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What makes egg drop soup so popular?


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In a recent topic, "egg drop soup" was mentioned as one of the iconic American-Chinese dishes.

Not being American-born, I just don't understand why this simple soup has been accepted and regarded as almost a representative of Chinese food. To me, the soup is rather simple: Chicken broth (or some other broth) with some carrots or green peas or water chestnuts added, and some egg-stir "dropped" in, and thickened with corn starch. It is almost over-simplistic.

I doubt it if you can find "egg drop soup" on a menu in Hong Kong or elsewhere in China.

So what makes egg drop soup so popular in the USA? (Or Canada/Europe/Australia)

W.K. Leung ("Ah Leung") aka "hzrt8w"
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Maybe just because it was so simple....anyone could think OK, this is just chicken soup with eggs. No foreign ingrediants, no sauces or things chopped up in it.

And it tastes good, nice and rich and pretty filling too.

Even mom could make it

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I think that's right. Egg-drop soup (sometimes called egg-flower soup) is made with ingredients that are familiar to Western palates. There are actually parallels to egg-drop soup, like avgolemono, in Western cuisine. There's a French garlic soup, le tourin, that also has similarities. (Incidentally, I rarely see egg-drop soup with water chestnuts, peas or carrots -- it's usually just the broth thickened with egg and corn starch, perhaps garnished with some scallions.) It's also made with ingredients that were readily available in the West at a time when Asian ingredients were hard to come by.

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I spent the first six years of my life in China and have been raised on Chinese food. But I love egg drop soup. It's simple and delicious.

My parents don't know how to make it, so whenever we go to Chinese-American restaurants I like to order it. Getting the right consistency for the eggs is pretty difficult. There's an old thread about how to make it.

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Also, in the old days (i.e., when I was growing up in the '50s), neighborhood Chinese restaurants used to offer a choice of either egg drop soup or wonton soup with their lunch or dinner menus, so many Americans became familiar with these soups because they were "free," much like the egg rolls that also came with the meal.

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The popularity of egg drop soup doesn't surprise me at all. It's a simple and "safe" choice for people new to the cuisine. And I'm sure it has a high profit margin for the restaurants, too.

What does surprise me, however, is the popularity of hot and sour soup. At least where I live, the restaurants add a lot of ingredients into their H&S soup that most Americans wouldn't even recognize, including bean curd sheets, various Chinese fungus, and even sichuan pickles. Yet H&S soup is still incredibly popular. I guess people don't care to ask what's in the soup as long as it tastes good.

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Somehow I don't find it at all surprising. As FG mentioned, every culture has some version of a plain chicken soup. And if every culture didn't find a plain chicken soup tasty and satisfying, even comforting, it wouldn't be ubiquitous. So it's something we all understand. It translates well, crossing cultures easily.

Hummm..... What's the Cantonese word for 'soul'?

:rolleyes:

Edited by Jaymes (log)

I don't understand why rappers have to hunch over while they stomp around the stage hollering.  It hurts my back to watch them. On the other hand, I've been thinking that perhaps I should start a rap group here at the Old Folks' Home.  Most of us already walk like that.

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Somehow I don't find it at all surprising.  As FG mentioned, every culture has some version of a plain chicken soup.  And if every culture didn't find a plain chicken soup tasty and satisfying, even comforting, it wouldn't be ubiquitous.  So it's something we all understand.  It translates well, crossing cultures easily.

"Every culture has some version of a plain chicken soup"... well, that may be the case. But the thing is... this "egg drop soup" seems a creation outside of China. The soup was made to suit the taste of Americans (or Canadians, Europeans, Australians, I don't know).

How Chinese "soul" can it be if Chinese don't like drinking this? I for one am not a big fan. I always felt as if just drinking starchy liquid. I just wonder how it could become so popular.

W.K. Leung ("Ah Leung") aka "hzrt8w"
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How Chinese "soul" can it be if Chinese don't like drinking this?

Do I understand you correctly? The "Chinese don't like" it?

My father first fell in love with what is still his favorite soup while living in Cholon in the 1950's.

There was a small Chinese sidewalk soup stand about a half-block from his front door. Egg Drop Soup was the biggest seller, and my dad says that every time he came and went from his house, he had to fight his way through the lines that formed. Obviously nobody had yet informed the Chinese of Cholon that they didn't like it.

The Chinese man that ran the stall noticed that although the other Americans often stopped for soup, my father never did. One day, he asked my father, "Yank, why you never get my soup?"

My father replied that he was sorry, but he had noticed that the Chinese man often just reused the bowls without bothering to wash them between customers.

So the next day when my father left his house, the man came running up to him, proudly brandishing a new bowl.

"Look Yank. I buy you new bowl. I use new bowl only for you."

And from then on, my dad ate a bowl of egg drop soup every single day.

I'll be in China in a couple of months. I'll make a concerted effort to discover if you are correct that "Chinese don't like" Egg Drop Soup and report back.

Edited by Jaymes (log)

I don't understand why rappers have to hunch over while they stomp around the stage hollering.  It hurts my back to watch them. On the other hand, I've been thinking that perhaps I should start a rap group here at the Old Folks' Home.  Most of us already walk like that.

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How Chinese "soul" can it be if Chinese don't like drinking this?  I for one am not a big fan.  I always felt as if just drinking starchy liquid.  I just wonder how it could become so popular.

It can be pretty bad. I suspect most places just use canned stock, a lot of starch and probably lots of MSG.

