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Written by “Oo妖妖o”, translated by Juling He and Shanti Christensen
About the author: Born during the 1980s in Guangdong, “Oo妖妖o” is a young woman who has always loved food, travel, and cooking at home. Sometimes she dedicates herself to writing. We met “Oo妖妖o” on Weibo and were intrigued by her passion for food and how much information she likes to learn and share about Chinese food culture. Read her Sina blog at blog.sina.com.cn/lanlanlian and follow her Weibo at weibo.com/misswj.
Since ancient times, we depend on food for survival. I still shudder when I recount my grandparents’ stories from the Cultural Revolution, when food and clothes were scarce. I am from the post-1980s generation. For my generation, having full meals is not important. Though not all families are well off, some parents still try their best to prepare meals with care. As our society moves into the 21st century, many people do not focus only on providing three full meals a day. With economic progress, more and more people, old or young, begin to pay more attention to healthy meals, asking ‘Which foods will give us more strength?’ or ‘Which foods are best for beauty?’
These days, when it comes to food, our minds may first consider nutrition.
However, how can we eat healthily? Many foods with chemicals or additives have been exposed. We are overwhelmed with shock and panic. When eating in a restaurant, we instinctively doubt whether it is healthy or hygienic. What are the ingredients? Why don’t we just cook at home more often? While cooking for ourselves cannot guarantee lack of chemicals or safety, it is safer than eating out and we might enjoy a sense of achievement when cooking for ourselves or hearing family or friends say ‘Yum!’
I would like to introduce one of my recipes. It may not look beautiful, but I cook it with heart. Whenever I witness family and friends enjoy my cooking, I feel rewarded in the kitchen and any fatigue disappears!
“No one does not know soup in Guangdong. If you do not drink soup in Guangdong, you have not been to Guangdong. Cantonese who cannot cook soup do not deserve to be Cantonese.”
Although this saying may sound aggressive, it conveys the Cantonese affection toward soup.
The Cantonese have a long history of cooking soup, which is closely related to the humid, hot climate in Lingnan. Heat and humidity inevitably penetrates the human body. Although they are not major illnesses, people feel very uncomfortable when ailed by heat and humidity. There are Chinese herbal medicines available for Cantonese to reduce internal heat or remove the humidity, but pure medicine is too bitter. Medicinal effects lacking bitterness were desired. How was this problem solved? Clever Cantonese were inspired by the process of boiling Chinese herbal medicines thus began adding herbal medicine to delicious soups. That’s how Lǎo huǒ liàng tāng (老火靓汤, slowly-cooked soup) came into existence.
Lǎo huǒ liàng tāng originated from Chinese herbal medicine food remedies. The soup varies by different of physique requirements and the seasons. For a long time, soup has been an integral part of Cantonese culture. Along with Guangzhou (capital of Guangdong province) cold tea, Cantonese soup epitomizes Guangzhou food and drink culture.
Cantonese eating habits entail drinking soup first then eating food second. For newcomers in Guangdong, they may not feel accustomed to having so much soup, but with time, they will realize the regimen wisdom beneath: soup will warm the empty stomach first to trigger its digestion function; the meals afterwards will not pressure the stomach and bowels for digesting; since the stomach is filled with some soup, you will not wolf down meals, and naturally reap a beneficial habit of fine chewing and slow swallowing.
Cantonese do not make soup at random. They usually match ingredients according to their medicine effect and season changes so as to help people become physically fit and prevent and cure diseases. Outsiders may think it’s really difficult to make Cantonese soup for a soup dish requires different kinds of ingredients, precise amount of water, heating control, enough cooking time, etc. It’s not true actually. The key is to cook with great care.
Please follow me to see how my Cantonese soup is served to the table.
First, let’s start with an overview of the different styles of soups in Cantonese cuisine. Soups differ by the cooking method.
- Dùn tāng (炖汤, stewed soup)
- Wēi tāng (煨汤, simmered soup)
- Bāo tāng (煲汤, slowly cooked soup in a ceramic pot)
- Gǔn tāng (滚汤, boiled soup) or shēng gǔn (生滚 )
- Qīngtāng (清汤, light soup)
Most popular in family recipes are the third and fourth styles. Where does their difference lie?
In Cantonese restaurants, above the door, it always says ‘XX生滚XX汤’. Literally, shēng gǔn (生滚) means all raw ingredients in the soup are boiled. Most easily-cooked ingredients are added to boiling water in a wok. When the water returns to a boil, add salt to taste. It’s done! The cooking time is usually around 20 minutes. The time is short and the soup tastes good, so many office workers and wives especially love cooking this kind of soup.
Bāo tāng (煲汤, slow-cooked soup in a ceramic pot), is completely different from shēng gǔn. First, the ingredients are always difficult to cook and require a long time so their flavors can bloom. Second, the soup is usually cooked in special ceramic pots. First high flame and when it boils lower the flame. The soup needs 1-3 hours to cook. Ceramic pots are fire-proof enabling a more fragrant soup. If you want to treat guests with bāo tāng, you need to budget more time.
Some may wonder, between the two, which cooking method is better? It does not make sense to characterize a soup as “good” or “bad”. Cooking method depends on the ingredients. Just go ahead and make whatever soup you want!
Yángcōng sīguā gǔn zhū shòu ròu tāng (洋葱丝瓜滚猪瘦肉汤; onion, loofah, and pork soup)
- 150 grams lean pork, sliced
- ½ teaspoon cooking oil
- ½ teaspoon soy sauce
- ½ teaspoon corn starch
- 1 yellow onion, sliced
- 500 grams loofah, peeled and sliced
- 50 grams fresh button mushrooms, sliced
- 1 piece 1½-inch ginger
- 1.25 litres (5¼ cups) water
- salt to taste
- In a small bowl, combine pork with cooking oil, soy sauce, and corn starch. Marinate for five minutes.
- Blanch the button mushrooms for 1 minute.
- Add ginger to 1.25 litres of water and bring to a boil. Add button mushrooms, loofah, and pork; the water will simmer down. When the water returns to a boil, add onion. After two minutes, add salt to taste. Serve while hot.
Serves 3-4 people.
According to Chinese herbal medicine, this soup is effective in removing humidity from the body during summer. The soup is a little spicy from ginger and onion, but possesses a fresh sweetness from the loofah.
- Use yellow onion. Red onions are for stir-frying.
- Button mushrooms belong to cold food. Blanching them in boiling water helps remove its coldness.
- Do not overboil it. It’s gǔn tāng (滚汤)!
Chinese herbal medicine recommendation for summer dining
Eat few cold foods and more spicy food. During summer, yang qi in human bodies is increasingly vigorous, while humidity inside the body is at its highest of the year. If people eat cold foods often, inner-body humidity will accumulate. Chinese herbal medicine believes a lot of illnesses result from accumulated humidity. Spicy food is helpful for alleviating humidity.
Spicy food substitute
For southern region Chinese, who feel uncomfortable with spicy flavor, onions are the most suitable substitute. It belongs to warm food, which can help alleviate heat, dissolve phlegm, stimulate appetite, remove humidity, decrease blood pressure and blood sugar, and help with weight loss.