Rise and shine to a healthier macaroni soup, Hong Kong’s favourite breakfast meal

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Doris Wai |
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Macaroni soup topped with fried egg and luncheon meat is a popular breakfast food served in Hong Kong’s cha chaan teng. Photo: Shutterstock

Now that the weather is getting cooler, some of us might be craving a warm, comforting soup. Look no further than Hong Kong’s all-time favourite breakfast food: spam and egg macaroni soup or 午餐肉通粉.

This traditionally Italian soup consisting of elbow-shaped pasta in a tasty broth has taken on many forms in Asia, but no city does it better than Hong Kong.

As an essential item on cha chaan teng menus, the macaroni and vegetables come swimming in chicken broth, with a fried egg and luncheon meat on top.

There are limitless combinations to this noodle soup. Some people swap luncheon meat for sausages and pork chop or even add mushroom and preserved vegetables for new textures and flavours. Other variations include replacing the chicken broth with a tangy tomato soup or creamy chowder.

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What’s on the inside matters

Kathy Ng Yiu-fan, a senior nutritionist at Kat-Spirit Nutrition Centre in Hong Kong, explains why the dish’s ingredients make the difference between junk and healthy food.

“Macaroni soup is an excellent breakfast choice for teenagers if the correct ingredients are used – which also means that what is usually offered in a cha chaan teng is not that great for your health,” Ng said.

She pointed out the commonly used processed meats, such as ham, luncheon meat and sausage. These toppings are high in fat, salt and additives that are linked to cardiovascular disease and bowel cancer.

Kathy Ng is a senior nutritionist at Kat-Spirit Nutrition Centre in Hong Kong. Photo: Handout

The dish’s delicious soup is not as wholesome as we might assume it to be either.

“Canned chicken broth forms the basic soup base, and it is high in sodium, which can lead to high blood pressure, heart disease and stroke. As for cream soup, it is equally high in sodium, as well as saturated fat, which raises the level of bad cholesterol in your blood,” Ng warned.

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Suggestions for a healthier order

According to Ng, one serving of macaroni noodles with pork chop in chicken broth contains 619 calories, 98 grams of carbohydrates, 41 grams of protein, and 3 grams of fat. The soup alone has 1,345 grams of sodium.

“Can you just imagine how much more sodium you are piling up in your system if you are having processed lunch meat too?”

Some cha chaan teng offer a combination of macaroni soup and buttered bread toast. Photo: Shutterstock

The nutritionist recommended replacing processed food with fresh meat and sticking to tomato soup or corn soup.

The dish is sometimes served with a slice of buttered bread toast with a side of scrambled fried eggs. If you had these side dishes, Ng suggested not consuming all of the soup.

To start the day with a balanced breakfast, Ng suggested a recipe packed with carbohydrates for energy and dietary fibre.

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Hearty macaroni soup recipe

Ingredients (serves two)

  • 250 grams of macaroni
  • 500ml of canned tomato soup
  • 500ml of water
  • 70 grams of frozen mixed vegetables
  • 200 grams of boneless pork chop
  • a pinch of salt and pepper
  • 1 teaspoon of sesame oil

Directions

  1. Cook the macaroni according to the instructions on the package and drain well.

  2. Soak the frozen mixed vegetables in boiling water for three minutes and drain well.

  3. Season the pork chop with salt and pepper before cooking. Preheat a pan and add one teaspoon of oil. Sear the pork chop for five minutes on each side until golden brown.

  4. Add tomato soup and water into a large pot and bring the mixture to a boil. Add macaroni and mixed vegetables to the mixture and continue to boil them for another two to three minutes.

  5. Pour the ingredients into bowls before putting the pork chop on top of the macaroni soup.

Click here for a printable worksheet and interactive exercises about this story.

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