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Jaymes

Hot & Sour Soup

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Browniebaker: Thanks for the input on your family's way of eating hot and sour soup, and the insight on it being very traditional to allow diners to season according to taste. I do respect and understand that. However, as a work-from-home, harried mother of a 13-month-old daughter (with another child on the way in January), I need an awesome recipe that doesn't require fiddling around with, as it's hard getting time to cook fun stuff these days. :laugh:

Due respects, but are you also too harried to fill your salt and pepper shakers in case someone wants to "fiddle around" with your mashed potatoes or your sunny-side-up eggs?

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Gary Soup: Due respect right back at you, but I don't think it's a crime to want to fix hot and sour soup according to the recipe and enjoy it. Begging everyone's pardon, but I think there are an awful lot of people out there who enjoy going out to eat and having hot and sour soup served to them without chile oil, pepper or vinegar set in front of them as condiments. And even if some restaurants do have these condiments, I know there are plenty of diners who don't bother using them in hot and sour soup. I'm one of those people, provided the soup tastes good. I just went out for Chinese food today and had a wonderful hot and sour that didn't need additional seasoning. My husband also does not adjust the seasoning in the soup at this particular restaurant.

I certainly didn't mean to ruffle any feathers by asking for a recipe that results in a nicely balanced dish. One of the hallmarks of many Asian dishes, after all, is a balance of flavors, and that can often be achieved in the cooking process by following a good recipe.

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I certainly didn't mean to ruffle any feathers by asking for a recipe that results in a nicely balanced dish. One of the hallmarks of many Asian dishes, after all, is a balance of flavors, and that can often be achieved in the cooking process by following a good recipe.

Mrs. Inkling, I can assure you that I have no feathers to ruffle. I'll also venture that it's a hallmark of Asian diners (as it is of grumpy old men like me) to reserve the right to please their own palates. If you can find a magical combination of heat and acidity in a soup that is incontrovertibly correct for every taste, you can probably also bring peace to the world.

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For two decades we frequented a restaurant in NY's Chinatown that made a variety of Hot & Sour Soup that had a reddish color, and the flavor was quite different than the brown stuff that is ubiquitous in Chinese restaurants in the US today. The restaurant is long gone, and this type of H & S soup is very hard to find.

Would anyone know --

a/ Is this red soup the more authentic type of Hot & Sour Soup? (It is more sour than the brown one)

b/ Is some type of tomato ingredient causing the red coloring?

c/ Where can you get this stuff today?

Thanks!

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I have never, in Sichuan, encountered suan-la tang (hot and sour soup) that remotely resembles the brown-brothed, chock-full-of-goodies, version (as delicious as it may be). What I have had in Sichuan is a thin-brothed soup of slivered pork and thinly-sliced pickled cabbage, flavored with black pepper, red chili oil (la you), and black vinegar (which, to my taste, is more "vinegary" than white vinegar .... and of course, the pickled cabbage lent some sourness as well). If what you remember was very spicy, perhaps the red color came from the chili oil?

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If what you remember was very spicy, perhaps the red color came from the chili oil?

Only slightly spicy, definitely not coming from enough chili oil to make it red....

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Possibly from ketchup :unsure: or food colouring?

The only time I experienced red hot and sour soup was when the "cook", I think, tried to make the soup without ANY idea of what it is supposed to taste like!

The soup was more like sweet 'n' sour with a touch of heat. From the colour, I'd say they also used food colouring. They also added julienne carrots and a wedge of tomato.

I couldn't eat it after the first mouthful.

My own version uses chicken stock, Chinese chili paste, vinegar plus all the other goodies. It has an amber colour, and thickened at the last minute with a touch of cornstarch and water.

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My Hot & Sour calls for chicken stock that is flavoured with light and dark soys and this mostly where the color comes from. I imagine the Chinese black vinegar would be good in it but I haven't tried it for soup yet. Mine is quite spicy but the spicyiness is from white pepper. Maybe I haven't been around enough, but mine is better than any I have had in the U.S. Very complex. I also use black fungus, dried and fresh mushrooms and a little sesame oil. We do not eat pork and the beef I substitued was just fine for me. But red, I cannot imagine it.

