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Luxi

Chinese soups

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Luxi
 

The program  文明之旅 (Journey of Civilization) in Central TV's Channel 4 has a whole program dedicated to Chinese soups, from marijuana soup favoured in Bama County (notorious for the longevity of its people) to the Emerald and Jade Soup fit for an emperor-in-waiting. No recipes but plenty of interesting information.

 

It was broadcast on 22 August 2016 and is still online.

 

There are many ways to get the 文明之旅 streams, I normally watch it through the free CBox (Cn TV) app in the iPod, but the videos can also be found in several sites online and on direct Chinese TV streams. This seems to be its main site:

 


 

and this the link for the soups' episode:


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abcdefg

Thanks, Luxi. I love Chinese soups and often make them at home in Kunming. Look forward to watching some of these episodes for inspiration and ideas.

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Luxi

Unfortunately, there's only this one video about soups, the other videos in  文明之旅 are about other aspects of traditional Chinese culture presented by experts in the field. This series is actually one of my favourite Chinese TV programs, there's something interesting almost every week and as it is made for us 老外 (even has subtitles) the speakers are usually very good and clear.

 

Going back to soups, I really learnt a lot from this video, though it may be very basic for you, abcdefg. I still have to try making a true Chinese soup, but I will soon. Something I learnt here that I didn't know is that one has to avoid using metal containers to make soup (or at least some soups), I was delighted to remember that a slow cooker that I haven't used for years actually has a ceramic bowl, and it looks like the ideal Chinese soup maker.

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abcdefg
Something I learnt here that I didn't know is that one has to avoid using metal containers to make soup (or at least some soups), I was delighted to remember that a slow cooker that I haven't used for years actually has a ceramic bowl, and it looks like the ideal Chinese soup maker.

 

That's right. For the "long-cooking soups" I use a purple clay electric soup pot 紫砂炖锅 that is very similar to a western slow cooker or crock pot. My two favorite "long-cooking soups" are lotus root with pork spare ribs 莲藕炖排骨 and 山药炖排骨 ("Chinese yam")。

 

http://www.chineseherbshealing.com/chinese-yam/

 

I also make a chicken and vegetable stew in that slow ceramic pot. These are all great for the cool months of the year.

 

In the warm months of the year I make soup stovetop, using an ordinary metal pot with a lid. These cook very quickly. My favorite of those is mint soup because it's so cooling and refreshing. Garnish it with a swirl of "egg drop." Here's a link to that one: http://www.chinese-forums.com/index.php?/topic/51575-early-kunming-summer-mint-soup-and-mangoes/

 

I often have 苦菜汤 during summer. It's just the (slightly bitter) green leafy vegetable and water. Minimum seasonings. It also works with spinach 菠菜 and a few others。http://thewoksoflife.com/chinese-vegetables-asian-leafy-greens/

 

I'm back in the US now on my annual visit. Once I return to Kunming, I promise to post some tried and true soup recipes. They add a lot to any meal and are an easy way to enjoy fresh market vegetables.

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Luxi

Thanks! The mint soup sounds interesting, not sure whether I'll like it - never thought of combining mint with egg drops- but must try it since it's so easy to make. Unfortunately I harvested my garden mint last week and it is already dried up for teas, it'll have to wait until next summer.

 

The medicinal aspect of food in Chinese culture would be a worthy subject for a multi-part series, there was some of it in this video but it barely scratched the surface, 

 

I'll look forward to more soup and stew posts when you're back in China. It'll be the right time of the year for that, and I recently found an oriental on-line retailer in Lincolnshire that sells some hard to find Chinese vegetables.

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abcdefg
The mint soup sounds interesting, not sure whether I'll like it - never thought of combining mint with egg drops- but must try it since it's so easy to make.

 

Mint is well-loved in Yunnan; much, much more so than in the rest of China. 云南人 use it a lot. Most rice noodle 米线 shops have a big bowl of it that you can add to your noodle soup, along with cilantro 香草 and pickled vegetables 泡菜。

 

Part of the reason it's popular is that it is thought to be 清火, dispels excess internal heat.

 

The medicinal aspect of food in Chinese culture would be a worthy subject for a multi-part series, there was some of it in this video but it barely scratched the surface...

 

Agree. The medicinal aspect of food is so important here; much more than in the West. It's something I don't know much about. All my Chinese friends have more of this lore, and much of it came from things Mom and Dad said as they were growing up at home.

