I think almost all South East Asian countries have their own version of tamarind-based soup, slightly spicy with loads of soft vegetables. Malaysians with their laksa soup, Filipinos with sinigang, Thais with tom yam. Sourish tamarind deserves much more credits than it already has. It is one of the ingredients that made our cuisine as exotic as it now is.

Our tamarind soup uses sliced tamarind (asam potong) and salam leaves with vegetables that can nicely soak up all the beautiful flavors from tamarind, bay leaves, lemongrass, palm sugar (gula merah) and chilies. It is also very easy to prepare. Grind up some paste, boil the water, add the paste and cook the soup over simmering heat. Drop all the vegetables in the pot and be done with it. Serve with steamed rice and sambal belacan for that extra kick. Sometimes we love the crunchy anchovies deep-fried to perfection. Delish.

Fresh spices to be used whole – tomatoes, slices of tamarind, galangal, lemongrass and salam leaves.

Spices to be ground – garlic, ginger, shrimp paste, chilies, shallots and candlenuts. Leave the palm sugar out, that is for the soup.

These beautiful gnenom fruits are always included in the tamarind soup.

Again, I left out the turmeric. Never too late. I ground everything using a coffee grinder attachment of my blender.

The color was moving towards orangish once the turmeric was added. Beautiful paste.

Vegetables used are young corn, snake beans.

Chayote (or pear squash, labu jipang), cut into bite sizes.

Cabbage, cut into manageable squares.

Boil water in a large stock pot and drop gnemon fruits (melinjo) into the boiling water. They take the longest to cook, naturally the first one to go in.

Add spice paste into the pot.

Fresh salam leaves.

Lightly bruised lemongrass stalks.

Heavily bruised galangal

Quartered tomatoes

Lastly, the rest of the vegetables.


Palm sugar or gula melaka is the last to go in.

Together with the tamarind slices (asam potong).

Let simmer until all vegetables are cooked. If you like them to be slightly crunchy, remove when they are just cooked. I personally love mine to be boiled till mushy. They are utterly delicious when the vegetables absorbs all the essence of spices used. The flavors develop even better the next day. Serve warm with steamed rice, some sambal belacan and fried salted fish.


Vegetable Tamarind Soup, Sayur Asam

Makes 6-8 servings


10 (40 g) red chilies
5 (20 g) shallots
3 (15 g) garlic
5 (15 g) candlenuts
1 fresh ginger
1/2 tbsp (8 g) shrimp paste, or belacan
2 cm turmeric, or 1/2 tsp turmeric powder
8 salam leaves
2 stalks lemongrass
25 g galangal
1 tomato, quartered
60 g palm sugar, or gula merah / gula melaka
20 g tamarind slices, or asam potong
500 g cabbage, cut into squares
100 g snake beans, cut into 5cm length
500 g chayote, cut into squares
100 g young corn
150 g gnenom fruit, or melinjo
1500 cc water


Grind chilies, shallots, garlic, candlenuts, ginger, shrimp paste and turmeric into fine paste.
Boil water in a big stock pot. Add all ingredients into the pot.
Let simmer for 30-45 minutes over low heat.
Serve warmed with steamed rice with sambal belacan.

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17 Responses to “Vegetable Tamarind Soup, Sayur Asam”

  1. 1

    Lia Chen — April 29, 2011 @ 10:22 pm

    Love sayur asam with fried fish / chicken with sambal terasi in our dining table. This soup is very refreshing and yum!

  2. 2

    Lisa H. — April 29, 2011 @ 10:51 pm

    Mention the word ‘ASAM”… my glands starts to work overtime… was drooling looking at the photos…. :D
    First time I see … the melinjo fruits…

  3. 3

    yummy supper — April 29, 2011 @ 11:47 pm

    I am so happy you stopped by my blog so that I could find yours! What a treat to see so many delicious Indonesian recipes. I am new to Indo cooking, but I am in love with the flavors.
    I will definitely be back!

  4. 4

    Zoe — April 30, 2011 @ 8:29 am

    Awesome. That looks really appetizing! I’m never come across gnemon fruits tho and the pear squash looks like guava.. Unfortunately, in Taiwan it’s not possible to find those exotic fruits and vegs. It’s even difficult to just get some fresh lemon grass.
    One question, will it be the same of I use tamarind paste instead of slices?

  5. 5

    Xiaolu @ 6 Bittersweets — April 30, 2011 @ 2:27 pm

    That looks so yummy! I adore the flavor of tamarind!

  6. 6

    Tuty — May 1, 2011 @ 12:21 am

    This definitely is different from the Sayur Asam I grew up with. Mine is Central Java’s style. I love the use of baby corn (usually we use the mature corn). It looks refreshingly delish!

  7. 7

    Arudhi@Aboxofkitchen — May 2, 2011 @ 7:59 am

    I`ve never made sayur asam by myself (as I didn`t know how, lol) and this post definitely has encouraged me to do so.
    I still can`t find tamarind here, but I hope using umeboshi is worth a try. Wish me luck!

  8. 8

    Min {Honest Vanilla} — May 2, 2011 @ 8:45 am

    I love tamarind soup no matter where it’s from :) The spicy and sour combination is just intoxicating! I’ve never seen gnenom fruits before though

  9. 9

    Spicie Foodie — May 3, 2011 @ 2:41 pm

    What a perfect soup! I love all the fresh vegetables that go into it, and the tamarind just finishes it up nicely. All the varieties you mentioned are must try.

  10. 10

    Alice — May 4, 2011 @ 10:48 pm

    Wow! Now is lunch time and I am drooling looking at your pictures!

  11. 11

    kankana — May 5, 2011 @ 12:02 am

    Love the tangy taste of tamarind .. This soup looks delicious !

  12. 12

    noobcook — May 5, 2011 @ 12:39 am

    I have such a weakness for assam and your soup looks divine. kudos from making your own paste from scratch. I have a phobia of handling tamarind so I usually just add tamarind powder.

  13. 13

    pigpigscorner — May 5, 2011 @ 3:04 am

    Huge fan of tamarind soup! So appetising and comforting.

  14. 14

    Nami @ Just One Cookbook — May 5, 2011 @ 2:17 pm

    Hi Jun! Thank you for finding my website – and I’m so so so sooooo happy to find your site. What a beautiful site you have, including gorgeous pictures and delicious recipes. I like how you organize the recipes too. I’m looking forward to seeing your post. :-) This soup looks so delicious. I mainly cook miso soup and I need to widen my repertoire… Nice to meet you! p.s. my suggestion for the alternatives for alfonsino is sea bream and red snapper. :-)

  15. 15

    Maria @ Scandifoodie — May 5, 2011 @ 7:04 pm

    Such an interesting recipe – it sounds so aromatic and tasty!

  16. 16

    asianfoodophile — August 3, 2011 @ 3:00 pm

    If you are peeling the fibrous layers covering the baby corn, stop when you reach the soft tender leaves. The leaves can be eaten when the baby corn is cooked.

    • Jun replied: — August 6th, 2011 @ 10:11 am

      Haha yes. I forgot to mention that bit. We always purchase the ones already cleaned from the market

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