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Cambodian (Khmer) Sour Soup Recipe


First, a little background: I am a Cambodian-American mom. I was born in California but I am of Cambodian descent, my parents having come to the US from Cambodia in the 1970s. I use Cambodian and Khmer interchangeably. "Khmer" is what Cambodians call themselves, and is the official language, pronounced kah-MY (or kah-MAIR in the anglified way). It's like a French person saying they speak Francais. "Khmer" is derived from Kampuchea, which is the Cambodian name for our country of Cambodia. "Cambodia" is derived from "Cambodge" which was the French name for our country, back when all of Southeast Asia was colonized by the French (dubbed "French Indochina" for many years). In more recent history, you may have learned of the "Khmer Rouge" translated as "Red Khmers," who were responsible for the extreme marxist/communist/tyranical rule over Cambodia which resulted in years of suffering and genocide. My parents fled from that to create a life for themselves and our family in America.

Anyway...the recipe here is my attempt at recreating my mom's sour soup, a favorite dish of mine. Cambodian sour soup, or "salaw machu" (sa-LAW ma-CHOO) is characterized by its sour taste and use of tamarind and other sour fruits like lemon, tomato, and pineapple. This soup is a common dish in Khmer cuisine and a variation of it can be found in many Southeast Asian and Pacific Islander cultures. For example, the Thai version is "tom yum gai" and the Filipino version is called "sinigang." I'm sure the ingredients and tastes vary widely between households since it can be made with chicken, fish or many other vegetables. I came up with and enjoy the combination of ingredients below.




  • 2-3 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (1 to 1.5 pounds), chopped into small chunks
  • 1 (1.4-ounce) package powdered tamarind seasoning mix or soup base*
  • 8 cups water
  • 2 cups of mushrooms, chopped
  • 1 large zucchini, chopped
  • 2 tomatoes, chopped
  • 1 (20-ounce) can pineapple chunks
  • juice of 1 lemon (about 3-4 tablespoons)
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder (optional)
  • 1/2 teaspoon lemon pepper seasoning (optional)


  1. In a large stockpot, sauté chicken until just cooked.
  2. In same pot, mix together tamarind powder and water (use amount as directed on package).
  3. Bring to a boil. Add chopped vegetables and pineapple.
  4. Simmer for 5-8 minutes, until zucchini is tender.
  5. Add tomato and lemon juice.
  6. Season to taste (I like to add garlic powder and lemon pepper, but depending on the tamarind powder you find, you may not need any additional seasoning). Simmer 5 minutes. Ready to serve.

Yields: 6-8 servings. Enjoy with a bowl of steamed white rice and round out your meal with stir-fried vegetables like snow peas or green beans.

* The key ingredient of tamarind powder can be found in any Asian market or on This is the only thing that cannot be substituted. It can be hard (impossible?) to find without any added MSG, and indeed, the kind I got had "hydrolyzed soy protein" which is code for MSG (though keep in mind that MSG is found naturally in many ingredients, like soy sauce and Worcestershire sauce. I am sensitive to MSG, but had no bad reactions from eating this soup). Per the tamarind package directions, it needed to dissolve in 8 cups (2 liters) of water. The brand you find may have slightly different directions, so just follow what it says on the package. Also, if you add fish or other seafood, put those quick-cooking ingredients into the pot after the water has boiled. My mom's version also includes a can of quail eggs. These mini flavorful eggs are delightful in this soup and can be found at Asian markets also.

More references and pictures of Khmer cuisine

Follow me on my blog

  • Diary of a Cambodian-American Mom
    This is the blog that I recently started writing. There's more on my background here and stay tuned for more Khmer recipes, stories about me and my family, and my adventures in crafting, cooking, and writing. Thanks for reading!

For more Khmer traditions, check out my other hub

  • Traditional Cambodian (Khmer) Wedding Ceremonies
    This is the story of my spring 2008 wedding where we combined Khmer traditions with American traditions (and even some Korean ones!). Learn more about our unique customs and see pictures and video of the beautiful traditional outfits we wore.


Mary Norton from Ontario, Canada on December 14, 2015:

I love Khmer food having stayed in Cambodia for several years. I find the addition of pineapple unusual in chicken soup but we'd love to try it. Thanks for posting this.

Lucky on June 04, 2014:

I am thai people but my mother Cambodian real I like Khmer food and some are similar thai foods too thank you very much for recipes I usually cook on weekend I love cooking.