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I have never, in Sichuan, encountered suan-la tang (hot and sour soup) that remotely resembles the brown-brothed, chock-full-of-goodies, version (as delicious as it may be). What I have had in Sichuan is a thin-brothed soup of slivered pork and thinly-sliced pickled cabbage, flavored with black pepper, red chili oil (la you), and black vinegar (which, to my taste, is more "vinegary" than white vinegar .... and of course, the pickled cabbage lent some sourness as well).

I, for one, am very happy to know this, ecr. I grew to love hot and sour soup at a Chinese restaurant in my college town of Bloomington, Indiana, and this particular restaurant served a hot and sour soup very similar to the one you describe (with the addition of black tree fungus, maybe some straw mushrooms--it's been a long time, so I'm not quite sure--some egg-drop, some cubes of tofu and lily buds). In those days--the late '70's/early'80's--hot and sour soup was not the ubiquitous menu item it is today, and the next place I encountered was in NYC. This was, of course, the brown stuff, and it seemed to me like a different dish entirely, and I've never liked it nearly as much as my first love.

I suppose I take this as some sort of validation of my "instinct for authenticity", whether or not I should.....hey, humor me!

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I think we've debated this before and decided that, like many dishes, there are many regional variations.

I remember having the flu in Hong Kong once and asking my relatives to find me great hot and sour soup. They took me to an authentic Sichuan place that served me a distinctly non-Cantonese verson that was more sweet than sour, very red with chili oil, and brimming with cubes of pig's blood. Not exactly what I was craving...

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Well, I don't know about authenticity Eric, but I just loved the unthickened broth and unadulterated, focused HOT and SOUR flavors of this soup (though I also like a good bowl of the brown stuff, I just don't think of it in the same way). We had bugged the wok-jockey at this place, where we ate dinner every day, for hot and sour for months but they never had pickled cabbage on hand. One day it showed up on our table, and it was fabulous! This was the early 80s and things were still pretty lean (and dishes very unadorned) in Sichuan, but I imagine that if he'd had any dried mushrooms or cloud ear fungus he would have thrown it in.

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The red coloring might have come from using chili oil exclusively as a spiciness agent, rather than using la-jiang (chili paste, which usually has garlic and other peppers in it as well..) My receipe call not only for a goodly amount of cornstarch, but also an egg white to be mixed in it the last minute, as the pot is at full boil: it gives an interesting visual je ne sais quois, and it adds to the thickening.

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The Hot and Sour Soup that you were being served in more indicative of the traditional Sichuan version.

This type is served in several variations at several Seattle Sichuan Restaurants.

A Special Spicy Won Ton

Sichuan Hot and Sour Soup

Both these are based upon a Cabbage with Vinegar Chicken Type Broth with a Chili Oil addition that not very hot or overpowering.

The type of "hot and Sour" Soup with the Brownish Color evolved thru the popularity of Mandarin or Peking Style Restaurants putting together a acceptable Soup to identify with their Menu. In Hong Kong the Hot and Sour types of Soups are always served with a Bottle of Vinegar plus a Hot Chili Sauce that you use to bring the Soup to your own preference, Chili Oil is always a standard table codiment.

Most varieties that were served were generally not thickened with Corn Starch or offered with Dumplings, Pork, Chicken or Blood unless this was requested when ordered.

I often find that the type offered at American Chinese Restaurants is acceptable and enhances the meal better then the majority of standard Egg Drop or Won Ton Soups on the Menu's.

Irwin

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Anybody know the reginal origin of hot and sour soup?

I had always assumed Sichuan, and I think a couple of cookbooks imply as much. But I am not so sure.

Thanks.

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It is probably in one of those middle provinces where hot pepper is a must have on every dinning table. Szechuan or Hunan.

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Just looked up three different books I have. Two claim Sichuan, one says Beijing. A friend of mine from Shanghai has always claimed it is a Shanghai dish, and that the idea of adding vinegar to the soup was derived from the Russian immigrant population that Shanghai used to have. (doubtful, IMO, given that so much other Shanghainese food is heavy on the vinegar).

