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:
- take sung cabbage, rape-turnip, wild daikon, and shepherd’s purse; scrub them and get rid of the bitter sap.
- use a little oil to coat the pot; put in the vegetables with water.
- add a bit of rice and fresh ginger.
- 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.
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.
“On Vegetable Soup.” 菜羹賦.