There is no complete Chinese dinner without a soup, says me. 😀 As mentioned before, a classic Chinese home dinner is a combination of 3 dishes plus 1 soup. No matter if it is for two, three or four people. This combination is a hidden sign of welcoming the guests, a proper polite gesture from the host. In Malaysia, sometimes it can be more expensive to cook at home than to eat out, especially when a soup is prepared. My mom, the soup master usually puts a whole chicken, a few of dried scallops, dried oysters, dried jujubes, dried goji berries together with some Chinese herbs or root vegetables in a medium size pot and cook for hours. As you can probably imagine how intense the flavor would turn out, no MSG nor salt are needed for her soups. I simply love her chicken soup, a healing effect for my palate, body, mind and soul, hmmm. When I used to worked as a full-time singer in Malaysia, my work normally ended around midnight. And when I came home hungry, my mom would warm up her soup and bring it to me, she knew that I love soups. She would save me a big plate of my favorite dish, stir-fried bean sprouts from the dinner I usually missed, and something like ginger and wine chicken, the one and only, etc. The moment was so sweet. I miss the times when you can go home to mommy. She would cook for me, wash my clothes, take me shopping and stuffs. You see, growing up is not so fun after all. Too bad life is not perfect. Maybe that’s the way it supposed to be, so that you would appreciate things more when you can’t have them around much.
Have you realized that chicken seems to be important to us? You see, my grandmother suffered from World War II when the Japanese attacked in Malaysia. She told me that she used to hide in the forest with her parents to avoid the dropping bombs. There was no food in the forest, they were constantly starving. My grandmother and her parents were eating the skins of the tree, leaves, grass and roots from the ground in order to survive. Luckily they did, but they never had a good life even until my mom was born. They were so poor that all the children dropped out from school and had to work. My mom told me that one of their fanciest dinner was the left-over soup from the restaurant in the village, where beef noodle soup was sold as its expertise. My mom and her sisters helped cleaning dirty plates in the restaurant. After work, they would carry home the left-over soup that was supposed to be thrown away. It would be the happiest day in their life! They would eat the soup with some rice in it and it would be a very fulfilling and satisfying meal. This story always makes me feel ashamed to throw away food. But I can imagine the soup that have been cooked all day long must had tasted really good at that moment.
Life became easier when everyone has grown up and are able to work for supporting the family. I was raised by my grandparents in their home, since my mom was out working. I remember that in our backyard we used to have our own chicken farm, where my grandfather taught me how to feed Chinese herbs to the chickens to keep them healthy. 🙂 We didn’t eat chicken that often though. It was only for special days like Chinese New Year, festivals, family reunions, etc. Therefore when we had chicken on our dining table, it symbolized happiness. It was when most of the relatives would be around the house talking, laughing, giggling, screaming, and yelling at each others over that loud TV noise. It made me assume that chicken is a sign of celebration, and it was. Growing up with my family, I have learned that chicken is a very valuable source of food. But then during my teenage years when life was better, chicken was easily affordable and it was often served on our table. It is not such a precious dish anymore as it used to be. That was when soup became a delightful extra dish when we didn’t have it so often. It takes hours to cook, you’ve got to be patience. Therefore it is very much appreciated.
Since I have already made one fish dish (with secret sauce, check here) and one chicken dish for Tuomas and Eveliina, I thought that it would be nice to make the soup ‘almost’ vegetarian to deduct my sin a little, if it ever helps. Long time ago, fresh vegetables and meat were expensive and hard to keep. Therefore in China, poor people could only afford preserved vegetable and tofu for their daily meal, like this dish revealing the childhood story of my grandmother. It is actually a dish originated from Teochew region in China, using key ingredients like slices of ginger, tomatoes, preserved mustard and salted plum. The salty and sour taste makes it a very appetizing dish to serve all year around.
(Make 3 – 4 servings)
150 g Preserved green mustard, sliced
5 slices Ginger
1,5 l Vegetable stock
1,5 dl Soy protein strips (replacing pork)
1 pack Silken tofu, cubed
2 tomatoes, quartered
1 Spring onion stalk, cut into 3” length
1,5 dl Prawns ( Optional), washed & cleaned
3 Salted plums
1 tbsp Soy sauce
1 tsp Sugar
1 tsp Chicken powder (Optional)
Dash of white pepper
1) In a deep pot, fry ginger slices with oil until fragrant. Add vegetable stock and bring to boil.
2) Add in the preserved green mustard, soy meat, tomatoes, prawns, and salted plum, and cook for 10 minutes with medium heat.
3) Add in tofu and spring onion. Season to taste and served.
This soup is a clear soup that has a rather mild taste, slightly sour and salty but very appetitive. I have omitted the salted plums this time because it ran out in my fridge. I think one can replace it with tamarind (Assam) to get the sour taste.
This is actually a quick and easy soup to make once you have all the ingredients ready, unlike the one my mom would make. But this is a soup you would get from most Chinese restaurants 大炒 in Malaysia to go with your dinner. 😉