Jump to content
  • Welcome to the eG Forums, a service of the eGullet Society for Culinary Arts & Letters. The Society is a 501(c)3 not-for-profit organization dedicated to the advancement of the culinary arts. These advertising-free forums are provided free of charge through donations from Society members. Anyone may read the forums, but to post you must create a free account.

What makes egg drop soup so popular?


hzrt8w
 Share

Recommended Posts

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"
Link to comment
Share on other sites

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

tracey

The great thing about barbeque is that when you get hungry 3 hours later....you can lick your fingers

Maxine

Avoid cutting yourself while slicing vegetables by getting someone else to hold them while you chop away.

"It is the government's fault, they've eaten everything."

My Webpage

garden state motorcyle association

Link to comment
Share on other sites

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.

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)

Link to comment
Share on other sites

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.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

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.

SuzySushi

"She sells shiso by the seashore."

My eGullet Foodblog: A Tropical Christmas in the Suburbs

Link to comment
Share on other sites

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.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

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.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

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"
Link to comment
Share on other sites

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.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

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.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

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.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

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"
Link to comment
Share on other sites

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.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

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.

Dejah

www.hillmanweb.com

Link to comment
Share on other sites

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.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

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)

Link to comment
Share on other sites

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.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

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)

Link to comment
Share on other sites

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"
Link to comment
Share on other sites

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.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

 Share

  • Similar Content

    • By liuzhou
      Way back in the 1990’s, I was living in west Hunan, a truly beautiful part of China. One day, some colleagues suggested we all go for lunch the next day, a Saturday. Seemed reasonable to me. I like a bit of lunch.
       
      “OK. We’ll pick you up at 7 am.”
       
      “Excuse me? 7 am for lunch?
       
      “Yes. We have to go by car.”
       
      Well, of course, they finally picked me up at 8.30, drove in circles for an hour trying to find the guy who knew the way, then headed off into the wilds of Hunan. We drove for hours, but the scenery was beautiful, and the thousand foot drops at the side of the crash barrier free road as we headed up the mountains certainly kept me awake.
       
      After an eternity of bad driving along hair-raising roads which had this old atheist praying, we stopped at a run down shack in the middle of nowhere. I assumed that this was a temporary stop because the driver needed to cop a urination or something, but no. This was our lunch venue.
       
      We shuffled into one of the two rooms the shack consisted of and I distinctly remember that one of my hosts took charge of the lunch ordering process.
       
      “We want lunch for eight.” There was no menu.
       
      The waitress, who was also the cook, scuttled away to the other room of the shack which was apparently a kitchen.
       
      We sat there for a while discussing the shocking rise in bean sprout prices and other matters of national importance, then the first dish turned up. A pile of steaming hot meat surrounded by steaming hot chillies. It was delicious.
       
      “What is this meat?” I asked.
       
      About half of the party spoke some English, but my Chinese was even worse than it is now, so communications weren’t all they could be. There was a brief (by Chinese standards) meeting and they announced:
       
      “It’s wild animal.”
       
      Over the next hour or so, several other dishes arrived. They were all piles of steaming hot meat surrounded by steaming hot chillies, but the sauces and vegetable accompaniments varied. And all were very, very good indeed.
       
      “What’s this one?” I ventured.
       
      “A different wild animal.”
       
      “And this?”
       
      “Another wild animal.”
       
      “And this?”
       
      “A wild animal which is not the wild animal in the other dishes”
       
      I wandered off to the kitchen, as you can do in rural Chinese restaurants, and inspected the contents of their larder, fridge, etc. No clues.
       
      I returned to the table with a bit of an idea.
       
      “Please write down the Chinese names of all these animals we have eaten. I will look in my dictionary when I get home.”
       
      They looked at each other, consulted, argued and finally announced:
       
      “Sorry! We don’t know in Chinese either. “
       
      Whether that was true or just a way to get out of telling me what I had eaten, I’ll never know. I certainly wouldn’t be able to find the restaurant again.
       
      This all took place way back in the days before digital cameras, so I have no illustrations from that particular meal. But I’m guessing one of the dishes was bamboo rat.
       
      No pandas or tigers were injured in the making of this post
       
    • By liuzhou
      Note: This follows on from the Munching with the Miao topic.
       
      The three-hour journey north from Miao territory ended up taking four, as the driver missed a turning and we had to drive on to the next exit and go back. But our hosts waited for us at the expressway exit and led us up a winding road to our destination - Buyang 10,000 mu tea plantation (布央万亩茶园 bù yāng wàn mǔ chá yuán) The 'mu' is  a Chinese measurement of area equal to 0.07 of a hectare, but the 10,000 figure is just another Chinese way of saying "very large".
       
