Recipes for Change: Sweet and sour catfish soup

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Recipes for Change: Sweet and sour catfish soup

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The Mekong Delta in Viet Nam is an area of major significance to the country's food security, producing 55 percent of the annual rice crop, 60 percent of aquaculture, as well as large volumes of vegetables and fruit. Yet the environment is extremely sensitive to upstream hydrological changes and climate induced challenges, such as sea level rise and average temperature increases. These factors make farming a difficult way of life, despite the fact that nearly 85 percent of the Mekong population live in rural areas and depend on agriculture for their livelihoods.

More often, the dry season in the lower Mekong brings salt water via tributaries and canals, destroying farmers' planted rice fields, and damaging fresh water fisheries. As a result, rice and catfish farmers are looking for solutions to adapt their production to a changing climate scenario.

Climate risks to catfish in Mekong Delta

  • Changes in sea level in the Mekong Delta causes salt water intrusion and increases the chances of floods
  • Increased rainfall variability endangers the water level of the ponds the catfish live in.
  • Higher evaporation of water due to higher temperatures will boost pumping of water into ponds increasing power costs for fish farms

IFAD solutions

  • Investing in more climate-smart agriculture, taking into action increased salinity for fish farming
  • Research on saline tolerant fish varieties

In this episode of Recipes for Change, Singapore chef Bjorn Chen travels to Ben Tre province to learn more about the Mekong's world famous food culture, and find out exactly how climate change is threatening the ingredients that make the local cuisine so unique.

The Recipe

Sweet and sour catfish soup

Serves 4

Nutritional value per serving:

• Calories: 257 • Fat: 35g • Carbs: 17.9g • Protein: 88.7g


  • 500g catfish steak
  • 1 pinch of salt, pepper and chili powder
  • ½ cup chicken stock
  • 2 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 2 tbsp garlic, chopped
  • 1 small potato, chopped
  • 7 cups water
  • 2 tbsp tamarind pulp
  • 4 tbsp fish sauce
  • 1/4 pineapple, thinly sliced
  • 1-2 medium tomatoes, cut into wedges
  • 6 lady fingers (aka okra), thinly sliced on the diagonal
  • 1 elephant ear stems, thinly sliced on the diagonal
  • 50g bean sprouts
  • 1-2 sprigs of coriander, chopped
  • 2 spring onions, cut into short lengths
  • 1 red chili pepper, sliced

Cooking instructions:

  1. Lightly season the catfish steaks with salt, pepper, chicken stock and chili powder.
  2. Heat vegetable oil and fry garlic till golden. Transfer to small bowl to use as garnish. Add diced tomato to oil and saute for 1 minute. Add 6 cups of water and bring to boil.
  3. In a separate small saucepan: cook the tamarind pulp with remaining 1 cup of water for 2 minutes. Use a spatula/spoon to break up chunks. Then pour liquid into first pot through sieve. Discard residue.
  4. Add sugar and fish sauce to soup. Then add marinated fish steaks, simmer on medium high for 5-7 minutes or until fish is cooked through. Remove fish from soup.
  5. Add tomatoes, pineapple, okra, elephant ear stem, and cook for 1-2 minutes. Add beansprouts. Adjust broth to taste with salt and fish sauce.
  6. 1 minute before serving, reheat soup, return fish to pot and add herbs. Transfer the soup to a large serving soup bowl, garnish with fried garlic and red chili pepper.



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