I remember enjoying my first bowl of 四神汤 Si Shen Soup about 10 years back during my initial trips to Taiwan. It was the period before Chinese New Year and my friends brought us to 寧夏夜市 before visiting 迪化街 for the Chinese New Year bazaar. Just gotten off the plane, we hadn’t eaten dinner so my Taiwanese friends suggested going to 阿桐阿寶四神湯 located near the night market first. Being largely a “herbal soup”, it tasted rather plain and smooth, with a lingering sweetness in the mouth. Void of pungent odours and bitter aftertaste, the flavours of Si Shen Soup defies what I had expected Chinese herbal soups are traditionally like. The soup was a relief, not only against the fattiness of the bak chang and large steamed pork buns we had, it also helped to warm our constitution amidst the cold and rainy weather.
My parents, being really traditional chinese folks, are firm believers of the effects of traditional chinese medicine (TCM). That meant an assortment of remedies in the form of brews and stews to shelf-available medication for minor ailments, like 川贝枇杷膏 chuan bei pi pa gao for coughs and sore throats, 银翘解毒片 yin qiao jie du pian when we are feeling slightly feverish, or 保济丸 po chai pills when one’s having the runs. Some of these concoctions are really quite pleasant, like 炖燕窝 bird’s nest soup and 三雪湯, a sweet soup made with hasma (雪蛤), snow fungus (雪耳) and chinese pear (雪梨）which not only nourishes the body, but taste good too! I really didn’t mind when asked if I want seconds. But some are quite dreadful, like 苦茶 ku cha, which literally translates to “bitter tea”, owing to a mélange of chinese herbs used, building up to that ultimate palate experience of extremity, and 羚羊露 leng yeung luk, essentially made from water double boiled with antelope horn shavings, in my opinion is another epitome of disgust. Now these are the things that ought to be featured on “Fear Factor”! But as the classic Chinese saying goes, 良药苦口利于病, most of these awful-tasting TCM are downed amidst all that whining, wailing, coaxing and even bribery for sweet treats later on.
One of the most common TCM herbal soups we enjoyed at home is 药炖乌骨鸡 Herbal Silkie Black Chicken, especially during this time of the year when the weather turns slightly chilly accompanied by lots of moisture from the monsoons. Older folks believe that it is important to prepare the body for such “changes in season” and strength one’s constitution so as to prevent ourselves from falling sick，and hence the practice of 立冬进补. I hadn’t been sleeping well of late and as I was getting ready for a holiday to Taiwan, I wanted to make sure that my body was ready to brace all that walking, shopping and eating. Hence, a little “treat” for myself and my family with this familiar soup which hadn’t been made for quite some time at home.
Woke up real late yesterday and missed the marketing hours of our local morning bazaar which is colloquialised as “pasar”. Not wanting to “succumb” to instant noodles, I prepared “instant” beef noodles with the beef brisket I braised couple of days back and some ingredients I had at home. Simple fanfare with a few ingredients for that extra touch! The gratification was instant as well oh yeah!
柱侯萝卜焖牛腩 Braised Beef Brisket with Daikon in Chu Hou Sauce is one of my favorite dishes from the 粤菜系 Cantonese cuisine. It is a must-order for me whenever I visit chinese restaurants, be it Hong Kong cafes, or traditional Cantonese restaurants. Succulent beef brisket, beef tendon and daikon braised to perfection, drawing in all the flavours from the condiments and spices added, making it a rare treat for me. And the sauce is simply out of this world, especially when left to mature overnight for the flavours to fully develop! Give me a bowl of the sauce and I could polish off 3 bowls of rice with it! Unfortunately not every Cantonese restaurant offers this, owing to the long cooking time required, and for those which do have it on their menu, not all of them do it well. Yes, it is a time-consuming dish to prepare but reassure that it is well worth the effort! Braise a huge pot of it, which is usually what I do, and it would keep me happy for days at ends!
This is going to be a long post given the long ingredients list and cooking method. So please bear with me as the details cannot be spared!