Soup is very important in a Chinese diet, be it as a starter, main course, dessert or as a medicinal remedy. When we were younger, my mom started every dinner with a bowl of soup. We never quite enjoyed it, because the base was, more often than not, with anchovies instead of chicken or pork bones. Then she would throw in an assortment of vegetables: root, leafy or cruciferous, into the fish broth. Other times, when she had a little more time, she made chicken soup, lotus seed, peanut, black bean, winter melon or the more lavish pig stomach with abalone soup. These were more well-received that the floating anchovies (even though she tried her best to skim them off the soup before serving us. We were a spoiled bunch).
A pot of soup begins with a form of liquid (water, stock or juice) and then combined with meat and an assortment of vegetables or beans. It is then boiled until the flavor is extracted, thus forming a very nutritious broth. There are clear soups (bouillon and consummé) or thick soups (purées: vegetable soup thickened with starch, bisques: puréed shellfish or vegetables thickened with cream, cream: thickened with béchamel sauce or veloutés: thickened with eggs, butter and cream. Thickening agents include rice, flour and grains. Stews are sometimes mistaken as soup, even though they are very similar. However, soups generally have more liquid than stews.
Then there are soups, made by the Chinese, used as herbal remedies and dessert, which are called tong sui, 糖水 or sweet soup. These help balance the yin and yang energy of the body. When the body is “heaty” or have too much yang energy (ie. flu and cough) it is the “cooled” down with yin food like barley and chrysanthemum. The same is not true on the reverse side. My mom used to tell us that if the body is too “cooling” or have too much yin energy, you cannot bring it to equilibrium with yang food. It will then be remedied with food that are “yun” or right in the middle. Food that are “yun” are usually very expensive. To enhance the body’s flow of energy, soups like bird’s nest, snow frog’s glands (shuet kap) and snow fungus (shuet yee) are drank.
Tong Sui | barley • cheng pou leong • chrysanthemum • lohan guo longan •
gingko biloba barley • green bean • red bean •
Chinese | bak kut teh • chicken stew mixed vegetable •
chinese cabbage & mushroom soup • peanut soup
American | spinach soup •