Hot and sour soup (Suan La Tang) is a spicy Chinese soup popular across the country, especially in cold winter. It is a savory soup made with ingredients such as bamboo shoots, mushrooms, tofu, and egg and seasoned with peppers and black vinegar.

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The origin of hot and sour soup

It is first invented for poor people who need to warm their bodies up. So lots of white pepper is used. The soup has been around since the Han Dynasty when it was used as a medicinal remedy for colds and flu. It is believed that the dish was invented during the Qing dynasty (1644-1912), but there is no exact date as to when it was first created.

It has different versions in China

In the Sichuan area, hot and sour soup is called Suan La Tang which is mainly cooked with chicken and pork stock.

In Northern areas, it is called Hu La Tang and usually with beef or lamb stock. Although there are some differences in texture including the color and flavors, they share lots of similarities too.

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Dishes with long ingredient lists are popular in Chinese cuisine

There are lots of similar mixed dishes in China. In Chinese cuisine, we want to eat more types of vegetables in one meal. That’s a theory about balance and diversion. There are lots of similar dishes for example eight treasure rice, eight treasure congee, and  Buddha’s delight.

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Dried shiitake mushroom

Dried shiitake mushroom is much better than fresh mushrooms because of their flavor. The sun-drying process makes the ribonucleic acid much easier to release and hydrate. But it has stronger flavors compared with fresh shiitake mushrooms and is less smooth in texture. So the principles

  1. Use dried shiitake mushrooms for a better flavor of your hot and sour soup.
  2. Not too much to avoid dominating

Wood ear mushrooms

Wood ear mushroom provides a lovely black color and a crunchy texture to the soup. If you want a beautiful appearance of the soup, cut the wooden ear mushrooms into smaller pieces.

Soft tofu

Tofu performs to create a melt-in-mouth and super soft texture. So soft tofu will be the first choice for this soup.


You can use pork shreds, chicken shreds, cooked beef or lamb, and seafood as protein. In addition, ham, spam, and other already processed protein are also great for hot and sour soup. If you get high-quality ham, your soup will be quite amazing. If all of the processed protein is not by hand or not accepted, I suggest using coated pork shreds. In Sichuan cuisine, we have a very popular local snack named “水滑肉” which literally means sliding meat in water. It has a very lovely texture, is super tender inside, and is smooth for the shell. I will introduce the authentic version later. But you can have some basic idea about how the meat can be after making this hot and sour soup.

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Cook’s Note

  1. Vinegar and pepper powder should be added just before turning off the fire because the vinegar might be volatilized after a long time of cooking and thus reduce the taste.
  2. Dark soy sauce is used to darken the color and it is optional if you want to create a big contrast between the appearance and flavor.
  3. Do not add too much salt at the very beginning. Light soy sauce contains lots of salt. And you can slightly add more salt after the soup is finished based on personal preference. But too much salt at firstly is a real disaster.
  4. This soup is actually quite easy and enjoyable. Drizzling some sesame oil at the very end can add some naughty flavors and also make the soup more shinning.  
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What to serve with hot and sour soup

Hot and sour soup is widely served as breakfast, partnered with scallion pancakes, buns, and other options for Chinese breakfast.

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Hot and Sour Soup

Traditional Chinese hot and sour soup
4.95 from 19 votes
Print Pin Rate
Course: Soup
Cuisine: Sichuan cuisine
Keyword: Hot and Sour
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 20 minutes
Total Time: 30 minutes
Servings: 4 Making 4 bowls
Calories: 199kcal
Author: Elaine


  • 3 dried shiitake mushrooms , soaked in hot water and thinly sliced
  • 1/4 cup dried wood ear mushrooms , soaked in hot water and shredded
  • 50 g pork shreds
  • 4 bamboo shoots , finely shredded
  • 1/3 carrot , shredded
  • 1 thumb ginger , shredded
  • 2 tsp. fresh ground white pepper powder
  • 5 cups unsalted chicken stock
  • 50g soft tofu
  • 2 tbsp. light soy sauce , or soy sauce
  • 1 tsp. dark soy sauce
  • 1 tsp. salt or to taste
  • 1/2 tbsp. sugar
  • 1 large egg , whisked
  • 3 tbsp. black vinegar
  • sesame oil for drizzling
  • chopped green onion and coriander

