Warming and Healing Green Papaya Fish Soup
By Katharine Chan
Photos supplied by author
Dec 20, 2021
In Chinese culture, there’s a tradition where after a mother gives birth, she stays at home for a month to properly rest and recover.
This is called the confinement period (坐月子).
During this time, mothers are brought a variety of foods to help them heal. One of these is green papaya fish soup (jump to the recipe).
The last time I had this soup was over two years ago when I gave birth to my second child. When my mom came over holding that big metal pot in her little arms, I knew what to expect.
As as kid, I didn't appreciate it, but I was excited to dig into a bowl of that warm and comforting soup. I remember eating it for lunch and dinner, asking my mom to make it again and again during that month.
The flavours of each ingredient balance each other out; the sweetness of the papaya complements the savoury fish. The heat of the ginger is toned down with the slight earthiness of the wood ear mushrooms. In addition to the delicate taste, it's said the components of the soup have healing properties.
Peanuts and unripe papaya are believed to boost lactation and milk supply. It is best to use unsalted peanuts to avoid too much salt in the soup. Unripe papaya should only be eaten after it has been cooked due to the high amounts of papaya latex.
The fish help replenish vitamins and minerals that are lost during labour and breastfeeding. Any fish can be used like salmon, red snapper, sea bass or cod. For this recipe, I used tilapia. Cooking the fish before adding it to the soup helps hold its shape, creates a more fragrant smell and minimizes the fishy taste.
Ginger is a “warming food” that increases circulation and brings positive energy to a healing body.
The dried red dates (dried jujubes, hong zao, 红枣) are anti-inflammatory and high in fibre to help with constipation that often occurs during postpartum.
The wood ear mushrooms (Mu Er, 木耳) are high in iron and improve blood circulation. If someone is on blood-thinning medications, this should not be included in the soup due to its anticoagulant properties.
- 1 tbsp of canola oil
- 1 whole fish or 500 grams/2 cups + 1 tbsp of fish meat
- 250 grams/1 cup + 1 tbsp of pork shoulder
- 1 large green papaya
- 30 grams/1/4 cup of dried wood ear mushrooms (optional)
- 10 dried red dates
- 1 knob of ginger
- 1 cup of unsalted raw peanuts
- 4 litres/~17 cups of water
- salt to taste
- If you are serving the soup to young children, the fish can be removed after cooking to prevent choking on the bones.
- The amount of ginger can vary depending on your family’s palate.
- The dried wood ear mushrooms and red dates can be found at most Asian grocery stores.
How It's Made
- Preparation time: 20 minutes
- Cooking time: ~ 2 hours
- Serves: 6-8
First, you're going to soak dried wood ear mushrooms in water for 15 minutes and drain. (Only if you're using them. Skip this step if you are on blood-thinning medications.)
Now it's time to prep the fish. Wash the fish you've chosen to use, and make sure the cavity is cleaned.
Over medium heat, add oil to a pan. Once heated, add the fish and brown both sides until it is completely cooked. Remove the head and set it aside.
Next, cut the pork shoulder into two to three equal-sized chunks. Add the pork into the hot pan and lightly sear each side to build flavour and texture. Remove and set aside with the fish.
Add water to a large pot and bring to a boil. While waiting for the water to boil, prepare the rest of the ingredients.
Wash and peel the papaya using a vegetable peeler. Cut it in half with a large knife.
Next, using a spoon, remove all the seeds. I laid down some old newspaper for easy cleanup.
Once all the seeds are removed, cut it up into chunks. Like this:
There's a bit of prep for this soup, but it's very worth it. Next step, slice your red dates into halves.
Now prepare your ginger by cleaning and peeling it before cutting it into thin slices.
Take the wood ear mushrooms that have been soaking. They should be reconstituted and they can be sliced into bite-sized pieces.
Your water should be boiling by now.
Add the pork shoulder, dates, papaya, wood ear mushrooms (if using them), peanuts and ginger. Add the fish last. Avoid stirring the pot too vigorously to prevent the fish from breaking apart.
Let it boil for 15 minutes. Then turn the heat down to low-medium heat and simmer for one-and-a-half hours.
Add salt to taste, and let the warming aroma take over your kitchen. Serve hot.
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