Hot and sour soup can be found on any takeout menu or Chinese buffet line in the US. It ranges in quality and flavor from awesomely delicious to lukewarm, tasteless, and gloopy.
There was a time when I never thought to make it myself and resigned myself to the luck of the draw when it came to ordering it. So imagine my surprise when my dad said he not only knew how to make it, he had a family recipe for it.
This hot and sour soup recipe is the best hot and sour soup I’ve had. And I’m not just saying that! A big part of it is…when you make it at home, you can control heat and sourness levels yourself. I’m crazy for anything with vinegar in it. If you’re like me, you can add some more vinegar to your bowl. If you like it hotter, add more white pepper.
This soup is like…the most authentic take-out hot and sour soup you’ve ever had, and yet…WAY better than all those take-out places combined. See for yourself!
Note: This Recipe was originally published in October 2013. We have updated it with new photos, clearer instructions, more precise measurements, an old family picture(!) and a RECIPE VIDEO (scroll down) though the recipe remains the same, for everyone who already loves it!
What Makes Our Hot & Sour Soup Recipe Authentic
My grandparents owned a takeout restaurant.
It was called Sun Hing. They set up shop in a pretty rough New Jersey neighborhood, where my grandfather would churn out his famed fried chicken wings, shrimp with lobster sauce, and fried rice.
Over the years at The Woks of Life, we have covered how to make many of these Chinese takeout classics. While I find that many takeout restaurants today are heavy on the grease while skimping on flavor, our goal is to really do each dish justice.
My dad and mom brushed up on old skills and recipes from our family’s restaurant days to record recipes on the blog like this hot and sour soup.
Our Stance on Chinese Takeout
I’m Chinese, and I must say, I love American Chinese takeout food. If you’ve ever wondered about our stance on the Peking Kitchens, Hunan Gardens, and Jade Palaces of the world––whether we relegate these operations’ offerings to just late-night fodder or not “real” Chinese food––I can tell you that while we love sharing authentic, traditional Chinese recipes, we also love covering recipes for Hot and Sour Soup, Sesame Chicken, and other dishes you may find yourself craving at inappropriate hours of the day.
Because although some of these dishes may be a little more Daniel Boone than they are Confucius, they have a place in our culinary hearts. And there’s an art to doing these dishes right.
A Note on the Ingredients in This Hot & Sour Soup Recipe
There are a couple funky ingredients in this recipe that aren’t exactly on every grocery store shelf in America, like these dried shiitake mushrooms or dried lily flowers:
But this will give you a good excuse to really get to know your local Asian market and/or discover the wealth of possibilities that lie in online shopping.
If you’re unsure about what a certain ingredient is, simply click the link on that ingredient in the recipe card below. That will take you to our Chinese Ingredients Glossary, which will provide a description of the ingredient, as well as a photo that you can show the staff at your local Asian market to help you find it.
Just make sure that you prepare all the ingredients ahead of time for this soup, because when you start cooking, it comes together really quickly and easily!
Hot & Sour Soup: Recipe Instructions
(Scroll down to the recipe card for full list of ingredients.)
1. Prepare your pork:
Combine the 4 oz. julienned pork shoulder with 1 tablespoon water until the meat has absorbed the water. Add a pinch of salt, 2 teaspoons vegetable oil, and 1 teaspoon cornstarch and mix until combined. Set aside.
2. Prepare your dry ingredients:
Cut the dried chilies in half and discard the seeds. Mince them up and set aside.
In separate bowls, soak the dried lily flowers, wood ears, and shiitake mushrooms in 1 cup of water each for 1-2 hours, until hydrated. Using hot water (like you’re brewing tea) will significantly speed up the process.
Once they’re ready, thinly slice the mushrooms and give the wood ears a rough chop. Trim the tough ends off the lily flowers and cut them in half.
3. Prepare the tofu and the rest of the ingredients:
Cut both the spiced tofu and the firm tofu into 2-inch long and ¼-inch thick pieces. Julienne the bamboo shoots. Beat the egg in a small bowl. Wash and chop the scallion and set aside.
4. Assemble the soup:
Bring the chicken stock to a boil in a wok or pot. If the pork has clumped and stuck together, it is best to add another tablespoon of water to loosen it up before adding it to the soup.
Stir in the pork and quickly break up any clumps that may form. Once the soup is simmering again, skim off any foam that floats to the top with a fine meshed strainer.
Add the salt, sugar, dried chili pepper (if using), white pepper, both soy sauces, and sesame oil.
Next, add the lily flowers, wood ears, shiitake mushrooms and bamboo shoots and bring the soup to a simmer once again.
Next, add the two kinds of tofu and the vinegar and stir. It should start to look and smell like the real thing about now!
Combine the ⅓ cup cornstarch with ¼ cup water to make a slurry. Ensure it’s well-combined, as the cornstarch tends to settle to the bottom of the bowl.
Bring the mixture to a simmer and use your soup ladle to stir the soup in a steady circular motion to make a whirlpool while slowly drizzling in the cornstarch slurry. This prevents the cornstarch from clumping. Stop when you’re about ¾ of the way done with your slurry and keep stirring until the soup comes back up to a simmer.
Check the consistency of the soup, as it should be thick enough to coat your spoon or ladle. Add the rest of the cornstarch slurry if you like it thicker. For more detailed information on the many ways to use cornstarch to get authentic results at home with our recipes, see our post on How to Use Cornstarch in Chinese Cooking.
5. Taste and adjust to the way YOU like it:
Once the soup is the thickness you prefer, use a spoon to check its flavor and adjust things to your own personal preference. Add more white pepper if you like it hot and add more vinegar if like it sour! White pepper gives the soup its signature heat, and the vinegar levels can be adjusted according to how sour you like your hot and sour soup.
Keep the soup simmering (it should be bubbling before you add the egg, or the soup will turn cloudy when the egg is added), and begin stirring in a circular motion with your ladle once again. Once you get the soup moving in a slowly swirling motion, slowly drizzle the beaten egg into the soup. The swirling motion must be fast enough so the egg does not clump, but slow enough so you create egg ribbons, or beautiful swirls of egg “flowers” (which is what the Chinese call it).
Serve your hot and sour soup garnished with chopped scallions!
If you like this Hot and Soup, then try our Easy Egg Drop Soup and our Chicken & Corn Egg Drop Soup! We also have a really great simple Wonton Soup recipe, if you’re looking to complete that trifecta of takeout soup recipes!