Hot and Sour Soup

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This easy hot and sour soup recipe is a quick and hearty appetizer ready in just 30 minutes! The spicy and tangy broth is thickened with cornstarch and eggs for a luscious texture. Each spoonful is packed with shiitake mushrooms, tofu, bamboo shoots, and chicken.

hot and sour soup with chicken and tofu in a white bowl
Table of Contents
  1. What is hot and sour soup?
  2. Use chicken thighs
  3. Mushroom selection
  4. Use black vinegar
  5. White pepper adds spiciness
  6. Thickening the soup
  7. Make the soup vegetarian
  8. Hot and Sour Soup Recipe

Hot and sour soup is a classic Chinese restaurant-style appetizer, and you can easily make this at home. The authentic flavors deliver just the right proportion of spice and tanginess. It’s refreshing to the taste buds when done right. You’ll be surprised that the soup isn’t spicy from chilis, but rather the white pepper gives it the characteristic invited burn.

The key is to balance the savory, spicy, and vinegar notes. I use chicken thighs and shiitake mushrooms to enhance the chicken stock base. Using simple thickening agents like cornstarch and eggs instantly provides body to the soup. Put down that take-out menu and fire up the stove!

ingredients for hot and sour soup pre-portioned in bowls

What is hot and sour soup?

This soup is a popular appetizer found at Chinese restaurants adored for its pungency and spiciness. White pepper and black vinegar add the characteristic taste. The base contains garlic, ginger, sesame oil, mushrooms, bamboo shoots, tofu, and meat like pork or chicken. An egg is added to give a similar texture as egg drop soup. I like to garnish the soup with sliced green onions and cilantro leaves for a pop of color and freshness. 

Use chicken thighs

Traditional recipes use pork to flavor the stock, but my version uses chicken thighs because it’s more flavorful due to the dark meat and fat. I also find that it doesn’t dry out as quickly when simmered. If you would like pork, use thinly sliced tenderloin, chops, or ground meat.

pouring chicken stock into a pot with pieces of chicken

Mushroom selection

Mushrooms add a deep umami flavor that quickly infuses into the soup. I use thinly sliced fresh shiitake mushrooms. However, dried can be rehydrated in warm water and added to the chicken stock. Dried shiitake mushrooms are incredibly concentrated in flavor and will add a strong savory taste. Wood ear mushrooms are also traditionally used. They have a chewy and almost seaweed-like texture. 

Use black vinegar

Chinese black vinegar creates a unique fermented and intense flavor. Depending on the brand, it may contain onions, sugar, tomato paste, carrot juice, and spices. It’s similar to Worcestershire sauce but with a more robust vinegar taste. You can find it at most Asian grocery stores.

yellow egg mixture being poured into a pot

White pepper adds spiciness

White pepper is the one ingredient you shouldn’t substitute with something else. It has a unique sharp peppery bite and slightly smoky taste. It’s added at the end of cooking because the taste can become bitter if overheated. I like to serve spicy chili oil on the side so that everyone can customize the heat level.

Thickening the soup

A cornstarch slurry is added at the end of cooking to thicken the soup. I use a ratio of 2-parts water to 1-part cornstarch. This ensures that the starches are appropriately dispersed in the water to prevent the starches from clumping together when it hits the hot chicken stock.

spoon serving hot and sour soup out of a large pot

Make the soup vegetarian

You can swap out a few things. Omit the chicken and add more different types of mushrooms like wood ear or oyster for the savory flavor. Or you can add in 12 ounces of firm tofu, which won’t break down as it simmers. Use vegetable stock or broth instead of chicken stock. Disregard the eggs for a vegan version of the soup. 

Can you substitute Chinese black vinegar?

Black vinegar gives the richest flavor and most balanced tanginess to the soup, but other types of vinegar can be used. I recommend distilled white vinegar or red wine vinegar. Start with 1 teaspoon so that you can gauge how strong the taste is, then gradually add more. Soy sauce can help balance the intense flavor with savory notes if needed. Worcestershire is another option, simply add in 1 teaspoon at a time and adjust to taste.

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Hot and Sour Soup

Chinese hot and sour soup packed with shiitake mushrooms, tofu, bamboo shoots, and chicken for a hearty appetizer ready under 30 minutes!
Pin Print Review
4.28 from 11 votes
Prep Time10 mins
Cook Time15 mins
Total Time25 mins
Servings 4 servings
Course Soup
Cuisine Chinese

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 1 teaspoon minced garlic
  • 1 teaspoon minced ginger
  • 4 ounces boneless skinless chicken thighs, ⅛-inch thick slices
  • 4 cups unsalted chicken stock
  • 2 ounces shiitake mushrooms, ⅛-inch thick slices
  • ¼ cup bamboo shoots, finely chopped
  • 2 tablespoons Chinese black vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon soy sauce
  • 1 teaspoon sesame oil
  • ½ teaspoon honey
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 8 ounces firm tofu, cut into ¼-inch cubes
  • 2 tablespoons cornstarch
  • ¼ cup water
  • 1 large egg, lightly whisked
  • ½ teaspoon ground white pepper
  • 2 tablespoons green onions, thinly sliced
  • 2 tablespoons cilantro
  • hot chili oil, optional

Instructions 

  • In a large pot, heat the vegetable oil. Add the garlic and ginger, saute for 30-seconds.
  • Add the sliced chicken, saute until cooked through, about 2 minutes.
  • Add the chicken stock and bring to a boil over medium-high heat, then reduce to a simmer over medium-low heat. Add the mushrooms, bamboo shoots, vinegar, soy sauce, sesame oil, honey, and salt, stir to combine. Simmer for 5 minutes. Add tofu and cook for 1 minute.
  • In a small bowl, whisk together cornstarch and water. Gradually add to the soup, stirring constantly until the consistency is slightly thickened, 1 to 2 minutes.
  • Turn off the heat and drizzle in the whisked egg. Use a spoon to stir the soup using figure-eight motions, until you see strands of cooked egg appear.
  • Stir in the white pepper. Season with salt, pepper, and vinegar to taste.
  • To serve, portion out the soup and garnish with green onions, cilantro and chili oil if using.

