It’s no secret that most Cantonese love soup. In fact, the story is told of the exodus of Hong Kongers to other countries just before the handover to China in 1997. Entire families would leave but often the men would stay behind in Hong Kong to continue their business or career. This created a market niche for shops to spring up selling different types of soups to these gentlemen who were deprived of home cooked food.
In my home, we grew up with the custom of having a bowl of soup before family dinner. The ingredients that went into making this soup often cost a third or more of the entire meal budget. Depending on the type of soup, the bulk of the purchase was for pork ribs and chicken. Quite commonly we would put one whole chicken in the soup along with other Chinese herbs or vegetables.
There were soups for different seasons, as we believed soup helped to balance yin and yang in the body. When the summer got hot, we would opt for vegetable soups containing cucumber, winter melon, bitter gourd, etc. And as the weather cooled, Chinese herbs or ‘heaty’ meat such as mutton would used to warm the body.
This is one of my favourite soups for Singapore, where the thermometer seldom dips below 30 degrees Celsius for much of the year. Old cucumber is believed to help cool the body. Other ingredients are added to complement the cucumber; in my family that would usually be dried seafood such as octopus, scallop and oyster, or in this instance, dried duck gizzard. To give the soup fuller body, mix in pork ribs and chicken meat. One tip to note is to always place the cucumber into the pot when the water is still cold and not when it starts to boil, or the soup would have a slightly sour taste.
Old Cucumber Soup
Old cucumber 500 g
Water 2 litres
Pork ribs 300 g
Chicken feet 300 g
Red dates 5
Dried octopus 1
Dried gizzard 2 (or otherwise 10 dried oysters)
1. Put cucumber in cold water, turn on the heat and boil.
2. Add the rest of the ingredients and boil at full flame for 10 minutes.
3. Simmer for another 2 hours.
4. Season with salt and a dash of soy sauce.