Photos and Words by Marilynne Cheng
If you ask my mother one secret to her youthful looks, she will respond with a simple answer—soup. Now, I’m not talking about that canned chicken noodle soup loaded with sodium or the soup that is, at best, seen as a mere complement to the pieces of wontons that are floating on top of it. I am also definitely not talking about miso soup because that’s Japanese.
In Cantonese culture, soup is a form of art. The ingredients include a mix of fresh and dried goods sourced from the local open market, “街市,” and dried foods stores, “海味舖.” It requires hours upon hours of boiling until all the flavors and essence from the fresh and dry goods are “extracted,” leaving the soup with an aroma unique to the ingredients put into the soup. Typically served at the end of the meal, the bowl of steamy hot soup is to wash down all the greasiness in your system and warm up your belly. It is the surprise at the end of the meal that leaves you feeling satisfied and comforted (AKA in a food coma) after a long day.
Considered a “cure-all,” Chinese soup is also loaded with health benefits. Personally, there is nothing more relaxing than drinking a bowl of hot soup on a winter night as it revitalizes my icy cold hands. At home, the combination of ingredients is deliberately assembled by my mother to target specific conditions like acne, a sore throat, or the flu.
I went back home this winter break, and one thing I looked forward to was home-cooked meals. Soup was, not surprisingly, on the dinner table. Since I had the chance, I decided to document, in pictures, the process of making my favorite pork and vegetable soup.
Ingredients: Clockwise: Carrots, Dried vegetables, Ginger, Pork Ribs, Dried Conch
The dried ingredients need to be soaked in water overnight.
Side story: Take a peek at all the dried foods that occupy half of my fridge! There are dried scallops, dried chrysanthemum, more dried vegetables.
All the ingredients, along with some soaked almonds, are placed in a pot of water.
All set! Now just wait for it to boil and leave it boiling for at least three hours…
Three hours later…
After three hours of boiling, the soup is finally ready! Along with the other dishes for dinner that night, the pork and vegetable soup is also placed on the table because my family likes to drink it before and after a meal. The youngest one (AKA me) serves the soup for everyone before digging into the dishes!