The importance of soups in China
Although stir frying is probably the most well-known method in Chinese cooking, you might be surprised what an important role soups play in Chinese cuisine. That is why the ‘typical’ Chinese meal includes four dishes and one soup :).
But Chinese soup is almost completely different to Western soup — I mean, both the actual soup and the concept.
The first few times I tried butternut squash soup, it took my ‘Chinese stomach’ a while to understand what I just had. I did begin to love Western soup, my favorite is Spanish ‘puré de verduras’, my suegra (mother-in-law) prepared. But Chinese soup is usually clear soup, never creamy. Although the soup obviously contains various ingredients, it rather looks like ‘coloured’ water. So, this kind of soup can never be like butternut squash soup as a ‘main’ on the table, it is not heavy enough.
The history of Chinese soups
The history of Chinese soup goes back to
thousands of years ago. In those ancient times, rich people had soup on a daily basis. Some of the soups were supposed to keep you healthy, calm your mind, and give you a long life. (ha.. do you believe? It has been recorded all the emperors ‘queens’ had chefs make them soup everyday).
The most famous soups are the ones with the purpose of nutritious boost and medication, for example, chicken and mushroom soup is best for helping women achieve a speedy recovery after giving birth. And if you are not feeling well, lost appetite for food, people would normally suggest you to have some soup — it is easy to digest, don’t have chew much… a lazy solution. These kinds of soups normally require hours boiling, and some of them can be very very expensive. Saying it is clear soup, all the ingredients (vegetables or meat) are good to eat as well, after long time boiling, the taste is great.
In recently years, ‘nutritious’ soup once again becomes a popular thing, well recommended food in China. And different season has different ‘suitable’ soups.
In recently years, these ‘nutritious’ soups have again become popular in China. They can normally can be taken alone, without rice or any stable food. And according to their functions, they can be taken before the meal, for boosting appetite, or after meal, for digestion, or just in between the meals, and may even serve for medical purpose.
The ‘nutritious’ ‘soup’ tradition is still well kept in Southern China, especially in the Canton area. Where in Northern, soup is still part of a typical meal, but it is more like helping enriching the varieties on the table, and balance the ‘dryness’ (from simple stir-fry). It is particularly popular having it accompany dumplings, bao zi (steamed bread with fillings), bing (flat bread).
Types of Chinese soups
Some Chinese soups of them are very easy to make. The most popular homemade soup is ‘sour and spicy’ soup. It sounds very similar to the ‘hot and sour’ soup you can get in the restaurants or takeaways over here (in England), but it is rather different. Northeast ‘sour and spicy’ soup has tomato, cucumber and eggs with sour and chilli seasonings in a clear water base, without any thickening.
Another two popular soups are lamb soup and chicken soup. Lamb soup is believed to have originated within Chinese islamic ethnic groups, but has become one of most popular soups in Northern cuisine. It is boiled lamb chitterlings and viscera with seasonings. At home, we normally use lamb ribs.., with bones to boil the soup, and with sprinkling some ground white pepper and coriander — is the best!
In my ethnic group, soup-based dishes are always served in formal occasions, instead of stir-frying. Traditionally a formal dinner needs to include ‘eight big bowls’ on the table — (‘bowls’ are used to contain soup or soup based food not stir-fried dish in China.) These dishes have lots of vegetables, meat… etc cooked in different soup, or they influence the main taste of the soup. So you can pick up the ingredients in the bowl, and use spoon to have the soup.
I was used to this kind of dish, so when I had curries here (in England), I kept on doing the same thing, (I do like the curry sauce), my friends’ eyes widely open, ‘no, it is not soup, you cannot have it like soup’, I paused, ‘but they are just like Chinese soup based dishes, so why not..’ …. Culture clash, culture clash… :)))
I should not go into the details in this post, and leave how to make Chinese soups and soup based food in the future posts. :))