West Lake Soup Recipe

Egg, marinated ground meat, and lots of cilantro suspended in a savory broth.

Three bowls of West Lake Soup on a pink hued counter. There is a soup spoon in the bottom right corner of the image, and a small bowl of cilantro leaves in the bottom left corner.

Serious Eats / Qi Ai

Why This Recipe Works

  • Omitting egg yolks lightens the soup, allowing the cilantro to shine through.
  • Thickening the broth with cornstarch keeps the ground meat, egg white, and cilantro evenly dispersed throughout the soup.

In the days right after New Year's, I cooked a lot of West Lake soup. My mother's kitchen was low on provisions after days of feasting. Gosh, it was a nice visit back home. I ate a lot of pork bone soup and rice cakes. And, prawn chips every day, fried by my sainted mother. I never make them for myself. I save them for when I am home, and I can sit on the countertops and watch them puff in the hot oil. They still seem like magic to me every time. They still taste sublime.

After the holidays, what was left in the fridge was a little meat, a few eggs, and some cilantro. That's all you need for this soup, which is hearty yet not heavy, and fragrant from the cupfuls of cilantro you add to the pot.

If you do not care for cilantro or you are one of those unfortunate people who perceive it as soap, well, you could substitute scallions, watercress, or spinach. But I can't separate in my mind the appeal of West Lake soup from its typically heavy dose of cilantro. It spreads, in a pointillist fashion, into a broth thickened with cornstarch. Because of the cornstarch, the effect is as though the cilantro and meat and eggs are suspended, or floating, in nothingness. It is actually kind of beautiful, if you look deeply into the bowl.

The other day I made up yet another batch for breakfast, and sort of felt like I was eating oatmeal in Chinese soup form. It was so thick and soothing and hot. (Also, it only takes about 15 minutes to make, less time than it'd take to cook steel-cut oatmeal.)

Overhead shot of four bowls containing the ingredients for West Lake soup: cornstarch, cilantro, ground pork, and egg whites.

Serious Eats / Chichi Wang

As it turns out, I have some pretty strong opinions about how the meat and eggs should be added. I like either ground pork or finely minced beef, but not ground beef. Why is this? I think it's because I don't want the soup to be too rich or meaty, and ground beef has a special heaviness to it. A lot of West Lake soup recipes call for ground meat of any kind, but not for me, no siree. Ground beef makes West Lake soup taste like a burger patty accidentally fell into the pot.

Ground pork is neutral enough that you don't mind if it diffuses into the soup. And minced beef, while meaty, is self-contained. (For the same reason, ground chicken, I suppose, would suffice, though it would not be as fatty as ground pork. Fish fillets make an interesting variation as well.)

As for eggs, I want only the egg whites for their subtler flavor. Egg yolks enrich the broth, thus muddying up the brightness of the cilantro.

Oh yes, nothing shall come between me and my precious cilantro. Nothing!

January 2013

Recipe Details

West Lake Soup Recipe

Prep 5 mins
Cook 10 mins
Active 30 mins
Total 15 mins
Serves 4 servings

Egg, marinated ground meat, and lots of cilantro suspended in a savory broth.


  • 8 ounces ground pork or minced beef fillet, or white fish fillets, such as cod or flounder, roughly chopped

  • Kosher salt

  • 1 tablespoon light soy sauce

  • 2 tablespoons Shaoxing rice wine

  • 6 cups homemade or store-bought low-sodium chicken broth

  • 5 tablespoons cornstarch mixed with 1/4 cup water, to form a paste

  • 4 egg whites, lightly beaten

  • 1/4 teaspoon white pepper

  • 1 1/4 cups finely chopped cilantro


  1. In a medium-sized mixing bowl, combine meat with 1 teaspoon salt, soy sauce, and rice wine and set aside.

    Meat combined with 1 teaspoon of salt, soy sauce, and rice wine inside a medium-sized metal mixing bowl.

    Serious Eats / Qi Ai

  2. Combine broth and cornstarch paste in a 3-quart saucepan and cook over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, until broth comes to a boil and thickens slightly. Reduce heat to a bare simmer.

    A two-image collage. The top image shows the broth and cornstarch paste combined inside a saucepan over medium-high heat. The bottom image shows the broth, now slightly thickened, reduced to a bare simmer inside a saucepan.

    Serious Eats / Qi Ai

  3. Add the marinated ground meat stirring to break it up as you add it (stir gently if using fish). When the meat or fish is just cooked (about 30 seconds for meat or 2 minutes for fish), add egg whites by drizzling them into the simmering broth and stirring the broth around slowly with a pair of chopsticks. When egg whites are solidified, about 30 seconds longer, turn off the heat. Add white pepper and more salt to taste. Add chopped cilantro and stir around to incorporate. Serve immediately.

    A four-image collage. The top left image shows the marinated ground meat broken up in a saucepan containing the thickened broth. The top right image shows the egg whites being drizzled into the simmering broth while stirring the broth around slowly using a pair of cooking chopsticks. The bottom left image shows the eggs solidified in long thin strands inside the thickened broth in the saucepan. The bottom right image shows chopped cilantro incorporated into the soup inside of the saucepan.

    Serious Eats / Qi Ai

Special Equipment

3-quart saucepan

Read More

Nutrition Facts (per serving)
295 Calories
14g Fat
15g Carbs
26g Protein
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Nutrition Facts
Servings: 4
Amount per serving
Calories 295
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 14g 18%
Saturated Fat 5g 25%
Cholesterol 53mg 18%
Sodium 951mg 41%
Total Carbohydrate 15g 5%
Dietary Fiber 0g 1%
Total Sugars 1g
Protein 26g
Vitamin C 2mg 9%
Calcium 35mg 3%
Iron 2mg 10%
Potassium 614mg 13%
*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.
(Nutrition information is calculated using an ingredient database and should be considered an estimate.)