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It can be pretty bad. I suspect most places just use canned stock, a lot of starch and probably lots of MSG.

I think all the Chinese places around me use a commercial chicken stock so it doesn't taste so great. It CAN be good if you use a high quality stock, but then no restaurant would use it for something like egg drop soup. That type of stock would be reserved for special occasion soups.

If you go to Cantonese seafood restaurants on the menu you will often see West Lake Beef soup, which is a close cousin to Egg Drop soup. It's got your thickened broth and eggs (usually just the white), but also marinated bits of beef and chopped cilantro. My parents love it.

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How Chinese "soul" can it be if Chinese don't like drinking this?

Do I understand you correctly? The "Chinese don't like" it?

Well. I don't think it would say a whole lot if we look at individuals. I happen to not like egg drop soup while your father happens to love it. That's that.

I look at the society as a whole. May be I am off because of my limited personal experience. However, I have never encountered egg drop soup being offered in all the restaurants I have been to in Hong Kong or a few cities in Mainland China. But almost every Cantonese style restaurants that I have been to in the USA would have this in their menu. I concluded that this seems to be a Chinese-American creation.

If indeed this is the case, that if a society as a whole does not care to have such a dish, then how can it be considered as "liked" and a representative of that culture?

Edited by hzrt8w (log)
W.K. Leung ("Ah Leung") aka "hzrt8w"
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When my family ran restaurants we never thickened the "egg drop soup" with cornstarch or anything else. It was good old back burner stock, seasoned and "thickened " with beaten egg whites. Ours was different in that we called it "mushroom egg drop soup" because we added some sliced mushrooms and a few bits of scallion.

In Chinese, we called the soup dan fah tong, or egg flower soup.

I have not encountered the soup by either appellation in my travels outside of North America. But, that's not to say that it does not exist in some other guise.

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I'm going to suggest that "egg drop soup" or "mushroom egg drop soup" is, like chop suey, an adaptation of what is found in Chinese cuisine. I remember, with great fondness, my paternal grandfather taking me as a child in Hong Kong, to a restaurant for gow gai dan fah tong. This was a regular treat whenever I spent a weekend with my grandparents.

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I doubt it if you can find "egg drop soup" on a menu in Hong Kong or elsewhere in China.

I've had something that was basically indistinguishable from the common American chicken/egg-drop type soup in at least a couple white-tablecloth places in HK (as the soup course for the whole table). It may have had some kind of shark's fin substitute protein. That's where I see the similarity- that kind of goopy texture and mild flavor is shared by both, and maybe having a buttload of egg chunks in there is more of an American thing, but there isn't a huge diffrence.

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The "Hong Kong" volume in the Lonely Planet World Food Guides series, by Richard Sterling and Elizabeth Chong, has a page (page 55), including a recipe, devoted to egg-drop soup. It begins:

Daan Fa Tong (Egg Flower Soup)

Also called egg drop soup, this soup is very popular in Hong Kong . . .

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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The "Hong Kong" volume in the Lonely Planet World Food Guides series, by Richard Sterling and Elizabeth Chong, has a page (page 55), including a recipe, devoted to egg-drop soup. It begins:
Daan Fa Tong (Egg Flower Soup)

Also called egg drop soup, this soup is very popular in Hong Kong . . .

And actually, although I prefer more strongly-flavored soups, the first time I ever had it was when I lived in Hong Kong in the 1960's.

I don't understand why rappers have to hunch over while they stomp around the stage hollering.  It hurts my back to watch them. On the other hand, I've been thinking that perhaps I should start a rap group here at the Old Folks' Home.  Most of us already walk like that.

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One of the things I've found with most so-called "American Chinese" dishes is that they derive from Chinese dishes -- they're not actual American inventions but, rather, evolutions (or devolutions in some cases). It's not that egg-drop soup, egg foo yung, et al., don't exist in China.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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Thanks for all your comments. I iwll be in Hong Kong in a couple of weeks to re-acclimate myself with the life style. I will pay special attention to the soup section of Cantonese restaurant menus to see why I have such a gap regarding the egg drop doup.

One speculation I have is perhaps there are other forms of soups, such as West Lake Beef soup mentioned by sheetz, the seaweed soup, and the crab meat soup which do use the egg drop to make. But egg drop itself is not the main feature. Perhaps when Chinese restaurants offered it in America (or elsewhere), they skipped other ingredients and just use egg drop - for the sake of cost savings and not risking scaring off patrons?

While Cantonese soups served in restaurants are typically thickened with corn starch, home-cooked soup and tonic soup are not. Perhaps in my experience, the combination of less than full-flavor soup, starchy taste, and lack of other ingredients (than egg) kind of turned me into a non-appreciator.

W.K. Leung ("Ah Leung") aka "hzrt8w"
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Thanks for all your comments.  I iwll be in Hong Kong in a couple of weeks to re-acclimate myself with the life style.  I will pay special attention to the soup section of Cantonese restaurant menus...

Hey, me, too (although it's doubtful I can re-acclimate myself to the lifestyle of a young, single woman). :rolleyes: I'm also going to Shanghai and Beijing and points in-between.

And I'll also keep an eye out for dan fah tong. Perhaps I will find it's not as I remember it from the days when I lived there.

Edited by Jaymes (log)

I don't understand why rappers have to hunch over while they stomp around the stage hollering.  It hurts my back to watch them. On the other hand, I've been thinking that perhaps I should start a rap group here at the Old Folks' Home.  Most of us already walk like that.

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