Wednesday, February 20

Shark Fin Soup and other T(h)reats

I was recently invited to traditional Chinese New Year celebration lunch at local Chinese Restaurant here in Vancouver, where beside many traditional dishes, I also tried Shark fin Soup. It hasn't been made with a real shark fin, I assume, according to the price and everything else, but it intrigued me to investigate more about this dish and other unusual traditions during Chinese festivities.

I wrote before about Chinese New Year and its celebration, but this time I really wanted to find out more about the "other side of the medal".
A rise in demand for controversial Shark fin soup is typical during Chinese New Year everywhere. It is served and eaten as a show off and to give a good omen to someone’s prosperity and physical health. Because of the recent middle class boom in China, more and more people have been able to afford the real delicacy and so the demand is bigger, contrary to the worldwide known fact that shark is endangered species.

After catching a shark, fisherman slice off a shark’s fins, used probably only for this soup, and discard the shark back into sea where it bleeds to death.
On top of this, restaurants in China, and presumably elsewhere, for the profit, are serving now artificial ‘shark fins’ made from mung bean starch, gelatin, sodium, and a some assorted chemicals which give the substance the shark fin’s characteristic mucilaginous texture. All that, often for the same price as the real soup - 150 yuan, Real cost is about 5 yuan to the restaurant, according to China's CCTV Focus report.
While it's bad enough that restaurants are serving fake ingredients at premium prices, the chemicals used to create the fake shark fins are often poisonous and could damage the eater’s lungs and other organs, according to this report.

One T.S.Eliot's quote came to my mind - "A tradition without intelligence is not worth having". 
And probably without something else...

But there is no shortage of shark fin on Main Street in Vancouver’s Chinatown. Displayed in large candy jar-sized containers, prices are from $180 to $550 a lb, in some stores even $800 a lb.

( Read more in “The Food Watchdog” in this article)

There are many more Asian festivities and symbolism in food and meals prepared for this event. It’s the part of superstitious to serve some of these dishes and they all have special meaning.

Like number 8, that at Chinese means “fortune”. Let me just mention that in Vancouver, some high-rises were even built with majority apartments sized 888 sq ft.!

Or these red envelopes with money:

Shark fin soup is not the only traditional dish that has to be served for a Chinese New Year.

Traditional Chinese Lunar festival includes many more ethnic, symbolic and “lucky” dishes, which are made of great natural ingredients and yet easy to make at home any day of year.

As a self-purification for first five days of the Lunar Year, Buddhist should have vegetarian meals with various traditional ingredients that in Buddhism represent and symbolise different things in life like explained here in this sketch from Honolulu's newspapers - Staradvertiser.

Jai dedefinition

Buddha's delight (Lo han Jai)-Jai -
( vegetarian dish served for the first day of Chinese New Year, most of the ingredients can be find in Asian food stores. I read and adopted few recipes from mentioned Honolulu's newspaper Staradvertiser.)

1/4 cup black tree-ear fungus
1/4 cup dried snow fungus
3 oz dried bean-curd stick
2 oz dried bamboo piths
2 oz long rice (dried mung-bean thread)
1 cup vegetable oil
8 oz fresh tofu (bean curd), cut in 1-inch cubes
4 cups shredded won bok (Chinese cabbage)
1/2 cup sliced carrots
1/2 cup bamboo shoots
3 tbsp soy sauce
2 tbsp sugar
3 cups water
1/2 cup black mushrooms, soaked and rinsed
1/2 cup straw mushrooms
1/2 cup raw peanuts
1 tsp sesame oil
Salt to taste

In separate bowls of warm water, soak the following for 15 minutes each, then rinse and drain: black tree-ear fungus, dried snow fungus, dried bean-curd stick, dried bamboo piths, and long rice.
In a wok or skillet, heat vegetable oil over medium-high heat. Deep-fry fresh tofu squares for 5 minutes or until golden. Remove and drain tofu on paper towels. Pour off all but 1/4 cup oil.
Reheat wok to medium heat. Add won bok, carrots and bamboo shoots; stir-fry 1 minute.
Add black tree-ear fungus, snow fungus, bean curd sticks, bamboo piths, long rice, fried tofu, soy sauce and sugar. Toss to mix well.
Add 3 cups water, black mushrooms, straw mushrooms and raw peanuts. Return to a boil, reduce heat to medium-low, cover and simmer 20 minutes or until vegetables are tender and flavors absorbed.
Season with sesame oil and salt. Serves 6 or more.

