SOUP DISHES ARE SO popular in Hong Kong that you can order them by app or stop on your way to work for some quick broth. And multi-course Cantonese dinners are not complete without a soup course.
Cantonese people believe that savouring regular bowls of soup can help reduce water retention in the body, prevent excessive sweating, boost health and prevent illnesses.
Legend says that the local soup’s history can be back to the Han Dynasty, more than 2,000 years ago. Zhao Tuo (趙佗), an ambitious general of the Qin Dynasty, founded the short-lived Nanyue kingdom (南越國) in southern China. This incorporated much of the Guangdong area.
The humid weather sickened his general, then many troops and then Zhao himself. One day, it is said, Zhao ordered his chef to stew ingredients in a giant cooking utensil for hours to derive as much goodness as he could from them. He drank the slow-cooked meat and vegetables and felt his strength returned. After several days, he made a full recovery – and started the tradition of consuming long-cooked soups in the region. Records suggest he lived to the age of 102, which was remarkable in those days.
Today, Cantonese people love to seek relief from discomfort and tiredness caused by heat and humidity with a nice bowl of soup. Thanks to the warm climate and fertile soil, there’s a dazzling variety of species and plants for gastronomy.
The classic Cantonese soup is slow-boiled soup, or Lo Foh Tong (老火湯), with ingredients slowly simmered for hours to extract favour.
Lo Foh Tong is simmered in a pot and the full flavour of the ingredients is extracted by boiling by cooking for a long time, sometimes several hours.
Cooks whip up different combinations of chicken or lean pork, with beans, vegetables, and even fruit. Cantonese people believe that there is a soup for every season. In spring and summer seasons, people can taste winter melon soup in intense heat weather. Nothing offers more satisfaction than a mouthful hot soup to moisturise and nourish our body in dry and chilly weather.
Double-boiled soup or Dun Tong (炖湯), and quick-boiled soup or Gwun Tong (滾湯), are also sought after. Double-boiled soup is made with a slower process featuring all the ingredients put inside a ceramic pot within an outer pot. In such way, the soup can reserve its taste and healing properties.
DIVERSE SOUP RECIPES
There is a plethora of diverse soup recipes with seasonal ingredients full of nutritional value, and many are made with seasonal ingredients.
Soup is made from a wide array of meats such as whole chicken, duck, pork trotters or pork bones, with other ingredients such as kudzu (粉葛), licorice (甘草), barley (薏米), lotus seeds (蓮子) and many others.
Packed with a plethora of ingredients, Cantonese people’s favorite soups include fish maw and chicken soup (花膠濃雞湯), fuzzy melon, octopus, rice bean, and lentil soup (節瓜章魚赤小豆扁豆湯), and sea coconut, pear and snow fungus soup (海底椰雪梨雪耳湯), among others.
With its natural sweetness, the sea coconut, pear, and snow fungus soup is light and healthy. Snow fungus is appraised for its rich fibre and benefits skin health, digestive and immune systems, while sea coconut is known to help alleviate coughs and relieve dry throat and pear boosts immunity while protecting body from free radical damage.
Cantonese soup, when intermingled with medicinal plants, is known as an elixir for its preventative effects and healing powers.
Red Dates (红枣), Codonopsis Root (黨參) and Chinese Angelica (當歸) are common herbal ingredients for soup.
Red Dates (红枣) is considered a “superfood” which can be used in soup to replenish the strength of the blood. Codonopsis Root is an acclaimed Chinese herb. It is mild in nature, so replenishes energy while not being as strong as ginseng, while Chinese Angelica helps enrich blood and promote blood circulation.
Soup is a nourishment on a primal level and it is even regarded as an elixir for good health with healing properties.
But the best reason for eating it is much simpler. The best soups taste great.
Image at the top by Frank Zhang on Unsplash