      We were in Sanjiang Dong Autonomous County, where 57% of the inhabitants are Dong.
       
      The Dong people (also known as the Kam) are noted for their tea, love of glutinous rice and their carpentry and architecture. And their hospitality. They tend to live at the foot of mountains, unlike the Miao who live in the mid-levels.
       
      By the time we arrived, it was lunch time, but first we had to have a sip of the local tea. This lady did the preparation duty.
       

       

       
      This was what we call black tea, but the Chinese more sensibly call 'red tea'. There is something special about drinking tea when you can see the bush it grew on just outside the window!
       
      Then into lunch:
       

       

      Chicken Soup
       

      The ubiquitous Egg and Tomato
       

      Dried fish with soy beans and chilli peppers. Delicious.
       

      Stir fried lotus root
       

      Daikon Radish
       

      Rice Paddy Fish Deep Fried in Camellia Oil - wonderful with a smoky flavour, but they are not smoked.
       

      Out of Focus Corn and mixed vegetable
       

      Fried Beans
       

      Steamed Pumpkin
       

      Chicken
       

      Beef with Bitter Melon
       

      Glutinous (Sticky) Rice
       

      Oranges
       

      The juiciest pomelo ever. The area is known for the quality of its pomelos.
       
      After lunch we headed out to explore the tea plantation.
       

       

       

       

       
      Interspersed with the tea plants are these camellia trees, the seeds of which are used to make the Dong people's preferred cooking oil.
       

       
      As we climbed the terraces we could hear singing and then came across this group of women. They are the tea pickers. It isn't tea picking time, but they came out in their traditional costumes to welcome us with their call and response music. They do often sing when picking. They were clearly enjoying themselves.
       

       
      And here they are:
       
       
      After our serenade we headed off again, this time to the east and the most memorable meal of the trip. Coming soon.
       
       
    • By liuzhou
      It sometimes seems likes every town in China has its own special take on noodles. Here in Liuzhou, Guangxi the local dish is Luosifen (螺蛳粉 luó sī fěn).
       
      It is a dish of rice noodles served in a very spicy stock made from the local river snails and pig bones which are stewed for hours with black cardamom, fennel seed, dried tangerine peel, cassia bark, cloves, pepper, bay leaf, licorice root, sand ginger, and star anise. Various pickled vegetables, dried tofu skin, fresh green vegetables, peanuts and loads of chilli are then usually added. Few restaurants ever reveal their precise recipe, so this is tentative. Luosifen is only really eaten in small restaurants and roadside stalls. I've never heard of anyone making it at home.
       
      In order to promote tourism to the city, the local government organised a food festival featuring an event named "10,000 people eat luosifen together." (In Chinese 10,000 often just means "many".)
       
      10,000 people (or a lot of people anyway) gathered at Liuzhou International Convention and Exhibition Centre for the grand Liuzhou luosifen eat-in. Well, they gathered in front of the centre – the actual centre is a bleak, unfinished, deserted shell of a building. I disguised myself as a noodle and joined them. 10,001.
       

       
      The vast majority of the 10,000 were students from the local colleges who patiently and happily lined up to be seated. Hey, mix students and free food – of course they are happy.
       

       
      Each table was equipped with a basket containing bottled water, a thermos flask of hot water, paper bowls, tissues etc. And most importantly, a bunch of Luosifen caps. These read “万人同品螺蛳粉” which means “10,000 people together enjoy luosifen”
       

       
      Yep, that is the soup pot! 15 meters in diameter and holding eleven tons of stock. Full of snails and pork bones, spices etc. Chefs delicately added ingredients to achieve the precise, subtle taste required.
       

       
      Noodles were distributed, soup added and dried ingredients incorporated then there was the sound of 10,000 people slurping.
       

      Surrounding the luosifen eating area were several stalls selling different goodies. Lamb kebabs (羊肉串) seemed most popular, but there was all sorts of food. Here are few of the delights on offer.
       

      Whole roast lamb or roast chicken
       

      Lamb Kebabs
       

      Kebab spice mix – Cumin, chilli powder, salt and MSG
       

      Kebab stall
       

      Crab
       

      Different crab
       

      Sweet sticky rice balls
       

      Things on sticks
       

      Grilled scorpions
       

      Pig bones and bits
       

      Snails
       
      And much more.
       
