Monday, May 16, 2011

About Chinese Soups & Chinese White Cabbage and Bean Curd Soup

Before coming to Hong Kong I only drank vegetable soups. Most of them were made with potato, leek, and carrot – homely soups prepared every day by my mum.  However, here in Hong Kong, most of the Chinese soups contain meat in addition to vegetables. They also include dried fruits such as honey dates, legumes or nuts such as green beans, peanuts, apricot kernels, and even dried seafood.  

At first I found Chinese soups quite strong in taste and too greasy. I would not have imagined that one day I would drink such a rich broth. During my first year in Hong Kong I did not really appreciate Chinese style soups.  It was as if I was drinking the broth of a pot-au-feu [a popular and rather low-cost French dish made of carrots, turnips, leeks, onion, and beef - usually a cartilaginous cut or bone with marrow - and boiled for a few hours]. Pot-au-feu is the closest thing I can think of that can be compared with Chinese soups.

Today I really appreciate the taste and virtues of these nutritious soups and like most local people I drink them with pleasure. I do believe that similarly to western medicinal herbs most of the dried foods (such as those put in Chinese soups) have specific therapeutic values.
After almost 25 years in Hong Kong I say without hesitation that I love Chinese soups. Of course I still love the soups my mother makes although they taste different.  I even enjoy having a soup in the summer!  I also understand why my husband after a few days in France would always ask my mother to prepare him a dish of “pot-au-feu”. He is missing Chinese soups!

I think that Hong Kong people not only like soups for their properties but also the feeling hidden behind: going to one’s parents to drink soup is very important.  I often heard my colleagues and friends mentioning that their parents had asked them to go home to “drink soup / yám tong”.
Are soups a symbol of love and more specifically of filial love? Is it because not only soups are nutritious but also need time to cook and therefore shows the mum’s devotion to her family?
Time spent by the mother expresses her love towards her children. After their young ones get married and live on their own they usually have no time to cook such soups at their home as they work long hours. Parents will call back their little ones home and show their love by preparing them a nutritious soup to keep them strong and healthy!

There are 3 kinds of soups:

1) Slow-cooked soups that are simmered for at least 2 hours under direct heat.

2) Double boiled soups (or herbal soups) that are made with delicate ingredients such as bird’s nest.

3) Quick soups: as the name indicates, need a shorter time to cook than slow-cooked soups.

Here is my recipe of Chinese white cabbage and bean curd soup (a quick soup).

Soup with fresh baahk-choi only

Soup with fresh and dried baahk-choi

  • ~300gr (1/2 catty) spareribs (cut into small pieces) or lean pork (sliced)
  • 1 block of solid bean curd
  • 300gr (1/2 catty) Chinese white cabbage (cut into short lengths)
  • 6 rice bowls of water
  • 1 slice ginger
  • ½ tsp salt
  1. Wash meat clean and scald it in boiling water and drain for use.  Wash Chinese white cabbage. Wash the bean curd clean.
  2. Bring water to a boil. Add meat and ginger slice in and bring to a boil. Cook over medium heat for ½ hour.
  3. Put the bean curd in to boil for 15 minutes.
  4. Add the Chinese white cabbage in and boil for another 10-15 minutes.
  5. Add salt to taste before serving.
Option: Add ~75gr of dried baahk-choi (previously rinsed with water and soaked in warm water for at least 1 hour). Remember to decrease the quantity of fresh baahk-choi (250gr are enough).  

Dried Chinese white cabbage (baahk-choi)

Note: I bought a pack (130gr) of dried baahk-choi at HK$12 (at Yue Wah Chinese Products). The pack can be divided to make 2 soups.

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