Pork marinating

  • 2 tsp. light soy sauce
  • 1/4 tsp. sugar
  • 1 tsp. starch
  • 1/4 tsp. salt

Starch water

  • 3 tbsp. cornstarch or other starch
  • 3 tbsp. water


  • Prepare the pork, marinate pork shreds with light soy sauce, sugar, salt and cornstarch. Mix well.
  • In a wok, add carrots, bamboo shoots, wood ear mushroom, shiitake mushroom and ginger shreds. Add chicken stock, bring to a boiling and then simmer for 15 minutes.
  • Add light soy sauce, dark soy sauce, sugar, and salt. Continue cooking for 2 minutes.
  • Then place shredded tofu in. Then place pork shreds in and gently stir by chopstick when the content boils again.
  • Stir the starch water once and then place the starch water in the soup. Heat to thicken.
  • Drizzle egg liquid in. If you want smaller flowers, stirring at a faster speed. Or for larger flowers, stir roughly.
  • Place black vinegar and white ground pepper in. Turn off fire immediately.
  • Add some extra aroma by placing chopped green onion and coriander. Drizzle some sesame oil and serve hot.



Calories: 199kcal | Carbohydrates: 9g | Protein: 14g | Fat: 10g | Saturated Fat: 3g | Cholesterol: 116mg | Sodium: 1488mg | Potassium: 227mg | Vitamin A: 160IU | Vitamin C: 0.5mg | Calcium: 63mg | Iron: 1.3mg
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  1. Hello Elaine

    I make this soup using a slightly different recipe and I suppose everybody makes it a little different.
    I also use lily buds and bamboo shoots., Also, I prefer white pepper over black. I will try yours, it looks good. Thanks

    1. Hi Will,
      Yes everyone has unique hot and sour soup. I love bamboo shoots too but the fresh ones are not always available, otherwise I will add some too.

  2. Dear Elaine,

    I’ve tried this soup last night, and it was really lovely. Nevertheless, I’ve missed the spicier impact (for which I added a tiny bit of Doubanjiang) a bit and the sour tang (easy, I added a bit more vinegar). I’ve also added some Pak Choi for good measure to have some veggies and colour.
    What I’m wondering about is that every time I’m being served this soup in Chinese restaurants, it’s much more reddish in colour and has a more pronounced aroma. Where does this colour come from? Is there something like tomato paste added (which it does not taste like)? Or is this achieved with a good measure of soy sauce?

    Have a good weekend,

    1. Hi Monika,
      Thanks for your feedback.
      The reddish color might come from dark soy sauce and the pronounced aroma comes from the soup base restaurants are using. Restaurants usually have a long time simmered stock for hot and sour soup. My version is homemade lighter one.

        1. Yes. Red vinegar is very popular in Chinese cuisine for soups and slow roasting dishes. But I believe it is not very common in store.

    2. I read today on a blog from a young woman whose parents used to run a Chinese restaurant here in Germany, that they actually did use tomato paste for a variation of this soup which is commonly called Beijing-Soup on the menu.

      I guess this dates back to the times of the 1970ies and 80ies when Chinese ingredients where hard to come by and expensive in Germany. So they had to be creative to keep prices at a reasonable level. By now this kind of Germanized Chinese cuisine seems to have somewhat of it’s own tradition.

      You’ll find the recipe here (in German):

  3. I love hot and sour soup, but do not like Tofu.. The consistency… Can I leave it out without compromising the soup? I know tofu has no taste of its own.

  4. I always get a quart of Hot & Sour Soup from our favorite take-out restaurant when I have a cold. There is just something about it that makes me feel better! I always have to pick out the mushrooms though. Our local place uses thin sliced pork. I’ve never tried to make it at home…but my goal this summer is to perfect this and pan fried dumplings.

  5. 5 stars
    Elaine Luo, I have a Chinese recipe for Suantang that uses ginger, garlic, green//white onion Suan tang paste, stock, mujiangzi extract then noodles. Is this a similar type of recipe? Many thanks in advance.

  6. Hi Elaine, love your website! Thank you for sharing all these wonderful recipes with everyone.

    I have a question about the ingredients. Cornstarch appears in the first list at 1/2 a tablespoon, then again in the second list at 3 tablespoons. Can you please clarify when the first amount of 1/2 a tablespoon is used? Also, bamboo shoots are mentioned on the instructions but not the ingredients. Would appreciate if you could let us know how much should be used.

    Thanks Elaine!

    1. Erica,
      The first cornstarch (1/2 tablespoon) listed is to coat other fresh meats like chicken shreds or pork shreds. I do not make the instruction as clear as possible. For all cooked meats or sausage, there is no need to use starch.
      I have already update the recipe. Let me know if you have any other questions.

  7. 5 stars
    Hi Elaine,

    I made this today, and it really tastes great on a cold winter day like this. I used some cooked ham, as that’s readily available in the supermarket and substituted the red bell pepper with a thinly sliced carrot which I already had in store .

    Thank you for another very tasty recipe.