      To be honest, it wasn’t the best luosifen I’ve ever eaten, but it was wasn’t the worst. Especially when you consider the number they were catering for. But it was a lot of fun. Which was the point.
       
    • By liuzhou
      Chinese food must be among the most famous in the world. Yet, at the same time, the most misunderstood.

      I feel sure (hope) that most people here know that American-Chinese cuisine, British-Chinese cuisine, Indian-Chinese cuisine etc are, in huge ways, very different from Chinese-Chinese cuisine and each other. That's not what I want to discuss.

      Yet, every day I still come across utter nonsense on YouTube videos and Facebook about the "real" Chinese cuisine, even from ethnically Chinese people (who have often never been in China). Sorry YouTube "influencers", but sprinkling soy sauce or 5-spice powder on your cornflakes does not make them Chinese!
       
      So what is the "authentic" Chinese food? Well, like any question about China, there are several answers. It is not surprising that a country larger than western Europe should have more than one typical culinary style. Then, we must distinguish between what you may be served in a large hotel dining room, a small local restaurant, a street market stall or in a Chinese family's home.

      That said, in this topic, I want to attempt to debunk some of the more prevalent myths. Not trying to start World War III.

      When I moved to China from the UK 25 years ago, I had my preconceptions. They were all wrong. Sweet and sour pork with egg fried rice was reported to be the second favourite dish in Britain, and had, of course, to be preceded by a plate of prawn/shrimp crackers. All washed down with a lager or three.

      Yet, in that quarter of a century, I've seldom seen a prawn cracker. And egg fried rice is usually eaten as a quick dish on its own, not usually as an accompaniment to main courses. Every menu featured a starter of prawn/shrimp toast which I have never seen in mainland China - just once in Hong Kong.

      But first, one myth needs to be dispelled. The starving Chinese! When I was a child I was encouraged to eat the particularly nasty bits on the plate by being told that the starving Chinese would lap them up. My suggestion that we could post it to them never went down too well. At that time (the late fifties) there was indeed a terrible famine in China (almost entirely manmade (Maomade)).

      When I first arrived in China, it was after having lived in Soviet Russia and I expected to see the same long lines of people queuing up to buy nothing very much in particular. Instead, on my first visit to a market (in Hunan Province), I was confronted with a wider range of vegetables, seafood, meat and assorted unidentified frying objects than I have ever seen anywhere else. And it was so cheap I couldn't convert to UK pounds or any other useful currency.
       
      I'm going to start with some of the simpler issues - later it may get ugly!

      1. Chinese people eat everything with chopsticks.
       

       
      No, they don't! Most things, yes, but spoons are also commonly used in informal situations. I recently had lunch in a university canteen. It has various stations selling different items. I found myself by the fried rice stall and ordered some Yangzhou fried rice. Nearly all the students and faculty sitting near me were having the same.

      I was using my chopsticks to shovel the food in, when I noticed that I was the only one doing so. Everyone else was using spoons. On investigating, I was told that the lunch break is so short at only two-and-a-half hours that everyone wants to eat quickly and rush off for their compulsory siesta.
       
      I've also seen claims that people eat soup with chopsticks. Nonsense. While people use chopsticks to pick out choice morsels from the broth, they will drink the soup by lifting their bowl to their mouths like cups. They ain't dumb!

      Anyway, with that very mild beginning, I'll head off and think which on my long list will be next.

      Thanks to @KennethT for advice re American-Chinese food.
       
       
    • By liuzhou
      Your wish is my command! Sometimes! A lot of what I say here, I will have already said in scattered topics across the forums, but I guess it's useful to bring it all into one place.
       
      First, I want to say that China uses literally thousands of herbs. But not in their food. Most herbs are used medicinally in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), often in their dried form. Some of the more common are sold in supermarkets, but more often in pharmacies or small specialist stores. I also often see people on the streets with baskets of unidentified greenery for sale - but not for dinner. The same applies to spices, although more spices are used in a culinary setting than are herbs.
       
      I’ll start with Sichuan peppercorns as these are what prompted @Tropicalsenior to suggest the topic.
       
