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Charles Phan recalls eating numerous versions of this slightly sweet and pleasantly tangy fish soup while growing up in Vietnam. Some included only chopped tomato while others were made with a colorful mix of vegetables. Here, he adds freshly squeezed lime juice for a hit of sourness instead of the more traditional tamarind pulp. He adds bean sprouts to the soup for a refreshing crunch.Plus: More Soup Recipes and Tips

September 2005


Credit: © Dana Gallagher

Recipe Summary test

45 mins
2 hrs
6 to 8


Ingredient Checklist


Instructions Checklist
  • Pour the water into a large stockpot. Add the fish heads and bones, 3 tablespoons of the fish sauce and the lemongrass, ginger, onion and 2 teaspoons of kosher salt. Bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to moderately low and simmer for 1 hour.

  • Meanwhile, cut the snapper fillets into 1 1/2-inch pieces and transfer to a medium bowl. Add 2 tablespoons of the oil, the remaining 2 tablespoons of fish sauce and toss. Refrigerate the fish for 1 hour.

  • Heat the remaining 6 tablespoons of oil in a small skillet. Add the garlic and cook over high heat, stirring, until fragrant and lightly golden, about 30 seconds. Pour the garlic oil into a bowl and let cool.

  • Strain the soup through a fine sieve, pressing hard on the solids. Wipe out the pot. Return the fish soup to it and bring to a boil. Add the mushrooms and simmer over moderate heat until just tender, about 1 minute. Add the marinated snapper and cook just until opaque, about 2 minutes. Season the soup with salt. Add the bean sprouts and scallions and stir in the garlic oil. Serve right away with sliced chiles and lime wedges.

Make Ahead

The snapper fillets can be marinated overnight in the refrigerator.