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A Tradition of Soup: Flavours from China's Pearl River Delta

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 24 July, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 24 July, 2011, 12:00am

A Tradition of Soup: Flavours from China's Pearl River Delta
By Teresa M. Chen

One of my (many) regrets in life is not having learned to make many old-fashioned Cantonese dishes from my grandmother, who was a wonderful cook.

Along with my father - her eldest son, who took the role of sous-chef - I was one of the few people allowed into the kitchen to help. The soups were always simmering away by the time we arrived, so I never paid much attention to them. Now I'm able to recreate many of my grandmother's dishes, but there's a serious weakness in my Chinese cuisine repertoire: the soups that we consumed before, during and after many of our meals.

In the introduction to A Tradition of Soup, Teresa M. Chen writes that she sought recipes from Chinese friends and acquaintances over the age of 70 living in Stockton, California - home to a large number of 'first-wave' Chinese immigrants to the United States. By asking only older people, Chen acknowledges that the soup-making tradition is dying out among the children and grandchildren of immigrants.

For younger cooks, she provides a helpful glossary on the ingredients that go into the soups: the types of meat, fish and plant products, and their flavours and medicinal qualities.

The recipes are divided by season, so, for spring, we should be drinking halibut collar and daikon soup, and watercress and gizzard soup, while for the summer there's winter melon with pearl barley and spare ribs, and salted egg and mustard green soup. In the cooler months, there's white ginseng and black chicken soup, and abalone with chicken. Other chapters focus on year-round soups, those suited to vegetarians and medicinal soups.

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