Soup has come a long way since the hip hippopotamus broth of 6000 BC. In the skilled hands of the Chinese, this humble dish has been transformed into a gastronomically orgasmic experience of its own. (Only if shark's fin, bird's nest, chicken tongue turn you on.)
From the Everyday to the Exotic
It seems that soup has always been a part of the exotic and everyday diet of the Chinese. Ranked amongst the world's biggest soup drinkers, they average 1 bowl a day.
While China 's top scientists were busy inventing rockets, paper and mahjong, the royal cooks concocted amazing soups from the likes of camel's hooves and bird's nests, designed to whet the emperor's appetite for the next banquet course.
Outside the palace however, rural Chinese had to contend with a watery mixture of bean curd and whatever local vegetables were available. As food was often scarce, extreme experimentation with all things edible was not uncommon. (A Chinese saying boldly declares: the only thing with four legs a man shouldn't eat is a table!) Boiling these odds and ends in a pot proved a practical, prudent and convenient way of feeding the whole family.
The Thick and Thin of Soup
Soup in Chinese cuisine are broadly categorized by their consistency.
Thin soups are made with a clear broth, for example, Chicken and Spinach soup. They are cooked quickly, with meat and/or vegetables added near the final stages of cooking. The idea is to cook them just enough so that the original flavour is still preserved.
As the Chinese believe that it's unhealthy to consume cold drinks while eating warm thin soups make an excellent beverage substitute and finale to a meal. At banquets, they are served between courses to cleanse the palate.
Thick soups, on the other hand, are cooked over longer period of time. The ingredients are added all at once, given time to blend together, releasing all the nutrients within. A classic example of a thick soup is shark's fin soup; its rick texture comes not from cornstarch (which is often otherwise used as a thickener), but from many hours of careful simmering.
Today, many of us can't spare even 30 minutes cooking in the kitchen. Thankfully, there are alternatives in the market that capture all the goodness and taste of traditional thick soups.
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