Giselle Maine on March 13, 2012:

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Mmmmm, this sounds so yummy! I will have to try making it sometime soon. Thank you for sharing not only the recipe, but the story and the culture behind its creation.

theking2020 on February 28, 2012:

Nice recipe I will be trying this seems to be yummy. Voted awesome. Would love to hear your feedback on my article .

Susan Hazelton from Northern New York on February 25, 2012:

Your soup recipe sounds like a definite must try. Bookmarking, up, useful and interesting.

Deborah Neyens from Iowa on February 20, 2012:

This soup sounds and looks delicious! Thanks for sharing your recipe, as well as some background about Cambodia. I look forward to reading more of your articles. Welcome to Hubpages!

JS Matthew from Massachusetts, USA on February 12, 2012:

Very cool! Thanks, I'll check it out!


sunbun143 (author) from Los Angeles, CA on February 12, 2012:

I just found this great Khmer recipe resource...

Some of the recipes are complicated but check it out. My sour soup recipe would be similar to her "salor machu sach moan" which is sour soup with chicken. And also check back with me for my versions of Khmer recipes that I make for my family.

sunbun143 (author) from Los Angeles, CA on February 12, 2012:

@Audrey...sorry I didn't see your question...Yes, it should work fine without meat. The key flavor is the sour tamarind, so by all means, put any other vegetables you like.

sunbun143 (author) from Los Angeles, CA on February 11, 2012:

JS Matthew from Massachusetts, USA on February 11, 2012:

Looking forward to reading it!


sunbun143 (author) from Los Angeles, CA on February 11, 2012:

@JSMatthew...thank you for following! Yes Khmer weddings can be long, but you'll see that it's worth it if you understand the meaning behind the ceremonies (hub coming soon).

And to everyone else - thank you for reading! I hope you try to make this soup sometime.

theastrology from New Delhi on February 10, 2012:

Seems very yummy.. will definitely try this.

Thanks for great hub. :)

chanroth from California, USA on February 10, 2012:

Ahh...som lor favorite! Som lor machoo cat fish is also good too but som lor machoo kreung is even better! Thinking of som lor machoo, my mouth is watery...choo mort nas. Thank you for sharing, I vote you up and useful.

Louise from Calgary, AB, Canada on February 10, 2012:

I think this soup would be a great hit in my household! I'll add it to my recipe collection right away, thanks for sharing.

JS Matthew from Massachusetts, USA on February 10, 2012:

What a great Hub! Welcome to HubPages! I like how you gave a background history of the Khmer Rouge. As you know from reading my Hub, my wife is a survivor and lived on refuge camps for 4 years before coming to the US. I have studied this in detail and I can never understand how Pol Pot could justify this heinous act against humans. It really is disturbing!

I love Salaw Machu and I get to eat it often. Like Bahock, it is a staple to the Khmer diet! I am looking forward to reading your Khmer wedding Hub because when I go to Cambodia in a few years, I will take part in this long celebration with my wife! The hardest thing for me will be kneeling and sitting for long periods of time! Please let me know when you publish it! I am following you now and I voted this Hub up and SHARED! Nice job!


Audrey Howitt from California on February 10, 2012:

Will this works without the meat? Otherwise, looks yummy to me!

sunbun143 (author) from Los Angeles, CA on February 10, 2012:

Woops....I meant "powerful" in my earlier comment. And @Jill - thank you for your interest! I'm working on a traditional Khmer wedding hub, so check back with me soon :)

Jilltravel from Indiana on February 10, 2012:

Hi sunbun143! I enjoyed reading about your fascinating background. My sister went to Cambodia on a business trip a few years ago and loved it! Thanks so much for sharing this authentic recipe with us! I've never tried Cambodian (Khmer) Sour Soup before. I'm studying to become a registered dietitian, so I'm constantly looking for unique and nutritious recipes! I LOVE to cook! I will be making this soup soon! I'm new to HubPages as well. I'm glad I found your article! :)

sunbun143 (author) from Los Angeles, CA on February 09, 2012:

Thank you for your interest! Yes, you can use lemongrass and/or kaffir lime leaves for a more pwerful flavor, but I chose the simplest route, which was extra fresh lemon juice.

robotmonster from San Francisco on February 09, 2012:

The soup looks really good, do you not use lemon grass like tom yum soup? I heart soups!

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