Recipe Video

Equipment

Notes

  • MAKE IT GLUTEN-FREE: Substitute gluten-free tamari or coconut aminos for soy sauce. Use red wine vinegar or distilled vinegar if you are unsure that Chinese black vinegar is gluten-free.
  • Make it VEGETARIAN: Add in more mushrooms or tofu to replace the chicken. Use vegetable stock or broth. Omit the egg for a vegan version.
  • Black Vinegar Substitutes: Use distilled white vinegar or red wine vinegar. Add 1 teaspoon at a time, taste, and gradually add more as desired. Additional soy sauce can be used to balance the taste. Worcestershire sauce can be used, 1 teaspoon at a time to taste.

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Nutrition Facts
Hot and Sour Soup
Amount Per Serving
Calories 205 Calories from Fat 99
% Daily Value*
Fat 11g17%
Saturated Fat 4g20%
Cholesterol 79mg26%
Sodium 787mg33%
Potassium 335mg10%
Carbohydrates 10g3%
Fiber 1g4%
Sugar 1g1%
Protein 17g34%
Vitamin A 105IU2%
Vitamin C 0.6mg1%
Calcium 91mg9%
Iron 1.7mg9%
* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2000 calorie diet.

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Jessica Gavin

I'm a culinary school graduate, cookbook author, and a mom who loves croissants! My passion is creating recipes and sharing the science behind cooking to help you gain confidence in the kitchen.

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13 Comments Leave a comment or review

  1. JJ says

    Jess, I’d like to give this a try, but the Chinese black vinegar is a issue. Google:
    “In America’s Test Kitchen’s recipe for Hot and Sour Soup they call for 5 tablespoons black Chinese vinegar or 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar plus 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar. So a 50/50 mix of both vinegars for more than twice the amount of Chinkiang vinegar.”
    Taking this apart, it sounds like 1 T. balsamic vinegar & 1 T. red wine vinegar = 5 T. Chinese black vinegar.
    If this is correct, how much of this 50-50 mix of vinegars substitute the 2 T. needed for this soup recipe?

  2. Christine says

    It was a perfect cold day to try this recipe and it was so tasty! I didn’t have the black vinegar but used the distilled vinegar and it was still very good. My soup was whiter in color and was wondering if its the black vinegar that gives it a darker color. I’ll have to try it and maybe some chili oil!

    • Jessica Gavin says

      Hi Christine- Yes, the black vinegar gives the soup a more brown color. Next time you could add a little bit of balsamic vinegar if you want it darker or a little more soy sauce.

  3. John kenyon says

    My wife liked this dish. I didn’t have the Chinese Black vinegar, so I was going to use the red wine vinegar. However, what I had on hand was Red cooking wine, would that have worked? I was used apple cider vinegar instead. It worked out well, just had a really bad smell! Hahaha.

    • Jessica Gavin says

      Thanks for your feedback John! No, the red cooking wine is just alcohol so that wouldn’t have provided the aditity. Yes, apple cider vinegar is stronger in odor, maybe rice vinegar if you have it next time? Thanks for making the recipe!

  4. Darlene says

    Hi Jessica. Just want you to know I love this recipe. Substituted distilled white vinegar for Chinese black vinegar. So deliciously warming on a chilly winter evening. It was excellent! Thank you so much!

  5. RuthAnne says

    Hi Jessica, we love this recipe! Waited for our Amazon order to arrive so we had the black vinegar which is a very distinctive seasoning. It’s lovely to be able to make hot and sour soup at home, so thank you for sharing it!

    • Lynn says

      Dear RuthAnne,

      I had always thought I could not duplicate the flavor of our favorite takeout soup and that it would be too difficult to make but thanks to Jessica (and a recipe I have from the Washington Post), as well as the pandemic (one of its few benefits–I have already booked my trip to see our “grands” back east), I made it for the first time late last March. It was SO good!

      First, I think you were wise waiting for the black vinegar–the subs are alright, but the real deal even better! One other tip, the Post article also calls for 1½ teaspoons of Shaoxing wine (Chinese rice wine). You can substitute dry Sherry; it also helps to capture that authentic, truly “hot&sour” quality of the soup.

      Jessica, thanks so much for your recipe, and even more for helping dispel the mystique of those of us who love Hot & Sour soup…

      • Jessica Gavin says

        Hi Lynn- I’m happy that I could help you recreate a dish that you enjoy. Thanks for sharing your substitutions, I’m sure others will find it helpful. Have fun visiting the grandkids!

  6. Rose Kottakis says

    I expected pork in a hot and sour soup recipe. Asking why you used chicken? I will try this recipe and I have black vinegar! YAY! I also remember eating lilly buds and black fungus mushrooms in some take out. Love to hear your thoughts.

  7. caren J barnes says

    Hello we made this Friday night very good. We went back and added more bamboo shoots and even bean sprouts. The next day my husband wanted to have a couple of scoops of rice on top. We fixed egg rolls it was a very satisficing meal.

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