Archive for August 2, 2008

Of Phoenix Claws, Pigs Intestines and Worm Grass Herbs

Posted in Asian Cooking, Recipes with tags , on August 2, 2008 by thepseudoepicurean

Photo credits: Chinese Medical Centre

The past week has seen some ridiculously cold weather. I reckon/am hoping we’ve hit the rock bottom of winter. The Singaporean in me has been craving for some of that lovely tropical weather – the biting cold just doesn’t do it for me. Seeing how it’s not possible to simulate such weather in my office/home/city, and the soaring fuel prices have made it virtually impossible to fly back home on impulse, I have taken to doing the next best thing – making soups to keep me warm, and in particular the Chinesey stinky herbal ones that do a pretty good job at transporting me back to my mom’s kitchen back home.

It also couldn’t be more timely that the Jman’s grandmother presented me with a part of her prized possessions of Chinese herbs last night. She had built up her treasure trove of these woody twigs and odd-shaped stems on her last trip to Singapore. “People gee (give) me.“, she proudly announces. It’s a “pity” that the rest of the Jman’s family aren’t big fans of Chinesey stinky herbs, so the onus is on me to share in her herbal joys, which I happily partake in. After all, my own mother brought me up on these soups and herbs. She’s a firm believer in what I dub as the Chinese food chain. The ying and yang. The heaty, and the cooling. You can eat this with that, but not that with something else. I don’t quite understand, but I nod and I just eat up whatever she puts in front of me. It usually tastes great anyway.

The Jman is highly amused each time he sees his grandmother and I speak with each other. It’s chicken-and-duck talk, really. She speaks Hokkien which I can barely comprehend, while I can understand and speak a little Cantonese, enough to save my life in a yum cha restaurant. Yet when the topic revolves around traditional Chinese food, customs and herbs, we hit it off straight away. It seems that I’m the only one around the house who understands her herbs and stuff, which are seemingly strange to his family who is Westernized beyond recognition.

I’ll be completely honest and confess that apart from ginseng, dong kwai and cordyceps, I am clueless about the names of Chinese herbs. I know what they look like, I know how they smell, and I know what they should taste like, but trying to purchase them over the counter is akin to scaling Mount Everest.

Tonight, I made some herbal chicken soup. I don’t know what you’re supposed to put in, but I took a stab in the dark, closed my eyes and tried to recall whatever looked familiar in my mother’s soups. At the end of it all, the soup turned out to be really tasty, exactly like what my mother used to make for me.

Anyway, if you’re interested, here’s a part of the recipe with some herbs that are still anonymous – I promise to check that out the next time I visit the Asian grocers!

Herbal Chicken Soup


  1. 2 whole chicken thighs, skin-off
  2. 1 tablespoon Kei Chee (also known has wolfberries or Goji berries)
  3. 1 thumb-sized stem of Dong Guai / Tang Kwei (the spelling differs on each packet, but it should look remotely like this)
  4. 3-4 pieces of ___ herbs
  5. 4 small stems of ___ herbs


Dump everything into a pot and cover with approximately 2 litres of water. Turn the heat on and once the soup has reached a boil, lower the fire down to its smallest flame and cover the pot. Let it simmer for an hour or 2. Season to taste. Enjoy!