 

Here's one small attempt at entering that world: steamed snow pears and rock sugar. 

http://www.chinese-forums.com/index.php?/topic/51906-chinese-medicine-that-tastes-good-%E5%86%B0%E7%B3%96%E7%82%96%E9%9B%AA%E6%A2%A8/

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abcdefg

This morning I watched the segment that was about soup, originally broadcast on CCTV 4. It was an elegant and interesting discussion. Thanks again, Luxi, for pointing it out.

 

Since they were presenting the subject of soup in the larger context of Chinese culture, it was inevitable that the discussion would turn to Hong Lou Meng 红楼梦, Su Dongpo 苏东坡,and even the Qianlong Emperor 乾隆帝。Being Manchu (Qing 清代) he relished soups made with mutton.

 

The dishes presented were more of historical interest and less of a practical guide to what can be made and consumed today. 火麻汤,sometimes translated as "marijuana soup" falls in that category. It is famous for promoting longevity in Guangxi's 巴马村。Ginger 生姜 and Angelica 当归 are added to the hemp.

 

Some others were mainly of regional importance, such as bird nest, duck and lotus soup 燕菜鸭肉莲藕汤 in Guangzhou. Soup made from goose and white radish 鄂肉白萝卜 was extolled for helping the lungs 养肺 to fight Beijing's often bad air. Understanding how it works requires an acceptance of TCM physiology and pathology concepts. For example, this soup helps the lungs by "relaxing the bowels and reducing Qi 通便,下气。"

 

The scholarly professor who was featured, talked about the importance of fresh taste 鲜味 in the finished product and told how to achieve it in a clear soup 清汤,which are at the pinnacle of Chinese soup making. Long slow heat after the initial boil is of major importance, with simmering bubbles only the size and shape of chrysanthemum flowers.

 

Throughout the discussion, the featured speaker and the host made an important descriptive distinction. They sometimes spoke of “汤羹” as a single category, and other times separated the two terms. 汤 refers more to clear soups and 羹 refers more to thick soups.

 

Not discussed were stews, which also exist in daily life at the present time. They did mention "beverage soups" such as 酸梅汤, made from sour plums.

 

They also touched on the medicinal aspect of selecting ingredients and cooking methods, with techniques ranging from pure decoctions featuring one potent item plus water, to soups which combine two or three herbs to achieve a specific effect.

 

Chinese seldom or never make cream soups, with a roux-type oil and flour base, such as cream of mushroom or cream of chicken. 

 

All in all, very worth watching in my opinion, as background, but not as a source of recipes and cooking tips. The language is easy and the presentation is clear.  

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Alex_Hart

Thanks to both of you for the post and the summary! Will check it out and post back.

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Michaelyus

i love me my dessert soups! 糖水!

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abcdefg

Michaelyus, that's an interesting comment. I've almost never seen them outside Hong Kong. What kind of dessert soup do you like?

 

A couple months ago in Macau, I found a tiny upmarket shop in the basement of the old Hotel Lisboa 葡京酒店 that specialized in real, original-recipe,medicinal-grade guiling gao 龟苓膏 actually made on the premises from real tortoise shells and lots of herbs.

 

They served it dark, bitter and completely unsweetened, with sugar syrup on the side that you could add to taste in order to make it more palatable.

 

The place had only 4 or 5 marble-topped tables, each with several short stools. It was expensive, between 200 and 300 HKD per small serving. Can't find my snapshots, but here's one I clipped:

 

post-20301-0-21534300-1476187475_thumb.jpg

 

Would like to hear more about your experience with desert soups. Please do tell us more.

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Zeppa

@Luxi/abcdefg: do you make tea out of spearmint or similar, or peppermint? That is, what mint are we talking about?

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Luxi

Zeppa, I think any type of mint will do, alone or in combination. I use ordinary peppermint which grows wild in the shady part of my garden. Mint tea is very good for digestion.

 

Of course the Chinese would object to using the name 'tea' for mint or other herbs - I wonder what herbal teas were called in English before the Chinese-derived word 'tea' came into the language, does anyone know? 

 

Michaelyus, what is a dessert soup and why do you like them?

 

abcdefg, that was a fantastic summary of the video!

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Geiko

Of course the Chinese would object to using the name 'tea' for mint or other herbs - I wonder what herbal teas were called in English before the Chinese-derived word 'tea' came into the language, does anyone know?

Infusion? (Just my guess)

Edit: in any case, would the Chinese really object to using the word "tea" for herbal teas? After all, 花茶、冬瓜茶、珍珠奶茶…… have little to no tea at all :D

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abcdefg

Agree with "infusion." The French also call them "tisanes" and that word has gained a little international traction over the years. And Geiko's experience is the same as my own: Today one can ask for 菊花茶 (chrysanthemum tea) or 玫瑰茶 (rose bud tea) and nobody bats an eye, even though some crusty old professor might try to correct you. 

