A good friend recently gave birth so when some friends and I visited her last week in the hospital, I thought of cooking her something which is simple yet nourishing at the same time. Remembered I still have some bottles of essence of chicken at home so a quick trip to the market in the morning to get some fresh chicken thighs to go along with some chinese herbs and dry ingredients I already have at home for a fix of 鸡精蒸滑鸡腿 Steamed Chicken Thighs with Essence of Chicken.
For many of us, 大長今 Daejanggeum was an important starting point and stepping stone into the world of Korean cuisine. It created a wave of sensation all over Asia and subsequently the whole world. Together with the rich cultural and historical context it provides, Daejanggeum brought Korean cuisine onto the international platform, allowing folks all over to get to know more about Korean food like kimchi and bimbimbap. It also brought the world into Korean cuisine, getting people curious and inquisitive to try “Hansik” (Korean food) for the very first time. Despite being highly dramatised, it was quite an eye-opener even for those who claim to already know “Hansik“. It was most certainly so for me. Several things intrigue me even till today, like the use of honey with dried fruits and nuts in cuisine, something relatively unheard of in the south. Until Daejanggeum came along that is.
The show also popularised the Korean cuisine all over the world, with Korean restaurants springing up in Singapore in quick successions following the show. Now we even have a “Korean food street” in Singapore, in the Tanjong Pagar area which is dotted with many Korean restaurants. Korean supermarkets also became in increasingly common sight with various chains operating in Singapore making it really convenient for those wanna try preparing Korean cuisine at home.
For me, Korean cuisine presents a world of extremes. It could be something as plain as a bowl of clear soup with beansprouts and tofu， yet at the same time, it could be something with far more “wow!” factor like swallowing live octopuses dipped in kimchi sauce or feasting on the unthinkably bizarre and exotic. This seeming clash dietary habits bewilder many but is perpetual not only in the culinary cultures in Korea and many others around the world.
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.
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.