Vietnamese Creamy Yam Soup – canh khoai mỡ

Growing up, my mother always served weekday dinners in the same way…white rice, one savory main entree, and soup. If time permitted, a 3rd dish usually comprised of boiled or sauteed vegetables would make an appearance, but regardless, as long as we had a main entree and soup, we’d be all set. The other day, my mother came over to visit and I decided to prepare dinner for her…her way! We already checked out my salty/savory dish, tom ram man, now we’re going to check out the soup I served that night, canh khoai mỡ.

Literally translated, this is fatty potato soup, but this is a very creamy and hearty soup with no extraneous fat as its name would suggest. So, as with most things in my life, I learn something new and unexpected everyday. I never ever knew what the english word for khoai mo was…I always just assumed it was some exotic root vegetable and I have always been able to just pick it up at the asian supermarket merely by remembering what it looked like from when my mother taught me how to make this soup a long time ago. I finally looked this up just recently and was surprised to learn that no, far from being any sort of exotic asian ingredient, the mysterious khoai mo is the highly misunderstood and overlooked yam.

Not to be confused with the orange sweet potato that we also call yams here in the states, yams are prevalent throughout the world and greatly differ from the yams that we usually find served on our Thanksgiving tables. These yams have a dark brown and rough exterior which when peeled gives way to a creamy white flesh underneath. Be careful while peeling these and resist the urge to wash the yam while peeling! They get very slippery when wet, much like okra or malabar, and can be very difficult to maneuver while peeling.

Making this soup is fairly simple. The peeled yams are prepped simply by scraping off chunks of the yam with a spoon and throwing it into a hot soup made with a straightforward shrimp base. Season to taste and there you have it. The resulting soup is creamy, tasty, hearty, and (at least for me) steeped in nostalgia which reminds us of one irrefutable truth. Food brings a family together and leaves an indelible mark in all of our hearts, one way or another.

Canh Khaoi Mỡ
As envisioned by TastyDesu


1/2 pound shrimp, peeled, de-veined and finely minced
1 small onion, finely minced
3 lbs yam
5 cups of water
1 to 2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon cumin
Salt and pepper to taste
1 tablespoon oil

Coarsely chopped scallions for garnish (about 2-3 stalks)


Peel yams, being careful to keep it dry during peeling so they don’t get slippery. Once complete, wash and dry the yam. Set aside.

Mix shrimp and onions together, season with salt and pepper. Heat oil over high heat in a large pot until it shimmers and add in shrimp and onion mixture. Saute until shrimp is no longer pink and slightly browned, about 3 minutes. Add in sugar, salt to taste, and water, remembering to deglaze the pan, and bring to a boil.

While broth is coming to a boil, finish preparing the yams. Place on a flat surface and using the inside of a spoon, begin scraping off chunks of yam. Don’t worry if you get large or uneven chunks…it gives the soup a rustic feel and a diversity of texture. After every handful or so of scraped off yam, add it to the broth in the pot. The yams will start to oxidize if left out too long and can start to take on a brown color. It doesn’t change the taste or composition of the soup, so don’t worry if it happens to you. Continue until all yams are scraped and added to the pot.

Bring soup to a boil and lower heat to a simmer. Simmer for 5 minutes. Stir in cumin. Garnish with chopped scallions and additional pepper and serve, either alone or with rice. Enjoy!


~ by tastydesu on July 21, 2010.

7 Responses to “Vietnamese Creamy Yam Soup – canh khoai mỡ”

  1. my sister-in-law is Vietnamese, and I would LOVE to surprise her by making this soup sometime when she comes for dinner. Thank you for clarifying yams and sweet potatoes and for your delicious looking soup and great photos that help me to understand the process.

  2. Woww is that topioca? or what kind of yum it is? it looks delicious!

    • Just the regular yam, Tes. It’s rough and brown on the outside and white on the inside. When it cooks up, it does get pretty thick and starchy like tapioca, but it’s just yams 🙂

  3. Thank you so much for sharing the recipe. I have been searching so long for the perfect combination of all the ingredients. The soup result was a very memorable comfort food for me. It was awesome!!!

  4. It’s called Khoai mo because the yam looks like floating chunks of fat in the soup. The Vietnamese are very literal people.

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