Centuries ago, a scholar would go to a small island to study for the Imperial exams. Every day, his loving wife would bring him lunch, but to reach him she had to cross a bridge, so her soups were always cold. Then she came up with an idea!
She sliced all the soup ingredients super thin, used a huge bowl to hold her piping-hot broth and poured a layer of fat on top, to trap the heat. She would then carry the hot soup over the bridge, with all the ingredients on separate plates.
Only when she reached her husband did she assemble the soup, and as everything was so finely sliced, the ingredients cooked very quickly in the steaming broth. Legend says her husband did very well in his exams.
Cooked chicken, from the chicken stock (see below)
100g boneless, skinless chicken breast, sliced paper thin
100g skinless pork fillet, sliced paper thin
40g pork kidney, peeled, trimmed and sliced paper thin
50g chinese cured pork or jamón, finely sliced
100g cleaned squid, sliced paper thin
1 sheet dried tofu skin, soaked in water for 20 minutes, then finely sliced
100g fresh black fungus, sliced
2 spring onions, finely sliced
6 baby bok choy leaves, cut into 3 cm strips
4 garlic chives, cut into 3 cm lengths
1 small handful chopped coriander, plus extra to garnish
300g fresh round Chinese rice noodles
1 quail egg
1/2 sea salt
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 teaspoon fresh ginger, finely sliced
1kg whole chicken
3 garlic cloves
4 spring onions, roughly chopped, white part only
4cm piece of fresh ginger, peeled and sliced
70ml fish sauce
70ml white wine vinegar
500g green papaya, peeled and shredded
1/2 carrot, peeled and shredded
2 long red chillies, finely sliced
1. First, prepare the chicken stock. Wash the chicken thoroughly under cold running water, being sure to remove all traces of blood, guts and fat from the cavity. Place the chicken in a stockpot with 3 litres water and bring to the boil.
2. Reduce the heat to a slow simmer and skim off any impurities. Continue to skim until you have removed most of the fat. Pound the garlic and spring onion into a paste using a mortar and pestle, then add to the pot with the ginger. Cook for a further 2 hours. Strain off‘ the stock, reserving the chicken carcass, and allow the stock to cool. Pour off‘ and reserve 1 litre of the stock; refrigerate the remaining stock for up to 3 days and use in other recipes, or freeze until required.
3. Make the pickled vegetables a day ahead. Combine the fish sauce, vinegar, sugar and 250 ml water in a saucepan and bring to the boil. Remove from the heat and allow to cool to room temperature. Transfer the mixture to an airtight container and add the papaya, carrot and chilli. Mix well, seal and leave to pickle overnight, or for 24 hours.
4. Finely shred the meat from the chicken carcass, discarding the skin and bones, and place on a small plate. Arrange the sliced meats, squid, tofu, vegetables, herbs and noodles on separate small plates. Crack the egg into a small bowl and place on the serving table with all the food plates.
5. Bring the reserved stock to the boil with the salt, soy sauce and ginger. Allow to boil briefly, as the broth must be boiling hot.
6. Transfer the broth to a very large warmed noodle bowl and bring to the serving table.
7. Quickly add the egg to the boiling broth, followed by the meats, squid, and then the remaining ingredients, adding the noodles last.
8. Combine well, and distribute among individual warmed bowls. Garnish with extra coriander and serve.
Recipe first appeared in Luke Nguyen’s Greater Mekong.