Steamed chicken and ham with mustard cabbage

1/2 chicken, about 1-1/2 lbs
3 oz cooked ham, cut into 2-by-1/2-inch strips
3 to 4 tbsp peanut oil
6 to 8 mustard-cabbage stems
Salt to taste, optional
1 cup water

1 tbsp rice wine
1 tsp sesame oil
1 tsp salt

Sauce mixture:
1-1/2 cups chicken stock
1 tbsp light soy sauce
1 tbsp cornstarch
1 tsp sugar
1 tsp rice wine

Combine marinade ingredients and rub mixture over chicken.
Boil water in a large pan, place a rack in the middle and steam chicken over medium heat 18 to 20 minutes. Remove chicken.
Chop cooled chicken into 2-by-1/2-inch pieces. Arrange on a serving platter, alternating chicken and ham.
In a wok or skillet, heat 2 to 3 tbsp of the peanut oil. Add mustard cabbage and stir-fry 30 seconds. Add salt and water, and cook over medium heat 3 minutes. Remove, drain and arrange cabbage beside chicken and ham.
Combine sauce ingredients thoroughly. In a wok, heat remaining 1 to 2 tbsp oil. Add sauce mixture and bring to a boil. Pour sauce over meat and mustard cabbage.

Serves 4 to 6.

If you’re still eager to try something similar to the mentioned Shark fin soup, I recommend this one, without using fins or any fake elements in it.

It still taste great and some say, pretty close to the original one!

Fake - natural Shark fin Soup

50 g skinless chicken breast
50 g lean pork, shredded
20 g Chinese black mushroom, soaked at least 4 hours until soften
30 g cellophane noodles(粉絲or called “glass noodles”)
8-10 pieces of dried black fungus (黑木耳 or called "cloud ear" 雲耳or "wood ear" 木耳.)
1 egg, lightly beaten
2 cups unsalted chicken broth
2 cups water

1 tbsp dark soy sauce
a dash of sesame oil
white pepper, to taste
salt, to taste

2 tbsp water chestnut flour
4 tbsp water

Soak black mushrooms, dried black fungus and cellophane noodles separately in hot boiling water, until soften. Drain well. Remove the hard stems of black , cut into small strips. Trim the dried black fungus. Separate cellophane noodles. Set aside.
Shred chicken breast and pork into thin strips.
Bring chicken broth and water to the boil. Add chicken, pork, black mushroom, dried black fungus and cook for a while until all ingredients are cooked through and softened. Add cellophane noodles and seasoning. Add salt to taste. When it boils again, stir in thickening and beaten egg, mix well. Remove from heat. Serve!

Steamed Pork and Prawns Dumplings

18 wonton wrappers (find in Asian food stores)
1/4 lb of ground pork
6 tiger shrimps, chopped
3 water chestnuts (canned), rinsed and chopped
3 stalks of green onions, chopped finely
3 slices fresh ginger, chopped finely

1 tsp rice wine
1 tsp light soy sauce
1 tsp sesame oil
pinch of ground pepper
pinch of sugar
1 tsp white vinegar (optional)

First, chop the pork and shrimp together. Next, marinade the mix with the ingredients listed above. Remember, you can choose to skip the vinegar if you don't like the flavour. Working with one wonton wrapper at a time, place a damp kitchen towel on top of the rest of the wrappers to avoid them drying out. Place about 2-3 tsp in the middle of the wrapper. Brush edges of the wrapper with water, gently pull the sides together and twist to seal. Set aside (cover with a damp kitchen towel as well) and continue working with the rest of the wrappers.
Place them in a steamer for about fifteen minutes. Serve hot with soy sauce.

Marbled Tea eggs with noodles
I had a recipe for this dish in Western version made with pasta for Easter celebration, although the eggs were suggested to be still soft. Check it out here.
This is Asian version with noodles and hard boiled eggs. It can also be served as a decorative appetizer without noodles:

6 to 8 eggs, any size
2 tea bags of black tea
1/2 cup soy sauce
1 tbsp light brown sugar
2 pieces star anise
1 cinnamon stick
cracked black peppercorn

Add enough water to a medium pot to cover the eggs. Bring the water to a boil, then lower the heat and cook for 10 minutes, until the eggs are hard-boiled.
Remove the eggs and run under cold water until they are cool. Tap the eggs with the back of a butter knife to crack them evenly all around, being careful not to peel off the shells. Return the eggs to the pot.
In the same pot, add the tea bags, soy sauce, brown sugar, star anise, cinnamon, black peppercorns, and orange peel (if using). Add enough water to cover the eggs by an inch. Bring the liquid to a boil, then lower the heat to a bare simmer. Allow the eggs to simmer for 1 to 2 hours, longer for a more intense flavor and color.
Remove from the heat and drain the eggs, saving a little of the liquid to serve with the eggs if you choose. You can either peel and serve the eggs immediately or store them in the fridge for up to 4 days in a tightly covered container.

Serve as a snack as-is or as an addition to rice or noodles.

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