 

http://www.chinese-forums.com/index.php?/topic/52564-quick-translation-of-tea-bag/

 

With mint tea, and a few others, if buying the dry materials in a tea store, you may need to indicate whether you want a scented tea made with tea leaves plus flowers or the flowers alone. Jasmine tea 茉莉花茶, for example, is jasmine flowers plus tea leaves. And Moroccan-style mint tea is similarly tea leaves plus mint together. With jasmine tea, the actual tea component is usually a green tea; while with mint tea, it is usually a black/red tea.

 

For what it's worth, here's a link to the Baidu discussion, where they review some of the specialized knowledge and categorize common mint as 唇形科植物。http://baike.baidu.com/subview/18986/15979555.htm

 

post-20301-0-08735500-1476191201_thumb.jpg

 

The kind of quasi-medicinal herbal infusions popular in Guangdong under the designation 凉茶 (liangcha/"cooling tea") are a whole different and complex subject. In Zhuhai, for example, I've frequently bought these by the glass (paper cup actually) from street-side vendors that sold six or eight varieties. Some are named for the mountain where their main ingredients are found.

 

Certain of these 凉茶 are more popular when the weather is wet and warm, while others are more popular when it is hot and dry. Most of them are bitter and are used more as a tonic than for simple refreshment. Pharmacies 药店 often have two or three large dispenser-type jars near the front entrance and sell them by "the dose."

 

As far as the kind of mint used for the best mint tea, I'm afraid that I really don't know the scientific name or the varietal designation of the type that usually grows here. In Kunming markets, where mint is very popular in everyday use for all sorts of cooking, it is just called 薄荷。Sometimes one can find wild mint for sale, 野生薄荷。The leaves are smaller, but it has a stronger flavor.  

 

One of my favorite dishes with fresh mint in Kunming is 牙签牛肉 which would translate as "toothpick beef." These are very thin and small slices of lean beef skewered on a toothpick with mint leaves and then quickly fried with more mint plus chili peppers. Usually sprinkled with sesame seeds just as they come out of the wok. It's a staple of Muslim 回族 restaurants here as well as being available at many other small eateries. (Photos not mine.)

 

post-20301-0-09063100-1476191845_thumb.jpg   post-20301-0-48760100-1476189482_thumb.jpg   post-20301-0-73701800-1476191580_thumb.jpg  

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Michaelyus

In general, 糖水 is a Cantonese-ism (the native northernism is 甜汤 but it sounds rather arcane) for a category of soups, usually sweet in nature, to round off a multi-course meal. Hence the functional translation "dessert soup". It's very much part of the Cantonese tradition, rather amplified in Western / overseas immigrant Cantonese Chinese culture. Second helpings were always requested and even encouraged in my family!

 

A lot of them fall into the overall Chinese medical tradition of heath tonics, and selecting the appropriate dessert soup for the meal / season / constitution of the diner is quite important. The steamed pears noted above would definitely fall into this category for this reason., as would egg, red (adzuki) bean, mung bean, white wood-ear fungus, sweet potato... the traditional set is rather fixed, but inventive combinations do occur.

 

Although I personally don't consider 芝麻糊 and related "pastes" or porridges to be 糖水 in the strictest sense, they may fall together functionally, along with sweet forms of congee. I'd consider all these 甜品 in general though.

 

Some of the most exotic items of "food" I've ever had come under the guise of medicinal soups, but the ones I've enjoyed have often been 糖水.

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abcdefg

Thanks, Michaelyus. Interesting. I've had the white wood-ear fungus one. Have been in the habit of not eating desert with a Chinese meal, with the possible exception of a piece of fruit. Look forward to exploring others next time I'm through Guangdong, Hong Kong, Macau.

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geraldc

糖水 can be a little hard to explain. If you get a chance to try hasma, grab it.

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Michaelyus

@geraldc Seconded. 哈士蟆 is the number one "exotic" food that I genuinely enjoyed. Nothing like describing that to freak someone out about the "crazy things Chinese people eat" trope. Or indeed other Chinese about what crazy things 广东人 eat.

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abcdefg
If you get a chance to try hasma, grab it.

 

Didn't know what it was, so I Googled it.

  , 蛤, 膏,

 

Hasma (Harsmar, Hashima) is a Chinese and widely Central Asian dessert ingredient made from the dried fatty tissue found near the fallopian tubes of true frogs, typically the Asiatic Grass Frog (Rana chensinensis). Because of its whitish appearance, Hasma is often mistakenly described as "snow frog fat".[1] The Western pharmaceutical term is Oviductus Ranae.
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