I Regret Telling My Mother Her Traditional Chinese Soup Was ‘Gross’
By Katharine Chan
Photo © tcsteh/Twenty20
Dec 1, 2021
When I was a kid, I complained about dinner almost every night.
As a bowl of lotus root and pork bone soup was placed in front of me, I’d scrunch my nose and whine to my mom: “Ew gross, Mom! Why can’t we have Campbell’s chicken noodle soup? I had it at my friend Molly’s house and it was so good.”
My mom would look sternly in my face and tell me to drink up. After some serious eye-rolling and scoffing, I’d hold my nose and chug it down like it was a shot of tequila. Then I’d quickly pick up my chopsticks and dive into mapo tofu to wash away the horrible taste in my mouth.
When I moved out, I finally got to choose what I wanted to eat for dinner.
I bought cases of Campbell’s chicken noodle soup, Chunky gumbo and Stagg chilli. No more disgusting Chinese herbs and medicinal ingredients that smelled like a musty closet.
Whenever I came home for dinner, my mom would offer soup but I would always decline: “I’m not a kid anymore. You can’t make me.”
She’d shrug and say something about the soup’s health benefits while I piled soy chicken onto my bowl of rice and pushed the piping hot soup to the side.
I didn’t understand nor appreciate how much love and science goes into the soups my mom made for me until years later when I became a parent.
A soup’s science
After giving birth to my daughter, my mom came over to help me recover and basically be at my beck and call.
The first thing she brought over was a massive pot of soup.
When I saw the pot, I immediately regretted opening the door.
During my pregnancy, there were so many things I couldn’t eat and now she’s going to make me drink an entire pot of nasty Chinese soup?
But I was starving, so I sat down at the dining table while she heated some up.
She placed the bowl in front of me. I looked down and saw pieces of papaya floating on the top, ginger, goji berries and red dates hanging in the bottom. Peanuts gathered around a salmon steak, bones, skin, fat and all. It did not look appetizing.
I take a spoonful of it. I was immediately surprised at how delicious and comforting the soup tasted. As I kept eating, the flavours of all the ingredients balanced each other out and rounded out my palate. Before I knew it, I had finished the entire bowl, leaving the bones.
Then my mom looked at my bowl and said, “You can eat the bones too. I air-fried them before adding them to the soup. The bones are a good source of calcium and other minerals that help replenish the nutrients you lose while breastfeeding.”
I took a bite of the salmon bone, and sure enough, they were soft and chewy, almost like sumptuous beef jerky.
I asked her, “So why is there papaya in it and other ingredients that would be better as part of a dessert?”
Her eyes widened. She sat beside me and started to explain the benefits of each ingredient.
“In ancient Chinese philosophy, to maintain good health for our bodies, the yin and yang need to be balanced. Chi (life force) is carried in our blood. When a woman gives birth, she loses a lot of blood and that puts her in a state of yin (cold). 'Warming foods' like ginger can help with circulation, bring positive energy and help the body regain balance between the yin and yang."
She continued, "The papaya and peanuts are believed to help increase milk supply. The fibre can help with constipation that sometimes occurs after giving birth. Salmon contains omega oils, vitamins and minerals that are good for joints and help nourish and heal the body. The goji berries and red dates are anti-inflammatory and protect the liver while the body regains strength.”
A soup’s love
As I’m finishing the bones, I start to think about all the times I’ve refused to drink her soup and how much thought my mom put into them.
The recipes she uses have been passed down from generation to generation, from mother to mother.
My mom isn’t the type to be direct with her feelings. She’s more expressionless than expressive, uncomfortable with excessive affection. She won’t fawn, gush, hug or kiss to show she cares.
But she shows her love subtly through her food and I had been neglecting her efforts all this time.
I burst into tears. My mom rushed over and asked me what’s wrong. I grabbed a tissue and said, “It's nothing, Mom, just the hormones. Can I have another bowl?”
As my mom got up to ladle me some more, I could see her smile in the corner of my eye.
She’d finally gotten through to me.
Get the recipe for Katharine Chan's delicious soup here.
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