Recover from the festive season with cleansing and nourishing Traditional Chinese herbal soups. When does soup cross over to tonic? A very long time ago. The Chinese herbalists know this well. Kenny Chen of Oriental Bowl restaurant in Kuala Lumpur is known for herbal soups. The third generation owner of Soon Hing Cheong Ginseng, a traditional Chinese herbalist, specialises in healing and nourishing the body and soul using herbs and natural food ingredients.
Chen grew up in a world where the squeaking of medicine cabinets as they were opened and shut was the norm. Hidden in those sturdy drawers were herbs of every shape and size, used for millennia to treat myriad ailments.
“Chinese herbs are natural. They’re from the earth. Don’t think of them as medicine per se, but as vegetables with healing properties,” he says. He is well aware of the stereotypes surrounding Chinese herbs: they’re exotic and foreign, far too bitter for human consumption and even deleterious to health.
To the sceptic, it’s all a bunch of hocus-pocus and pseudo-science. “The biggest misconception about Chinese medicine is that it works like Western medicine. It doesn’t. You won’t be instantly cured. Herbs are more like vitamins; they take time to work,” he explains.
As for their unpalatable bitterness? “That’s why you can get all their nutritional goodness from drinking delicious soups! Make the soups and incorporate them into your daily diet. “After any festive period, when you’ve eaten a lot of rich and unhealthy food, your ‘inner heat’ goes up, what the Chinese call ‘heaty’. These herbal soups will help you to lower your heat and release toxins from your body.”
'The Burdock Soup,' he says, is good for eliminating toxins and waste, and for preventing constipation and getting rid of wind (i.e. flatulence). Burdock is known as the king of vegetables because it’s so nutrient-rich. “To combat all that excessive eating and build-up of toxins and heat, you’ll also want to drink a cooling detox soup like the Eight Treasures Soup.”
The sweet soup is a colourful mixture of dates, white fungus, Chinese yam, lotus seeds, mushrooms, barley and Chinese wolfberries (goji berries). The good news for those who have “must lose weight” as a New Year resolution: It’s good for slimming and boosting your immune system, too.
“The thing about Chinese herbal soups is that you have to get the balance of ingredients correct for them to be effective. So if you have a ‘hot’ herb, you must counter it with a ‘cold’ herb,” Chen says. He discourages anyone without proper knowledge of herbs to create their own soups, because getting this balance right is imperative.
“Our recipes have been refined based on sound traditional Chinese medicine knowledge,” he says. Still, you don’t have to be a medicinal herbalist to enjoy herbal soups. Just follow trusted recipes. Chen also doesn’t subscribe to the rather ludicrous notion that Chinese herbs are only for Chinese people. They can be taken by anyone.
Ushering in another year means ageing another year, and we all go grey on top. To banish salt-and-pepper hair, drink 'Chinese Knotweed Soup.' “Chinese knotweed is good for darkening hair. The black beans in the soup help to enrich the blood as well.” This is the most full-bodied of the soups, but well worth making and drinking, because it leaves such a distinct aftertaste.
What about the bitter gourd soup? What’s the herb in that? “Bitter gourd,” Chen says with a laugh. “People don’t think of bitter gourd as a herb or having medicinal properties, but it does. You see, this vegetable-fruit is a ‘herb’ too!”
Steaming the bitter gourd in a soup takes away quite a bit of its bitterness, so even if you’re not a fan of the taste, the melt-in-the-mouth texture of the melon is very yummy indeed. Moreover, bitter gourd helps to lower blood sugar and is good for diabetics. It also expels toxins and improves liver function. Chen says that the secret to making herbal soup taste delicious lies in the stock. Make good stock and you’ll have good soup. So, get your ladles at the ready, and have yourself a soup-er start to the year.
*Read the original article on TheStar.com.