Take your pick... :hmmm:

Perhaps they developed independently? After all, chili (or, in some cases, black pepper) and vinegar as flavoring agents are not present only in one region. Just a thought...

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Seems like Sichuan and Beijing keep popping up as possible origins.

I have a eaten a bunch of different versions of hot and sour soup, and it seems to me that the most important ingredient or taste is the vinegar. The dish is supposed to hot as well as sour. Pepper and chilli are common all over, so is vinegar, but Sichuan cookery does not make heavy use of it as far as I can tell, unlike north China. Maybe this points more to Beijing?

Also this very interesting snippet from about.com

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I just checked several of my books. Oddly enough, I found that one author contradicts himself. One book says it originated in Szechuan and the other says North China.

My book "Chinese Gastronomy" doesn't even mention it and it was the source that I expected would give the answer.

Will we ever find the answer????? :unsure:

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For what it's worth from what I've read ---- (from somewhere, over the years)

It was considered a Beijing dish -- the hot coming from white pepper.

I think it was during the Qing Dynasty when the mandarins, who ruled other provinces, originated from 'Peking' and so they traveled to those provinces along with their families and CHEFS -- cooking Northern dishes. Including Sichuan province. (I think that is one of the reasons why "Mandarin" is a natural dialect in Sichuan, also)

If this is so, then it would just be a matter of time for the chili to be added to the dish as 'hot', and labeled as Sichuanese.

Don't know how factual this is, but it does make sense. Something like 'Peking Duck' which is supposed to have been concocted in Kaifeng, but when the capital moved to Peking, so did the dish.

For myself, in Hot/Sour Soup, I want the white pepper -- not the chile.

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I think it was during the Qing Dynasty when  the mandarins, who ruled other provinces, originated from 'Peking' and so they traveled to those provinces along with their families and CHEFS -- cooking Northern dishes. Including Sichuan province. (I think that is one of the reasons why "Mandarin" is a natural dialect in Sichuan, also)

Sounds quite plausible Jo-mei. Then again, what if the migration was in the other direction - from Sichuan to Beijing, via the same mandarins when they returned to the court?

If you looked at the About.com link I mentioned above, you'll see something about the earliest hot and sour soup having a broth made of congealed pig's blood. The Taiwanese version ALWAYS has pig's blood. Is the the origin Taiwan? !!!

As BarbaraY says, maybe we will never know. Maddening isn't it?

Anyway here is the Taiwan version of hot and sour soup (which is not at all peppery)

Recipe

Taiwan-Hot-&-Sour-Soup.jpg

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I decided to run thru some of my books --- especially the regional ones. They seem to be evenly divided on the origin. One even said it is a Northern dish with Sichuan origins, but that Peking had a claim to it too! Others say it should only have regular black pepper as the heat, and another says, black pepper, brown pepper and chili!!!! ARRGGHHHHH!

Another says something about its 'heat' properties, but that could be for either region. In the North to warm you up in the winter, and in the West -- to make you sweat and cool off!

Same with the pig's blood. Authentic recipes should have it, but that the Shanghainese shun it. Another said that it is left out in Western versions as it might turn off people.

I decided to see if the golden needles,----- a 'must' in the dish would give a clue to the origin. Simoons "Food in China" talks about lily buds as another widely-used flavoring, especially in Northern dishes. But then, further down on the page he talks about the day lilies were cultivated as food crops in various regions, but particularly in Sichuan whose cuisine makes liberal use of golden needles.

Sooooooo------Do do you want your authentic clam chowder to be white with milk, or red with tomato?? LOL!

Someone in one of my cooking classes was surprised by the golden needles in the dish we were making. This was when Hot/Sour Soup was just coming into our restaurants, back in the 70s. She said she thought that the dish she recently had, used French-style green beans. Well, the following week, she went back to the restaurant and came in with a report. They WERE French style green beans!!!

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The cookbooks I have from the '70s all say it's a Szechwan/Sichuan favorite. None of them mentions an origin. The recipes all call for black pepper or white pepper -- not chiles.

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For what it's worth from what I've read ---- (from somewhere, over the years)

It was considered a Beijing dish -- the hot coming from white pepper.

