Home > Sayur Asem (Indonesian Tamarind Soup)

Sayur Asem (Indonesian Tamarind Soup)

Posting Date: 08/16/16

Sayur Asem (Indonesian Tamarind Soup)

Sayur Asem (Indonesian Tamarind Soup) is a vegetable soup dish that is made with tamarind paste to give sour flavor. The sour flavor also comes from the tomato. Sayur Asem or Sayur Asam means sour vegetables. Even though it is a soup, it is normally served with cooked rice and other dishes, such as fried chicken (ayam goreng), ikan asin (fried salted fish), etc. This dish originated from Sunda and Jakarta areas which are in West Java. People from these areas eat a lot of vegetables, either cooked or raw. Their dishes also use a lot of terasi or shrimp paste and chili paste. Terasi (shrimp paste) and chili paste are the ingredients used in sayur asem. Because of the shrimp paste used in the ingredients, it is not a vegetarian dish. If you want to make it vegetarian, you can skip it; however, I don't recommend you doing it if you are not a vegetarian. The reason is because shrimp paste adds depth of flavor that you cannot replace with anything else.

The vegetables used in sayur asem are normally corn, long bean, chayote, tomato and young jackfruit. You can find young jackfruit in a can in your Asian grocery story. My Asian store was running out of it, so I didn't use it in the recipe. Some people may add cabbage as the ingredient. Since I cannot find red chili pepper in my Asian store, I normally replace it with sambal oelek. Please note that I use Huy Fong brand for sambal oelek since they don't add shrimp paste or garlic to it and thus, I got the chili pepper I need without any other flavors I don't want. I normally like my vegetables not mushy and thus, I cook the long bean with just enough time to make it tender crisp but not soft and mushy. As for the chayote, make sure you don't overcook it. You want it cooked but not mushy. You can cook them according to your preference.

This recipe serves for 2 people.


  • For seasoning paste: 3 small shallots or 1 big shallot, quartered since it will be processed in food processor
  • For seasoning paste: 2 cloves garlic, halved since they will be processed in food processor
  • For seasoning paste: 1.5 teaspoon sambal oelek or to taste. If you can find red chili pepper, you can use them instead of sambal oelek. You can use 2 red chili peppers or more depending on your tolerance to heat. If you don't like heat, you can remove the seeds and ribs before putting them in the food processor. I use Huy Fong brand for sambal oelek since they don't add shrimp paste or garlic to it and thus, I got the chili pepper I need without unwanted flavor from garlic or shrimp paste.
  • 1 chayote, peeled, deseeded, and diced. To deseed chayote, cut it in half lengthwise. The seed is on the center. You can use the knife to remove it.
  • 1 corn, diced into 1.5" length
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1.5 teaspoon tamarind paste or to taste
  • 3.5 cups water or just enough to cover vegetables
  • 2.5 teaspoons brown sugar or to taste
  • 1 tomato, diced
  • 1 cup long beans, sliced into 2" length. If you cannot find long beans, you can use green beans.
  • 1 cup of diced cabbage
  • 2 teaspoons terasi (shrimp paste) or to taste. To make it vegetarian, you can omit it. However, the taste will be different and not as good as when you use it.
  • pinch of salt or to taste


  1. Process sambal oelek, shallots and garlic in food processor until they become smooth paste.
  2. Turn on the stove. Add water, corn, chayote, bay leaves, tamarind paste, and brown sugar into a pot. Make sure the water cover the corn and chayote. Let the water boiling. Once boiling, add long bean, seasoning paste, and shrimp paste (terasi) into pot.
  3. Once the long bean has become tender crisp or cooked to your preference and chayote has become soft but not mushy, add tomato, cabbage, and salt. Stir the pot and taste the soup. Add more salt, sugar, shrimp paste, or tamarind paste if needed. Let the soup cook for 1 more minute until cabbage becomes tender crisp or cooked to your preference.
  4. Turn off the stove. Discard bay leaves. Serve the soup with warm rice or you can eat it without rice.

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