Herbs for health

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Chinese soups with herbs tantalize taste buds with their flavors and medicinal properties


A bowl of steaming double-boiled crocodile and coconut soup at Ngan Dinh Restaurant in Ho Chi Minh City's District 5.

What's in a bowl?

Lots. Especially if it is a bowl of Chinese soup. There's flavor, of course, and sumptuousness. And there is the oft-forgotten raison d'etre of food nutrition.

A bowl of Chinese soup is typically full of herbs, which are very high in medicinal value.

"Chinese herbs such as Ä‘ảng sâm (codonopsis pilosula root), dương quy (radix angelicae sinenesis), hoài sơn (rhizoma dioscoreae), kỉ t(Chinese wolfberries), nhãn nhc (arillus longanae) and táo tàu (jujube or red date) are very good for health.

Over centuries, the Chinese have perfected the art of making delicious, healthy soups," says Yeung Loi Ming, chef at Kabin Chinese Restaurant in Renaissance Riverside Hotel Saigon in District 1.

Đảng sâm is known as the poor man's ginseng it helps lower blood pressure, increase red and white blood cell count, strengthen the immune system and aid digestion.

Hoài sơn enhance vigor, promotes muscle growth, repairs worn-out tissue, and restores strength after a long-term illness. Jujube or red date is believed to relieve stress.

Soups have been an integral part of Chinese food history for centuries. They have been a staple in royal kitchens through many dynasties. For the poor, soups have represented warmth and medicinal value.

While the rich traditionally use bear's hand or copperhead snake's tail as main ingredients, the common man stews their herbed soup with chicken, pork and vegetables.

Chinese soups are often stewed through the day in double boilers or slow cookers to imbue the meat with the spice and pungency of herbs and bring out all the delicious flavors.

Silkie soup

There are many variations of traditional Chinese soups but gà ác tim thuốc bc (slow cooked silkie chicken with herbs) is the most popular.

The dark blue meat of silkie chicken is well-known in gourmet circles around the world, and commonly used in Chinese soups in restaurants.

To make a soup with silkie meat and Chinese herbs, combine the silkie chicken with herbs such as codonopsis pilosula root, radix angelicae sinenesis, rhizoma dioscoreae, Chinese wolfberries, arillus euphoriae longanae and jujube.

Another traditional soup is mì vịt tim (egg noodle soup with stewed duck).

To make this soup, a duck is first stuffed with ht sen (lotus seed), bch qu (ginkgo nut), c năng (water chestnut), nm kim châm (enoki mushrooms) and nm Ä‘ông cô (shiitake mushrooms), and left to marinate.

The meat is then fried on the outside and stewed on low heat until it becomes tender. The duck meat is served with noodles. The egg noodle and stewed duck soup is usually served on important occasions such as weddings.

The herbed duck soup pairs well with boiled baby bok choy and papaya pickle.

Modern variations

More modern versions of the soup include quail or pigeon stewed with arillus longanae, jujube and Chinese wolfberries.

The meat and herbs are stuffed into a coconut shell and cooked in a double-boiler. The finished soup has the aroma of coconut flesh.

Another popular soup is the chicken soup in watermelon. Chicken meat, along with water chestnuts, carrots, jujube, lotus seeds and wood ear mushrooms is stuffed into the shell of a water melon. Coconut and watermelon juice added to the soup give a distinctive sweetness to the soup.

Chinese soups are available in Ho Chi Minh City in Cho Lon, known as China Town in District 5, and on Nguyen Tri Phuong Street (District 5), Phan Xich Long Street (District 11), and Cao Thang Street (District 3).

They are also on the menu in luxury restaurants such as Huy Long Vien at 99 Nguyen Du Street, Shang Palace at 17-19 Ly Tu Trong Street, and Kabin Chinese Restaurant at 8-15 Ton Duc Thang Street, all in District 1. Prices vary between VND45,000- 70,000.

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