Tuesday, September 28, 2010

What We Talk About When We Talk About Soup

  1. There’s a soup in China, and it looks like this.


    It’s a sweet soup made out of papaya. It is served in the stewed husk of the papaya it’s made from, like a Chinese chili in a bread bowl or the brains at the end of Hannibal.

    Since arriving in China I have wanted to eat this soup.

  2. There’s a restaurant in China, and it looks like this.

    Chinese restaurant

    No it doesn’t. But believe me that there’s a Chinese restaurant near my house. I don’t know its name because we call it “The Place Above McDonalds”, because it’s above the McDonalds. They serve Cantonese food, and they have my soup.

  3. When I first saw the soup on the menu at the place above McDonalds, I immediately wanted to try it. I almost ordered it too, until I saw the name: 木瓜炖雪蛤. Stewed Papaya with Snow Clams. One of my least favorite things about China is how they ruin shit with seafood. At the milk tea place you can get gelatin cubes in your tea made out of something called 龟苓膏, which means Tortise Jelly and, according to wikipedia, is “traditionally made with the powdered plastron (shell) from the critically endangered turtle Cuora trifasciata”. According to wikipedia you can buy it in a powder and make it at home, like jello. In case you also want to ruin shit with seafood.

  4. Maybe I should have made this clearer before, but I really like papaya. I have papaya in my oatmeal every morning before school. I am looking forward to going back to America, but I’m not looking forward to ditching papaya in my oatmeal in favor of, what, raisins? A raisin isn’t a fruit, it’s trash. It’s what’s left when you forget to put a fruit back in the fridge. Also raisins make me think of race-based housing discrimination in Chicago and, come on: that’s not what breakfast is about.

    Some Chinese people make fun of me for all the papayas I eat, because here it’s mostly women who eat papayas because they’re supposed to make your breasts get bigger. They say it’s because papayas look like breasts, which does not square with my papaya or breast experience. But ok.

  5. Last year, at our goodbye dinner with Serena (yes, this one), Serena ordered my papaya soup for desert. She asked if I wanted to taste some and I said no, because of the 雪蛤, the snow clams: I figured they would probably be gross, and I didn’t want to mess up the taste of the papaya with something fishy and slimy like snow clams. So I said I didn’t like 雪蛤, and she understood.

    She confirmed that the papaya soup was good for ladies (grow those boobies!), but she also said that they 雪蛤 was good for ladies’ skin. The snow clams are white, and I guess the idea is that they’ll make your skin white too, which is your goal, if you’re in China and a lady.

  6. This past week, while I was in Changsha, I ordered the papaya soup. Andy and I were at a restaurant with our new friend Diana and our waitress bustled up to us when we arrived and asked what type of soup we’d like to have as she opened a cart with a bunch of steaming bowls. We saw the papaya and I remember thinking, yes, you know, let’s do it. Let’s get the papaya soup. It has snow clams but so what, we’re on vacation. So I told her we’d like three bowls, and she returned with three big portions of Stewed Papaya with Snow Clams — finally, the soup.

  7. The soup was fantastic — not fishy at all, not slimy even; sure, you could see the snow clams in there but they were light, and the soup was sweet and fresh tasting, and the papaya was soft and ripe and delicious. After I finished the soup I scooped out the inside of the papaya with my spoon, completing the papaya-as-bread bowl metaphor, until only the thin papaya skin remained.

    Andy, Diana, and I agreed that the soup was definitely the best part of the meal. Everything else was fine, but the soup was really delicious. I can honestly say that this was one time when I was definitely wrong about China. I thought — we all thought — that a soup with papaya would be great, but a soup with papaya and 雪蛤 would be quite a bit less great and possibly just awful. So, here’s the lesson: you might worry about eating papaya and snow clam soup, but in fact 雪蛤, those frightful Snow Clams, really aren’t that bad.

  8. No, here’s the lesson: 雪蛤 doesn’t mean Snow Clam.

    I mean it does, in that 雪 means “snow” and 蛤 means “clam.” But 雪蛤 is not a type of clam.

    I should mention at this point that China is fond of euphemisms. Of course we all know about “re-education” but a much more dangerous euphemism is 凤爪, “phoenix talon”, which sounds like some awesome Chinese fusion specialty but is actually just a euphemism for “chicken feet”, which sounds gross when you put it on a menu even though — incredibly — no one seems to have any problem with eating them.

    Anyway this is one of those times. Something was a little weird about the English translation of 木瓜炖雪蛤 on the menu. I mean, obviously it was grammatically incorrect, but this translation was way too far off. Something was really wrong. When we got back, I decided to ask Gristle: what exactly is 雪蛤?

    He confirmed what I already guessed, or knew: 雪蛤 does not mean Snow Clams.

  9. 雪蛤 are the dried fallopian tubes of frogs.

  10. 雪蛤 are the dried fallopian tubes of frogs.


  12. This is what 雪蛤 looks like before it’s added to soup. It’s the dried fallopian tubes of frogs.

    Dried fallopian tubes of frogs

  13. Each bowl of soup cost 68 yuan, which is about $10. It was by far the most expensive thing on the menu.

  14. Last week, in Changsha, Andy, Diana, and I spent 30 American dollars to eat soup made from the dried fallopian tubes of frogs.

  15. So you want to talk to me about soup? Let’s talk about soup. Last week I ate a soup made from the dried fallopian tubes of frogs.

And how was your week?