As I pass the first server behind the counter Im
handed a large soup bowl of
steaming hot congee, very soft rice soup. A step or two on down
the line are
half a dozen hot and cold condiments. I point to some very green
stirfried Chinese broccoli, thinly sliced white daikon radish triangles,
cubed pickled yellow turnip, four inch squares of dried black sea
similar to nori. Theyre given to me in small plastic bowls.
I bring my tray back to the table and set the large bowl and four
at my place. I look around for a spoon. All eyes are on me. Suddenly,
picks up her chopsticks and puts a small amount of her vegetables
on top of
the congee bowl. Shes eating soup and vegetables without a
spoon! I know
theyre waiting for me to do the same. I can use chopsticks
condiments, but soup?
When in Rome as the saying goes, so I dipped my sticks
into the bowl and
came up with...nothing. I tried again with the same result. I
soup with chopsticks, I complained, Is it proper to
use a spoon, if one
Very proper. It takes years of practice to perfect eating
chopsticks, says Cho laughing, and we dont have
that much time for
breakfast. You can practice at home.
She handed me a flat bottomed plastic spoon. I added the condiments
topped the full blue bowl off with toasted black sesame seeds and
a dash or
two rich brown mushroom based soy sauce. The rice soup, vegetables,
sauce melded together making a panoply of flavors and textures that
to bring home.
Congee is real Chinese medicine food, says Kuo, When
I was a kid, my
mother used to feed it to me when I was sick. I think it must be
equivalent of European chicken soup.
I always thought hot and sour soup was the Chinese chicken
soup, I replied.
No, said Kuo. thats the cure for hangovers,
the spicier the better.
I remembered that I stopped eating hot and sour soup in Chinese
when I discovered that chicken broth and pork bits are essential
Id heard that in Taiwan there are vegetarian restaurants that
hot and sour soup which tastes exactly like the standard restaurant
When I asked Cho if we could go to one of these restaurants she
said we were
already scheduled to go that evening with Miss Dong and Mr. Wang,
practicing Buddhist vegetarians.
After half an hours search for a parking spot, we walked into
The Kwan See
Kwan Yin is the goddess of eternal mercy, said Miss
vegetarianism is the most merciful way to eat and thats why
this name for
On Kwan See Yin restaurants business card is the beautifully
phrase in Mandarin: Welcome to wide and diversely planted
(This name is my own ecumenical translation.)
At the table I was handed a ten page menu with photographs of hundreds
dishes captioned with English translations. I turned to the soup
13 soups were colorfully pictured.
I want to try them all, I said.
You have four days here, so you can. Tonight well try
their hot and sour
special soup. Its one of my favorites, said Cho.
Whats in it, I asked.
The usual stuff but no chicken or pork.
What is the usual stuff?
Not translatable. We eat first, before talking about food,
then we know
what were talking about.
The dishes arrived on huge trays carried by three waitpersons. When
were placed on the table we had three soups and three vegetable
share for five people. The Hot and Sour soup was dished into small
When everyone had a full bowl in front of them we were handed white
flat bottomed spoons to use for the soups.
Why didnt we have spoons for breakfast? I asked
Because this is a better restaurant than the one this morning.
tourists come here. That one is for Taipei people only.
On the menu were 13 soups. The English captions described the ingredients
most cases. One caught my eye. What is Hailike seaweed soup?
I asked our
I never heard of Hailike seaweed, said Kuo, all
I know is the name of that
soup in English is `The Dragon Flies and The Phoenix Dances.
Whats in it?
Seaweed, laughed Cho, and vegetables like everything
Id had my first lesson in the two worlds of Taipei, one for
and one for the tourists. When I asked our hosts to try and get
me some of
the recipes for the soups I wondered if I would be given access
Next morning my hosts handed me a sheaf of handwritten pages with
We spent part of the morning eating congee, making plans to visit
temples, and translating the recipes.
Ive adjusted some of them for American Oriental grocery store
a few spices purchased will go a long way to making many varieties
authentic Taiwanese vegetarian soups. Remember to add different
well chopped, stirfried and raw vegetables to create your own specialties.
All soup recipes are for 6 to 8 people.
Hot and Sour soup
This is the basic recipe. You can add celery slices, match stick
carrots, etc. as desired to add color and variety. More or less
and vinegar controls the hot and sourness of the soup. I like it
adjust for your own tastes.
4-5 1/4" slices of peeled ginger root
1-2 tspns Five Spice Powder (a powdered mixture of star anise, cloves,
fennel, cinnamon, and peppercorns available at Oriental groceries.
sparingly until youre used to its aromatic powers.)
