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Dec 22, 2009 10:44 AM

Is Hot and Sour Soup Indigenous to India?

I have discovered several recipes for Indian hot and sour soup. Hitherto, I thought H&SS was exclusively a Chinese concoction. So, is Indian H&SS a truly Indian dish or is it a dish adapted from its Chinese ancestor? Or both?

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  1. Unlike wonton and eggdrop, hot and sour is almost impossible to define. Hot and sour is rarely the same from restaurant to restaurant. It's always has some form of capsaicin and it's always soured in some way (vinegar or tart citrus), but the other ingredients tend to be just about anything. Unless hot and sour soup can be more rigidly defined, I would think tracing it's beginnings would be highly difficult.

    According to most accounts the chile traveled to India before China, so the theory that an Indian chef combined it with either lemon or lime in a soup first is not that farfetched.

    But, if you start looking at ingredients... I would say that after capsaicin and a souring agent, the most common ingredient I've seen in hot and sour soup is tofu. If you define traditional H&SS as containing tofu, then, in all likelihood, the chances are far greater that a Chinese chef combined the ingredients first.

    Lastly, corn starch seems to be a common ingredient as well. If you define H&SS as containing corn starch, then I think the chances are far greater that the originator was American.

    5 Replies
    1. re: scott123

      That's a very interesting synopsis, scott. Thanks.

      1. re: Perilagu Khan

        What scott123 says makes sense.

        Other than that, are these "Indian Chinese" hot and sour soups?

        Or the name "hot and sour soup" given to an Indian dish that has another name? There are so many Indian soupy dishes that are hot and sour (Rasam being one) :)

        Where did you find these recipes, did you try them, and what are the ingredients?

        1. re: Rasam

          I first saw mention of Indian H&SS on a couple of restaurant menus on websites. This prompted me to search the Internet for recipes. I found several. Some were described as Indian, others as Indo-Chinese.

          The Indian recipe I plan to cook tomorrow night includes pepper sauce, corn starch, soy sauce, vinegar, hot chiles, scallions, tomato sauce, carrot, cabbage, black pepper, sugar, salt and water. I plan to add diced chicken.

          All in all, that sounds more like an Indo-Chinese recipe than a purely Indian one.

          PS--Rasam is one of my favorite soups of any cuisine.

      2. re: scott123

        I thought the hot in H&S was more often ground white pepper than capsaicin.

        1. re: paulj

          This is true. Traditional hot and sour soup is made with lots of ground white pepper.

      3. Speculation and "just so" stories won't solve this one - whether independent invention or diffusion would just be a guess at this point.

        1. Much like American-Chinese and Canadian-Chinese, there is a school of Indian-Chinese restaurant food, which has been tweaked to suit the locals' palates. Indo-Chinese hot and sour soup tends to be spicier than the traditional Chinese recipe as well as contain an array of vegetables one would not commonly find in either the Chinese or Western versions (i.e. green peppers, corn and/or tomatoes).

          5 Replies
          1. re: JungMann

            I'm curious, what are the major differences between American-Chinese and Canadian-Chinese restaurant food?

            1. re: scott123

              I'm not certain that there is any appreciable difference between the two. I should have probably said "like American-Chinese OR Canadian-Chinese," but I'll be sure to ask my General Tso's loving friend what he thinks when he gets back from Toronto on Boxing Day.

            2. re: JungMann

              Yes, the recipe Periglu Khan found is most likely an Indian Chinese recipe, it is like Indianized Chinese food the way we have the Americanized Chinese food of the US. Many Indian cookbooks (the kind sold in India to Indians, not the kind for foreigners like one would find abroad) have a Chinese section. In addition, in India a lot of restaurants offer a Chinese section on the menu. Chinese food is very popular in India, too. So hot and sour soup Indian style is not an odd recipe at all.

              1. re: luckyfatima

                This is all making some sense. The gathering consensus seems to be that what Westerners think of as H&SS is essentially a Chinese dish, that Indians have riffed on H&SS to suit their own tastes, and that this Indianized H&SS is now slowly filtering into the Western culinary scene.

                And incidentally, the Betty Crocker Indian Cookbook (highly recommended) contains several dishes, including an Indian stir fry or two, that have a pronounced Chinese bent.

                All in all, rather interesting stuff.

                1. re: Perilagu Khan

                  Various people have noted that Indians like to adapt the forms of foreign cooking, but usually give it familiar flavors.