Vietnamese Spinach and Shrimp Soup (Canh Mong Toi)

Vietnamese Spinach and Shrimp Soup (Canh Mong Toi) Recipe

Canh tôm rau mồng tơi, literally a soup made with tôm, or shrimp and mồng tơi, or spinach, is usually served as a side dish along with steamed jasmine rice and a dish of meat. 

Rau mồng tơi is a tender and sweet leafy vegetable that is unknown in Western cuisine. In Vietnam, it is a staple of lower income people. In fact, there is a saying using this leaf, "Nghèo rớt mồng tơi!", which approximately translates to "dirt poor". Like rau muống, another Vietnamese leafy vegetable, it is quite expensive in America. I've probably said it in the past: immigrants crave the foods of their childhood and are willing to pay more for the memories. And this soup fits the bill.


Yields: 8 servings

1 quart water
3 tablespoons canola oil
2 cloves garlic, finely minced
2 dozen baby shrimp (about 1 cup), shelled and de-veined
1/2 teaspoon tapioca starch
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1/2 teaspoon red chili powder
2 red Thai bird chiles, stemmed
1 stalk lemongrass
2 shallots, thinly sliced
1 (1-inch) chunk daikon turnip, peeled and sliced
1 (1-inch) chunk fresh ginger, thinly sliced
1/2 white onion, chopped
1 (2-inch) chunk rock sugar
3/4 teaspoon sea salt (or regular salt)
1 teaspoon black pepper, freshly ground
1 bunch rau mồng tơi Vietnamese spinach , about 3 cups
1 tablespoon cilantro
1 tablespoon green onion, chopped
1 dash toasted sesame oil, optional


For the lemongrass: Wash the lemongrass. Remove all the white powder from the leaves. Cut the stalk in half and crush it with the back of a chef's knife.

Frying the shallots and garlic: Heat the canola oil in a skillet. Fry the shallots in the oil, stirring frequently to prevent the shallots from burning, until the color is evenly golden brown. Reserve the oil. Drain the shallots on paper towels. Set aside.In the same skillet, add the minced garlic and cook until it's golden. Leave the fried garlic in the oil. Set aside.

Seasoning the broth: Bring the water to a boil in a small pot. Add the tapioca starch, ginger, lemongrass, chopped onion and fried shallots. Lower the heat to medium-low and cook for about 10 minutes. Add the whole red chiles, daikon and rock sugar. Bring to one more boil, then lower the heat and simmer for 2-3 minutes.

For the shrimp balls: In a bowl, season the shrimp with 1 teaspoon of fried garlic, sea salt, red chili powder, 1/2 teaspoon of black pepper and 1 teaspoon of cilantro. In a blender or a mini-blender if you have one, blend the shrimp with about 2 teaspoons of the garlic-infused oil. Add a teaspoon of green onion. Form about 1-tablespoon-sized shrimp balls.

For the rau mồng tơi: Wash the spinach. Separate the stems from the leaves. Set aside.

Assembly time: Bring the broth back to a boil. Add the shrimp balls, one at a time. Cook for about 2-3 minutes. Fish out the shrimp balls and set aside on a platter. Add soy sauce and bring the broth back to a boil. Add the rest of the fried garlic and the spinach stems. Cook for a minute then add the rau mồng tơi leaves. Add the shrimp balls. Turn off the heat. Cover and let the soup sit for about 5 minutes. Remove and discard the lemongrass. Sprinkle the rest of the black pepper.

Serve hot with more cilantro and green onions. Drizzle toasted sesame oil and some nước mắm to the broth to finish.

Dig in!


You can find rau mồng tơi in most Asian stores. If you don't have any, you can always use regular spinach.

Daikon (củ cải trắng in Vietnamese) is an Asian turnip that looks like a large white carrot. I use this root when  making broth for the natural sweetness it brings.

I always have garlic-infused oil on hand. I use it a lot to flavor Asian broths, especially vegetarian soups.

The addition of the sesame oil at the end is optional but brings a nice fragrance to the broth.

Published By: Jacqueline Pham on September 14, 2009.


[-] wow - Guest-ravenouscouple
we love this soup! the texture of the mong toi and soup after cooking is slightly viscous and may take getting used to for those unfamiliar with this dish, but we love it. But our version is much more binh dan than yours! :)

ravenouscouple Website Link
[ Posted at 11:10 AM on 9/15/09 | Reply ]
[-] Foodie with Little Thyme! - Guest-cassie
This looks wonderful!

cassie Website Link
[ Posted at 2:46 PM on 9/15/09 | Reply ]
Still catching up on your posts from last week! Never thought of soup as a side dish. I'd happily eat a bowl of this on its own.

Irina@PastryPal Website Link
[ Posted at 2:54 PM on 9/15/09 | Reply ]
[-] shrimp and spinach - Guest-lisaiscooking
This soup looks so delicious. I'd love to try Vietnamese spinach too.

lisaiscooking Website Link
[ Posted at 3:36 PM on 9/15/09 | Reply ]
So healthful and delicious!

Ninette Website Link
[ Posted at 4:58 PM on 9/15/09 | Reply ]
Love the blog! Can't wait to check the entire thing out!

Jessica Website Link
[ Posted at 5:35 PM on 9/15/09 | Reply ]
Better than anything you could order out.

The Duo Dishes Website Link
[ Posted at 5:37 PM on 9/15/09 | Reply ]
[-] storing up soup recipes - Guest-JessicaFoodmayhem
It's not quite soup weather for me yet (I'm very temperature sensitive) but I'm storing this one up for the fall.

Jessica Lee Binder Website Link
[ Posted at 7:48 PM on 9/15/09 | Reply ]
This looks amazing! I'm not sure I can mange it, but it certainly was great to learn about it here.

Jen of a2eatwrite Website Link
[ Posted at 5:59 PM on 9/16/09 | Reply ]
rau mong toi is one of my favorite veggies. so versatile, so delicious. your soup looks so comforting and delicious.

giao {kiss my spatula} Website Link
[ Posted at 8:13 AM on 9/18/09 | Reply ]
We grow this vegetable on our farm every winter and though I cook it with a lot less ingredient, I will try out your recipe. Thx. You got a recipe for Rau Muong, another main veggie but this one grows year round:). I enjoy eating it at one of those restaurants in Saigon, VN when I go visit..
[ Posted at 4:20 PM on 11/5/10 | Reply ]

Order my latest book:
Banh Mi

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