Where to Begin?

There’s so much happening in a soup like Cháo Bôi it’s difficult to decide how exactly to classify it.  Sure, broadly speaking, it’s Vietnamese, the recipe found among the pages of a great gift one of you sent a few years back, Andrea Nguyen’s Into the Vietnamese Kitchen. What kind of soup is it, though?  Here the path is a little more twisted.

This could be considered a chicken soup.  After all, the broth builds on chicken stock, and shreds of poultry lace it.  In addition, rice parboiled in chicken stock joins the simmer, releasing its essence as the grains bloom.  Also included are sliced mushrooms, a classic companion that compliments the bird’s taste wonderfully.

Before chicken claims all the credit, though, shellfish have something to say.  After all, they’re prominent enough to appear twice, as both shrimp and sweet crab are thrown into the pot.   For an interesting textural exclamation, the shrimp is halved lengthwise, which causes it to twist like a corkscrew as it cooks.    It’s difficult to see in this week’s photo, as the shrimp are partly submerged, though the “tail” end rotates perpendicular to the “head” end.

So which is it, a chicken soup or a seafood soup?  For what it’s worth, Vietnamese tend to consider it to be the latter.  “Cháo” is the general Vietnamese term for a rice soup, and they already have a phrase “cháo gà” for rice soup with chicken. leaving the “bôi” part of today’s title to refer to the crab, shrimp, or both.

In her cookbook Nguyen translates cháo bôi as “Rice Soup with Chicken, Seafood and Mushrooms,” which foretells the collection of savory wonders awaiting the taster.  In Vietnam this is a speacial soup reserved for noteworthy occasions, and really, that should settle the matter.  It’s both, a chicken soup and a seafood soup.  For special commemorations Vietnamese cooks have concocted something which maximizes the flavors at their disposal.


Cháo Bôi

(Vietnamese Rice Soup with Chicken, Seafood and Mushrooms)

  •  1 boneless, skinless chicken breast (*1)
  • 1 cup long-grain white rice (*2)
  • 12 cups chicken stock
  • 1/4 pound oyster mushrooms, trimmed and cut into 1/2-inch strips
  • 2 tablespoons canola or other neutral oil (*3)
  • 1 small onion, thinly sliced (*4)
  • 1/2 pound shrimp, peeled, deveined and halved horizontally
  • 1/3 cup crabmeat
  • 1/4 cup small tapioca pearls
  • salt, to taste
  • 1/3 cup thinly-sliced scallions, for garnish
  • 1/3 cup coarsely-torn cilantro leaves, for garnish

Fill a large saucepan half-full with water and place it over a high flame.  When the water comes to a rolling boil, add the chicken.  Turn off the flame and cover the pot.  Let stand for 20 minutes.

Using tongs, pull the chicken from the saucepan and set it on a cutting board.  When it’s cool enough to handle, shred it with forks and set aside the meat.

Turn the flame back to high and let the saucepan contents return to a boil.  Add the rice and reduce the flame to medium.  There obviously will be “too much” water for the rice.  No matter.  Let it simmer, uncovered for 8 minutes, then drain the rice in a colander, rinse it with cold water, and set it aside.

Place a stockpot over a high flame and pour in the chicken stock.  Bring to a boil, then add the rice, shredded chicken and mushrooms.  Reduce flame to medium and simmer for ten minutes.

Meanwhile, set a skillet over a medium flame and pour in the oil.  When it shimmers, add the onion and cook for four minutes, stirring occasionally, until it’s soft and fragrant.  Add the shrimp and cook, stirring occasionally, for another two minutes.  Add the crabmeat and stir to distribute.  Turn off flame beneath skillet.

Put he tapioca pearls in a sieve and rinse them under cold water, to prevent them from clumping, the pour them into the stockpot.  Cook for another ten minutes, then add the shrimp mixture in the skillet.  Stir to incorporate, and add salt if needed.

Ladle soup into individual bowls, garnish with scallions and cilantro, and serve lime wedges alongside, if desired.


1 – Instead, I used three boneless, skinless chicken thighs, as they’re moister and more flavorful.

2 – Jasmine rice is a good choice.

3 – As with most East Asian dishes, I chose peanut oil, as it has a subtle taste that really goes well with the cuisines.

4 –  Make it one medium shallot and you’ll be happy you did.



17 thoughts on “Where to Begin?

  1. lol next time I expect to see the spiral shrimp featured Keith … can’t tell a story like that without clear evidence 🙂

    Sounds like it is already the season for soup over there … as we have fresh rockmelon, asparagus, etc. It’s our season to eat light .. take care kind friend!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. That it is, Kate. We already have had a light snow, so on to the comforts of a cozy kitchen.

      It always surprises me asparagus thrives in Australia, because the varieties up here do best in the early spring, just after the snow begins retreating. Of course, Australians (and their produce) are nothing if not wonderfully adaptable.

      Still your imagery has me dreaming, and I’m thinking of several ways to celebrate the green stalks come April.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. That they are. Thing is, we’re not the only ones who think so.

        Up here at least, deer and rabbits thwart many a gardener’s dreams. Consequently, when asparagus season arrives with the thaw, some rig up elaborate shelters for the stalks, while most of us partake of the market’s local greenhouse-grown offerings.

        Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks so much, Crystal! Likewise, the tapioca was a revelation to me too, until I recalled my grandmother adding a bit of tapioca to her fruit pies, thus firming up the filling.

      So, who laid claim first to the genius, Asian chefs or North American pie makers? Does it matter? We humans have been cooking for millennia, and certain discoveries are inevitable, and simultaneous.

      Oh, glad to hear from you again, Crystal! Unless there’s something wrong with my browser (which is quite possible, unfortunately), you haven’t posted anything on your site in a couple weeks or so. I hoped you were taking a well-earned vacation, but I feared you had decided to turf this whole blogging thing. When I saw your message, it meant our conversations weren’t on permanent hiatus, So help me, I smiled. A big grin, too.


      1. Oh likewise, Crystal!

        In a way, it’s gratifying circumstance stayed your hand lately, as it means you’ll be back. After all, situations come and go, yet affinity endures.

        Actually, I began to worry a technical glitch prevented me from reading your latest and greatest, because as far as PC ledgermain goes, I’m lost.

        Liked by 1 person

    1. Not for mine, Kally. Then again, Vietnamese cooking still is thrillingly new around here. Though the Asian-American population grows quickly, there still aren’t many dining options aside from “Chinese” No modifiers, as most palettes aren’t yet discerning enough, though most restaurants seem to offer Cantonese and/or Szechuan cuisines. Satisfying options, to be sure, but something new (Vietnamese) excites.

      That said, I realized years ago that unless I fancied a trip into the central city, If I wanted anything aside from “Chinese” cooking I was going to prepare it myself.

      Very well, and it has been fun. Lots of discoveries too. One of which, if you’ll wait a year or so, is Malaysian cuisine. When that time comes, I hope you’ll tell me how I did!


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