Seasons are changing, yes even in tropical Singapore. More cooling and rainy days, I simply love it! A good break from the hot and humid weather we typically get in the earlier months, leaving us all balmy and frustrated. I like to cook some hot “tong sui” during this time of the year too, a bowl of warm sweet broth packed with nourishing ingredients to prep us for the months to come. My small pot of “keng huay” is in bloom again, perfect timing to use those flowers to curb the cough and ease the sore throat that accompanied the flu bug for the last week or so!
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.
For many, Chinese New Year is a time of feasts and festivities. This is when no reason is needed for pigging out with friends and family, or even gorging oneself crazy with a plethora of Chinese New Year goodies like pineapple tarts to bak kwa. Also, no excuse is required for enjoying the wide variety of Chinese New Year dishes, and most certainly no apologies is needed for indulging! How to resist all that good food?!
Last week, I attended an event hosted at Violet Oon’s Kitchen by Asia Pacific Breweries Singapore (APBS), an appreciation lunch prepared by Ms Oon and her team for 60 elderly folk from the Kreta Ayer Seniors Activity Centre who had extended their help towards packing cookies for the annual ‘Cookies for Charity’ Programme. This lunch was a way to reward them for their effort and boy ‘o boy were they in for a special treat of delectable Nyonya dishes in an all-Peranakan spread!
八宝粥, literally to mean “Eight Treasures Porridge” is a traditional congee concoction enjoyed on 腊月初八 the 8th day of the 12th month in the Chinese Lunar Calendar, hence giving rise to its other name, 腊八粥. Having it roots in Buddhism, the history of this dish can be traced back more than 2200 years back to the Han dynasty when it was generally used as part of prayer offerings and not consumed. Interestingly during the Song dynasty more than 800 years ago , the folks then began enjoying this porridge for themselves, causing it to evolve and change to reflect the culinary characteristics of each period in history, as well as in accordance to personal taste and liking.