One distinct Chinese food culture my late maternal grandmother and parents instilled in me is the tradition of soups. Like a comforting bowl of chicken soup that Americans love, a bowl of nourishing and delicious Chinese soup conjures up the same kind of comfort, even nostalgia from childhood times with my close-knit family and my late grandmother’s soups. Soup is a deep-rooted and endeared Chinese food tradition who are well-known for their “slow-fire” soups, boiled for 2-3 hours on the stove and over 5 hours in the slow cooker. As an indispensable part of the Cantonese dining table, the culture of soup is deeply rooted in Cantonese lives. A popular saying goes like this: The Cantonese would rather drink soup than eat rice. From which we can gain a glimpse of how important soup is in the heart of the Cantonese. And this is so true for me as I do not eat rice. I can survive on just soups, vegetables and fruits with a little lean meat.
Besides comforting and hearty, another reason why I love Chinese soups is for their health benefits. Traditional Chinese soups are gentle tonics made from fresh vegetables, lean meats or fish, and flavored only by natural ingredients. We hardly season our soups with salt for it is already naturally sweetened from the ingredients. One distinguishing point about traditional Chinese soups vs Western soups is that oil, cream, and butter are never used – making the soups naturally low fat, low calorie, and low sodium. Many Chinese soups also include herbal ingredients that enhance the health-benefiting function of the soup.
A bowl of ‘Buddha hand’ gourd soup with chicken, carrots, sweet potatoes, goji berries and red dates that I cooked recently.
My daughters’ favorite soup of all times is ABC soup ~ a soup composed of carrots, tomatoes, onions, celery, pepper corn, meat, cabbage, potatoes and much more. Lately I like adding sweet potatoes into my chicken soups as it imparts natural sweetness, antioxidants and goodness from the sweet potatoes.
Vegetables ready to be put into the pot for making ABC soup (chicken breast meat not in the photo).
The Cantonese are known to place utmost importance to the nourishing and healing functions of soups. The benefits can range from detoxification, nourishment to major body organs, reduction of blood sugar and blood pressure, replenishment of the Qi, reduction of body ‘heatiness’ and release of excess element(s) that throw the body off its internal yin-yang balance. When the internal body is off balance, outward bodily symptoms like sore throat, coughing or dryness can appear.
Photo credits : Panpages.my
Studies aside, experts agree that chicken soup is worth trying when you are sick and can come in handy when eating a solid meal feels like too much for your tummy to digest. Chicken soup can offer a nutrient-dense food option when someone is struggling with a poor appetite according to Kristen Smith, a registered dietitian and spokeswoman for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. It can also help increase hydration during a time when this could be a challenge.
The effectiveness of chicken soups are backed by studies and you can read an article on the science of chicken soups by The New York Times here.