineapple – 1 (quartered, retain the juice)

* Tomatoes –  2 (quartered)

* Bac Ha/Elephant Ears – no have. So I use celery – 1-3 stems (Sliced diagonally, thick)

* Coriander leaves – no have. So I use celery leaves, chopped

* Okra – no have

* Bean sprouts – no have

* Fish sauce – atleast 2 tbsps

* Tamarind paste – atleast 1 tbsp (available at Asian or Indian stores). If using dried tamarind, soak a mandarin-sized ball in hot water (enough to cover it) for 30 mins, mash and strain, and use the strained pulp

* Palm sugar/jaggery – no have. I use brown sugar – to taste

* Salt

* Soy sauce – atleast 2 tsps

* Prawns/fish (white, boneless)  or both – as much as you like

* Fresh chilly – 1 (optional. Slit to release flavor)

– Boil the water with ginger for 20 mins in a covered pan

– Add tamarind paste, fish sauce,soy sauce, pineapple juice  and celery (okra if using) and boil some more. Simmer for 20 mins, tasting and adjusting the flavors as you go along. Use salt and sugar only if needed. Add more boiling water if the flavors have gone wrong!

– When you are happy with the balance, add tomatoes, pineapple, chilly , bean sprouts (if using) and fish/prawns and cook another 5 minutes

– Scatter the celery leaves over the soup just before serving

Serve it as a soup, or as I usually do in my home – with boiled rice, in a large bowl. It makes for a completely satisfying, delicious, easy and nutritionally adequate meal. The fun part of this soup is that you can eat loads of it, until you are literally bursting – but you know what? It’s really light on your stomach and system, so in a hour or two, you’re ready for more! Make a big pot full of it, and watch people reach for seconds..and thirds…


10 responses »

  1. Hi Shruti, made your prinsessenbonen yesterday, liked it a lot! Fyi coriander leaves are sometimes at Esselunga or even ‘less’ sometimes at Unes. Especially around Christmas. In summer I use seeds to grow my own plants… or buy a plant in France or the Netherlands. But that is like a no have… 🙂
    I will try this one too! Thanks

  2. I am so glad it turned out well. I love it when my readers come back with reviews! Yeah – I know coriander is a bit iffy here. And it is really hard to grow because it is a `one crop’ plant. Keep visiting!

  3. Magnifico! Shruti…I love your blog! It gave me a real sense of the little experiences that can define one’s time in a country. I like how you play with your language! And the recipe looks just delicious. Will be trying it out as soon as possible and will keep you posted on the results!

  4. Okra you will find at the mercato near Porta ticinese (many southern american stuff as well!).
    Is there any spice you would like from Vietnam? My brother leaves next week and I will meet him in The Netherlands, so let me know if you want anything!

    • Thanks for the info Sabine, and thanks for your kind offer as well. Alas the tragedy (and beauty) of Viet food is that a lot of the flavor is derived from fresh ingredients and herbs, impossible to transport. : (

  5. Shruti – I can’t thank you enough for putting this down here – for all those reading this blog – this soup was my all time favourite at Shruti’s and Ms. Ha did a great job of it as must Shruti now 🙂 Yes, you guessed it right Shruti and I lived in Vietnam (O don’t even get me started on our food times together!) same time and we have ‘same-same’ taste for viet food 🙂 enjoy while I will take down these ingredients for my records !! D

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