1-2 Tblspns Tianjin preserved pickled cabbage (available in Oriental
groceries both canned and in a simple but quite elegant brown ceramic
3-5 Tblspns white vinegar
3-5 Tblspns light soy sauce
1 tspn cayenne red pepper
1-2 Tblspns dark Oriental sesame oil
6 or 7 dried black Chinese mushrooms soaked for at least 20 minutes
water, stems discarded, caps sliced into quarters or eighths (Available
Oriental groceries. You do not need very expensive ones for this
A medium sized, peeled and thinly sliced onion
4 ounces canned, sliced bamboo shoots
2 ounces dried wood ears (also called cloud mushrooms or wu-erhin
Available in Oriental food stores.)
2-3 chopped scallions
1/2 lb. sugar-cube sized tofu chunks
Golden needles (dried lily buds available in Oriental grocery stores.
should be a rich gold color and flexible even when dry.)
3 cups water or vegetarian broth
2-3 Tblspns vegetable cooking oil
Heat oil in a large soup pot. Add and stir fry the sliced ginger,
onion, black mushrooms, pickled cabbage, and sliced bamboo shoots
minutes. Pour in the water or stock, bring to a boil and simmer
minutes. Add the spices, dried vegetables, soy sauce, vinegar, cayenne
let simmer for another 5-10 minutes. I dont add any thickener,
starch dissolved in hot water is the usual. Serve in individual
tofu chunks, scallions and a drizzle of sesame oil to each portion.
fresh chopped coriander leaves for a change.
Tofu Vegetable Soup
This is a simple soup that uses vegetable stock as a base. You can
about any vegetable to it, but remember, the tofu goes in last,
just a few
minutes before serving.
1 block of tofu cubed about 3/4 to 1 inch
1-2 Tblspns cooking oil
1 medium size thinly sliced onion
1 cup canned, rinsed straw mushrooms (Available in Oriental groceries)
1 cup bamboo shoots
1 cup sliced vegetable of your choice
1-2 pinches of salt
1-2 dashes of Oriental chili oil
2 pints of vegetarian soup stock
1 Tblspn wood ears (available in Oriental groceries)
2 Tblspns soy sauce
Some chopped scallions or slivered, toasted almonds as a garnish
Heat the cooking oil and stir fry the sliced onion for 3-5 minutes.
Add the rest of the ingredients and simmer while stirring for about
minutes. Add stock, bring to a boil, turn down and simmer five minutes.
the cubed tofu and simmer 5 more minutes. Taste and add seasonings
desired. Serve in bowls and garnish.
This soup can use fresh, canned, and dried shrooms in any
Dried black mushrooms come in many grades, which will forever be
a mystery to
me. I buy cheap ones for soup and dearer ones for stir frying. So
far I can
tell the difference.
Golden, straw, oyster, and button mushrooms generally come canned.
lucky enough to find any of them fresh, buy them, run, dont
walk, to the
nearest kitchen and prepare them.
Fresh mushroom soup is a little bit of heaven. This one is a meaty
served with plain sticky rice and nori dried seaweed.
2-3 slices of fresh ginger root
2-3 Tblspns cooking oil
2-3 Tblspns mushroom soy sauce
1/2 lb any fresh mushroom trimmed and sliced into quarters or eighths
6-8 dried black Chinese mushrooms soaked for at least 20 minutes
removed and sliced into quarters or eighths
1 can either straw, golden, oyster or button mushrooms, drained
1/2 cup canned drained bamboo shoots or canned and drained baby
Pinch or two of salt
Sesame oil and fresh coriander leaves for garnish
3 cups of water or vegetable stock
Heat the cooking oil in a stock pot. Add and stir fry ginger and
two minutes, add chopped and drained mushrooms stir frying them
minutes. Add the water or stock slowly. Bring to a boil and add
shoots or baby corns.
1 cup of white glutinous rice
6 cups of water
Put the rice and water in a soup pot and bring to a boil. Then simmer
least one hour or until the rice is very soft.
Version 2 from leftover rice
Put any left over, already cooked white rice into a pot with triple
amount of water. Bring to a boil and simmer 15 minutes or until
the rice is
soft. This is a great way to use all the rice you make for dinner
breakfast the next day.
Add your favorite chopped stir fried vegetables, soy sauce, fresh
scallions, fresh chopped coriander, etc. There are no limitations,
fresh and dried seaweed put into congee.
3-4 cups of 1-1 1/2" cubed fresh winter melon pieces
3-4 slices of fresh ginger root
2-3 Tblspns vegetable cooking oil
7-8 Black dried Chinese mushrooms soaked for at least 20 minutes
removed and sliced into quarters or eighths
1-2 Tblspns light soy sauce
4-5 cups of water
Heat the oil in a soup pot. Add the ginger slices, mushrooms, and
Stirfry 2 minutes. Add the cubed melon pieces, water or stock and
bring to a
boil. Simmer for 30 minutes. Taste and add soy sauce as needed.