      1. Sichuan Peppercorns
       
      Sichuan peppercorns are neither pepper nor, thank the heavens, c@rn! Nor are they necessarily from Sichuan. They are actually the seed husks of one of a number of small trees in the genus Zanthoxylum and are related to the citrus family.  The ‘Sichuan’ name in English comes from their copious use in Sichuan cuisine, but not necessarily where they are grown. Known in Chinese as 花椒 (huājiāo), literally ‘flower pepper’’, they are also known as ‘prickly ash’ and, less often, as ‘rattan pepper’.
      The most common variety used in China is 红花椒 (hóng huā jiāo) or red Sichuan peppercorn, but often these are from provinces other than Sichuan, especially Gansu, Sichuan’s northern neighbour. They are sold all over China and, ground, are a key ingredient in “five-spice powder” mixes. They are essential in many Sichuan dishes where they contribute their numbing effect to Sichuan’s 麻辣 (má là), so-called ‘hot and numbing’ flavour. Actually the Chinese is ‘numbing and hot’. I’ve no idea why the order is reversed in translation, but it happens a lot – ‘hot and sour’ is actually ‘sour and hot’ in Chinese!
       
      The peppercorns are essential in dishes such as 麻婆豆腐 (má pó dòu fǔ) mapo tofu, 宫保鸡丁 (gōng bǎo jī dīng) Kung-po chicken, etc. They are also used in other Chinese regional cuisines, such as Hunan and Guizhou cuisines.

      Red Sichuan peppercorns can come from a number of Zanthoxylum varieties including Zanthoxylum simulans, Zanthoxylum bungeanum, Zanthoxylum schinifolium, etc.
       

      Red Sichuan Peppercorns
       
      Another, less common, variety is 青花椒 (qīng huā jiāo) green Sichuan peppercorn, Zanthoxylum armatum. These are also known as 藤椒 (téng jiāo). This grows all over Asia, from Pakistan to Japan and down to the countries of SE Asia. This variety is significantly more floral in taste and, at its freshest, smells strongly of lime peel. These are often used with fish, rabbit, frog etc. Unlike red peppercorns (usually), the green variety are often used in their un-dried state, but not often outside Sichuan.
       

      Green Sichuan Peppercorns
       

      Fresh Green Sichuan Peppercorns

      I strongly recommend NOT buying Sichuan peppercorns in supermarkets outside China. They lose their scent, flavour and numbing quality very rapidly. There are much better examples available on sale online. I have heard good things about The Mala Market in the USA, for example.

      I buy mine in small 30 gram / 1oz bags from a high turnover vendor. And that might last me a week. It’s better for me to restock regularly than to use stale peppercorns.

      Both red and green peppercorns are used in the preparation of flavouring oils, often labelled in English as 'Prickly Ash Oil'. 花椒油 (huā jiāo yóu) or 藤椒油 (téng jiāo yóu).
       

       
      The tree's leaves are also used in some dishes in Sichuan, but I've never seen them out of the provinces where they grow.
       
      A note on my use of ‘Sichuan’ rather than ‘Szechuan’.
       
      If you ever find yourself in Sichuan, don’t refer to the place as ‘Szechuan’. No one will have any idea what you mean!

      ‘Szechuan’ is the almost prehistoric transliteration of 四川, using the long discredited Wade-Giles romanization system. Thomas Wade was a British diplomat who spoke fluent Mandarin and Cantonese. After retiring as a diplomat, he was elected to the post of professor of Chinese at Cambridge University, becoming the first to hold that post. He had, however, no training in theoretical linguistics. Herbert Giles was his replacement. He (also a diplomat rather than an academic) completed a romanization system begun by Wade. This became popular in the late 19th century, mainly, I suggest, because there was no other!

      Unfortunately, both seem to have been a little hard of hearing. I wish I had a dollar for every time I’ve been asked why the Chinese changed the name of their capital from Peking to Beijing. In fact, the name didn’t change at all. It had always been pronounced with /b/ rather than /p/ and /ʤ/ rather than /k/. The only thing which changed was the writing system.

      In 1958, China adopted Pinyin as the standard romanization, not to help dumb foreigners like me, but to help lower China’s historically high illiteracy rate. It worked very well indeed, Today, it is used in primary schools and in some shop or road signs etc., although street signs seldom, if ever, include the necessary tone markers without which it isn't very helpful.
       

      A local shopping mall. The correct pinyin (with tone markers) is 'dōng dū bǎi huò'.
       
      But pinyin's main use today is as the most popular input system for writing Chinese characters on computers and cell-phones. I use it in this way every day, as do most people. It is simpler and more accurate than older romanizations. I learned it in one afternoon.  I doubt anyone could have done that with Wade-Giles.
       
      Pinyin has been recognised for over 30 years as the official romanization by the International Standards Organization (ISO), the United Nations and, believe it or not, The United States of America, along with many others. Despite this recognition, old romanizations linger on, especially in America. Very few people in China know any other than pinyin. 四川 is  'sì chuān' in pinyin.
  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    • No registered users viewing this page.
×
×
  • Create New...