imitation of Dongpo Soup 東坡羹,Dec. 2016

A poet, writer, calligrapher, and statesman, Su Dongpo (also known as Su Shi, 1037-1101 A.D.) is one of the most famous figures in Chinese literary history. He is also a gastronome and has created some of the most popular dishes that are still relished today, such as Dongpo Pork.

A lesser known dish yet one that deserves more attention is Dongpo Soup. It’s a dish drastically contrast the richness and fragrance of Dongpo Pork. The soup is plain and bland, consisting of a few common vegetables of Su’s time and cooked with a bit of rice and fresh ginger. The very idea of this dish is to  use what is available and preserve their original taste, appreciating the “naturalness” of the season’s gifts. As you probably can discern, this is a dish created out of necessity. Su was exiled to Qiongzhou (now Hainan island, China), the furtherest south point of the empire. Far from cities of cultural and economic prosperity, Su endured a life even more impoverished than he had during his earlier exile to Hangzhou (today Huanggang, Hubei), where he finalized the recipe of the pork dish. Well, the optimism persisted and he created a new recipe of simple soup for simple life.

Additionally, “naturalness” is in fact a very important concept in the cuisine of Song Dynasty (960-1279 A.D.) in China. Especially among the literati, healthy diet that advocates for natural ingredients and simple process prevails the lavishly prepared banquets. Greater Burdock (also known as gobo, 牛蒡) and other similar vegetables become popular ingredients.

A detailed recipe is given in Su Dongpo’s writing “In Praise of Dongpo Soup” 東坡羹頌:

  1. take sung cabbage, rape-turnip, wild daikon, and shepherd’s purse; scrub them and get rid of the bitter sap.
  2. use a little oil to coat the pot; put in the vegetables with water.
  3. add a bit of rice and fresh ginger.
  4. he also suggests that one can steam rice over the soup, so the cooking can be done together.

I titled my dish as an imitation of Dongpo soup because the ingredients I found now are different after thousand years of evolution. The sung cabbage is basically what we know as napa cabbage today, but what we have today must taste a lot better because we do not really taste bitter sap in it.

The final dish should have a natural sweet taste without using any condiments. Well, yes, I do agree that this dish has a certain freshness in it. It will be a very good meal when you get a cold and want something light and easy on your palate.

 

References

K.C. Chang, ed. Food in Chinese Culture. New Haven: Yale UP, 1977.

Su, Shi. “In Praise of Dongpo Soup.” 東坡羹頌. “On Vegetable Soup.” 菜羹賦. Vol. 15. Collected Works of Su Xu, Su Shi, and Su Zhe. 20 vols. Beijing: Yuwen chubanshe, 2001.

 

Original texts in Chinese

“In Praise of Dongpo Soup.” 東坡羹頌.

东坡羹,盖东坡居士所煮菜羹也。不用鱼肉五味,有自然之甘。其法以菘若蔓菁、若芦菔、若荠,皆揉洗数过,去辛苦汁。先以生油少许涂釜缘及瓷碗,下菜汤中。人生米为糁,及少生姜,以油碗覆之,不得触,触则生油气,至熟不除。其上置甑,炊饭如常法,既不可遽覆,须生菜气出尽乃覆之。羹每沸涌。遇油辄下,又为碗所压,故终不得上。不尔,羹上薄饭,则气不得达而饭不熟矣。饭熟羹亦烂可食。若无菜,用瓜、茄,皆切破,不揉洗,入罨,熟赤豆与粳米半为糁。余如煮菜法。应纯道人将适庐山,求其法以遗山中好事者。以颂问之:
甘甘尝从极处回,咸酸未必是盐梅。问师此个天真味,根上来么尘上来?

“On Vegetable Soup.” 菜羹賦. 

东坡先生卜居南山之下,服食器用,称家之有无。水陆之味,贫不能致,煮蔓菁、芦菔、苦荠而食之。其法不用醯酱,而有自然之味。盖易具而可常享,乃为之赋,辞曰:
嗟余生之褊迫,如脱兔其何因。殷诗肠之转雷,聊御饿而食陈。无刍豢以适口,荷邻蔬之见分。汲幽泉以揉濯,搏露叶与琼根。爨鉶錡以膏油,泫融液而流津。
汤蒙蒙如松风,投糁豆而谐匀。覆陶瓯之穹崇,谢搅触之烦勤。屏醯酱之厚味,却椒桂之芳辛。水初耗而釜泣,火增壮而力均。滃嘈杂而麋溃,信净美而甘分。登盘盂而荐之,具匕箸而晨飧。助生肥于玉池,与吾鼎其齐珍。鄙易牙之效技,超傅说而策勋。沮彭尸之爽惑,调灶鬼之嫌嗔。嗟丘嫂其自隘,陋乐羊而匪人。先生心平而气和,故虽老而体胖。计余食之几何,固无患于长贫。忘口腹之为累,以不杀而成仁。窃比予于谁欤?葛天氏之遗民。