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RECIPE: Vancouver’s Phnom Penh’s hot and sour soup with prawns

Although you might not think of soup on a hot day, the heat and spice actually act to cool the body.
Although you might not think of soup on a hot day, the heat and spice actually act to cool the body.
Image Credit: Claire Sear

Nothing says tropical like pineapple. As we head into summer, this easy to make hot and sour soup from Vancouver’s legendary and much loved Vietnamese and Cambodian restaurant, Phnom Penh is a delight.

Phnom Penh is owned by the Huynh family who were forced to flee Cambodia in 1975 when the communist Khmer Rouge party came to power under the brutal leadership of dictator Pol Pot. They took refuge in neighbouring Vietnam before making their way to Canada. 

Not long after arriving in Vancouver, the Huynh family opened a small noodle shop in downtown Chinatown. In 1985 they were able to move next door into a much bigger space and operate a full-sized restaurant. They named their restaurant after Cambodia’s capital city, Phnom Penh and the rest is a Canadian culinary success story.

While still in their original location and remaining true to their “hole In the wall” humble beginnings, they are recognized as the city’s best Vietnamese/Cambodian restaurant. Lined up nightly with locals and tourists, they are a must eat destination for their seriously addictive chicken wings as well as other renowned dishes including butter beef, black pepper squid and oyster cake. 

For those in Vancouver during the Covid-19 pandemic, Phnom Penh is open for take-out. For everyone else, it is something to look forward to when we can once again travel and dine-out. And if you haven’t eaten at Phnom Penh, please immediately put this on your bucket list.

This easy to make at home recipe is adapted from the best-selling Vancouver Cooks Cookbook; Chef’s Table Society of British Columbia.

Vancouver Cooks Cookbook offers a delicious range of recipes from Vancouver
Vancouver Cooks Cookbook offers a delicious range of recipes from Vancouver's favourite restaurants.
Image Credit: Claire Sear

While canned pineapple can be used in the recipe, I find it is always more exciting to work with a fresh pineapple. Any leftover pineapple is easily grilled on the barbeque with BBQ sauce and a dash of maple syrup.

The essential ingredient, tamarind paste, is made from the fruit grown on a tamarind tree. Originally native to Africa, tamarind is grown across Southeast Asia, South America, Australia and North America. The tree produces bean-like pods filled with seeds surrounded by a sticky and tart pulp. Tamarind has a distinctive sweet and sour flavour and is used in both savoury and sweet dishes. It’s even a key ingredient in Worcestershire sauce. 

Hot and Sour Soup with Prawns (Canh Chua Tom)


2 1/2 cups chicken stock
2 Tbsp tamarind paste
1 tsp salt
2 Tbsp cane sugar (White sugar can be substituted) 
1 Tbsp fish sauce
3 fresh Thai chilies, chopped
10-12 fresh prawns, peeled
2  medium tomatoes chopped into quarters
½ small fresh pineapple or ½ 14 oz can
2 Tbsp vegetable oil
4 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
2-3 Tbsp fresh Thai basil or regular basil chopped


Place chicken stock, tamarind, salt, sugar, fish sauce and chilies in a saucepan on medium-high heat. Bring to a boil and then simmer gently for 10 minutes. Remove from heat and strain through a fine-mesh sieve into a bowl and discard the solids. 

Return the stock to the saucepan and add prawns, tomatoes and pineapple, then cook for 8 minutes, until prawns are opaque and pink in colour.

While the prawns are cooking, heat oil in a small frying pan on medium heat. Saute garlic for about 3 minutes, until golden and brown.

Pour soup into individual bowls and garnish with garlic and basil.

For a heartier meal, serve with bowls of steamed white rice.

Pair with a hot summer day and an icy cold Okanagan craft beer lager, or porter-style ale.

— Claire Sear is a Vancouver based food, drink & lifestyle writer.


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