I think it was during the Qing Dynasty when  the mandarins, who ruled other provinces, originated from 'Peking' and so they traveled to those provinces along with their families and CHEFS -- cooking Northern dishes. Including Sichuan province. (I think that is one of the reasons why "Mandarin" is a natural dialect in Sichuan, also)

This got me checking up my history books, because some of this wasn't quite gelling with what I vaguely remember.

Starting with the language stuff. I checked this up, and Mandarin is the language in Sichuan due to population shift, not due to the language of the rulers. There was a plague in Sichuan in the 12th century, the population was radically reduced, and following this a large number of people moved into Sichuan from the Mandarin speaking area to the north-east of Sichuan.

As far as mandarins going from Beijing is concerned: it was my understanding that the actual ruling elite came from all over China, and was, in turn, sent all over China. Once you got to a certain level of learning, you went to Beijing to sit the Imperial exams. People who flunked the exams might well have stayed on in Beijing for quite some time, either doing something else, or studying further hoping to pass the exams the next time around. Nonetheless, not that many people were actually FROM Beijing. People who passed were sent to rule over any area EXCEPT for the area they originally came from. It was considered that, if they were posted in their home region, they were too likely to be partial to certain people or groups. If they went to an area where they were a stranger, they were more likely to rule impartially. Incidentally, there's a famous poem dealing with the exile from one's local region that being a succesful official involved. (i.e. you could only go home again once you had stopped being an official). Link to it here in Chinese and English.

Of course, this was the ideal. I'm sure there were plenty of times in Chinese history where corruption won out, and people were sent consistently from place A to place B. Maybe you are right, and there was a time when people originally from Beijing were sent consistently to Sichuan. I'm always happy to learn more!

This raises an interesting issue. Surely all of these officials would have wanted to eat the food they grew up eating, and there would actually have been a lot of movement of chefs who cooked in particular regional styles moving around the country as these officials got posted around? What kind of influence might this have had in spreading ingredients and cooking styles? Has anyone studied this? (if not, are there any food historians out there who read classical Chinese and are happy to plough through heaps and heaps of boring documents? :smile: ) I've read articles talking about how, in pre-modern China, various regional products ended up getting sold in places far from their place of origin, and also how the travel of merchants was accompanied by their setting up places where they could eat 'home-style' cooking, but the food of officials is not a subject I've ever seen mentioned.

All this thinking about language and population movement got me thinking further. After all, black pepper - which is essential to all but the modern bastardized forms of the soup - is indigenous to India and not to China. In fact, the Chinese name for pepper, hujiao, indicates this, since the'hu' in this word refers to non-Chinese peoples living in the north and west in ancient times, and is applied also to things associated with that area. So where was black pepper originally being brought into China from and by whom, and (importantly) to which areas and via which areas? Once you know the answer to this, it might well be clear where hot and sour soup originated.

So where are those Chinese food historians when you need them? :hmmm:

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Anzu -- I went back the Simoons "Food in China", and looked up black pepper. It mentioned native sources and species, and its trade to parts of the world. The Oriental pepper trade went from India to Southeast Asia to China. Just to shorten all the information, the one thing that interested me was this: <<<<<It was reported that a Han emissary was sent to the state of Nay-Yueh, modern Kwangtung, in the 2nd century B.C. where, at a reception, he first encountered a plant product H.L.Li has identified as black pepper (piper nigrum). The emissary was told that it came from Szechuan, far to the west. That region, in turn, probably obtained it overland from India, a land also associated with pepper in other earlier accounts.>>>>>>.

So, more pointing to H/S Soup having Sichuan origins. Tomorrow, I want to find when chili arrived in the province.

There is also something written about pepper plants in Canton that probably came from North Vietnam.

About the language -- I just brushed thru parts of DeFrancis' The Chinese Language', and he says <<<<<< Native speakers of Putonghua occur as a solid bloc in the huge area that extends from Manchuria through north and central China to the southwestern provinces of Sichuan and Yunnan and the northwest provinces of Gansu and Ningxia.>>>>>>> But --- no dates were provided, and I didn't have time to look further.

Interesting!

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