I Made My Mother's Chicken Soup and Also, Stop Being Racist About Wet Markets

For the last couple of days I've been feeling a... tingle in my throat. Maybe imagined? I don't know. I can't tell. So anyway, the thing I want to head off a cold is always my mom's chicken soup.

I'm in Taiwan, and I'm also finally out of mandatory two week quarantine. That doesn't mean that I'm wandering around a lot for fun, though. To be frank, I find the outside world incredibly frightening, even though Taiwan supposedly has it under control and contained right now. But who knows?? It only takes ONE person to spread it around because they want to eat at the buffet, right? So I've been going out minimally, mostly for groceries that I hose down with alcohol spray as soon as I get home.

Anyway, yesterday I went out to Nanmen Market which is one of two wet markets near my apartment. Yes, I have TWO. One that is a traditional open air market that is crammed in the maze of alleys behind a bunch of store fronts and is only bustling early in the morning (a wondrous place that I only ever manage to get to when I'm jetlagged) and one that is open all day and was recently moved into a newly built building. Nanmen is the latter.

I went to Nanmen because my local supermarket sucks when it comes to having good selections of meat, and it could use some help in the produce section, too. Nanmen has TONS of stuff, from fresh produce to fresh meat to dried goods to hot pot ingredients to ready-made food (and even a slamming food court upstairs). My supermarket's sad offerings of thawed drumsticks was simply not cutting it. Don't even get me started on their beef.

So yesterday, wearing my mask and after I spritzed myself generously with the alcohol sanitizer they provided at EVERY entrance, I walked around and went from stall to stall, and purchased the following:

  • Freshly ground pork. I told the lady I wanted fattier meat, she picked up the fattiest hunk of pork I've ever seen. I was honestly sort of scared, like TOO MUCH FAT not enough meat, but she trimmed some of it off before grinding it.
  • Ground beef. This was pre-ground, but he weighed out how much I want. Then I almost bought oxtails from another beef stall until I saw the price tag. Ah, I miss America, where oxtail is undervalued and therefore cheap to purchase.
  • Chicken thighs. I went to the chicken lady and told her I wanted to get chicken soup but also chicken for roasting. I only have a smallish dutch oven an even smaller toaster oven so no whole chicken for me, only thighs or drumsticks! She had two kinds of thighs, a larger kind and a smaller kind. She suggested the larger one for soup (more flavorful) and the smaller one for roasting (more juicy). Then chopped the soup thigh for me into chunks and deboned the smaller thighs for me and made slits for more even roasting. She put the bones in with my soup chicken though, so that I'd have more flavorful soup!
  • Freshly shelled peas. I thought I hated peas until I had freshly shelled peas. They are so good, so crisp and flavorful. I bought a small fistful of these (they are not cheap bc the manpower involved in shelling them, I assume!)
  • Sweet white corn, three ears.
  • Chinese ham. Chinese ham is super salty and delicious to use in lots of dishes. The vendor I went to had lots of options, already vacuum sealed: with skin, no skin, fattier, not fatty, presliced, etc. I got a nice skinless hunk, and she gave me suggestions on how to cook with it, even gave me a pamphlet with some recipes and told me I could freeze it if I didn't use it all up immediately. 
  • A bag of very large, plump dried goji berries. Before goji berries were a superfood, they were the orange raisins my mom put in all her soups. 
  • A bag of shredded dried Hokkaido scallops. I wanted to get the full plump jars of them, until I saw that they were like $60. This bag cost me $10 US, but it's a must for the soup, so.
  • Dried shiitake mushrooms. The mushroom lady had like three different kinds and I chose a medium sized one and asked her for like, a third of a presealed bag, so she measured it out for me.
  • A small knob of ginger. The produce woman asked me what I wanted young ginger or old ginger, and I said old ginger, but the old ginger was huge so then she asked me what I was using it for, and I said soup, and she fished around in the back and came out with a small knob and said, this ginger is perfect for soup, so I got it for $10 NTD, which is like... 30 cents.
Why did I go on this long detailed aside of my grocery shopping? Because I keep seeing people writing things like "CLOSE ALL THE WET MARKETS!" and I want to point out that wet markets are open AROUND THE WORLD because not every place/person has the resources (electricity, land, etc) to open individual shops or GIGANTIC COSTCOS. Wet markets are not inherently bad and it is privileged to say they are and should be banned! They are just a space for individual butchers/farmers/food purveyors to sell their wares, and in lots of cases, they are BETTER than buying from a supermarket because the individuals really know their stuff about what they are selling and it is often super fresh. If you've ever purchased your fresh goat's milk cheese or boar sausage or like twenty kinds of different apples and pluots from a farmer's market, you have basically been to a freaking wet market basically, so stop being racist. There can be another conversation about WHAT gets sold and regulation of the space, but it's not a problem with wet markets themselves.


So I went home and set to work making my mom's chicken soup, which is both easy to make if you have all the ingredients and an extreme comfort food. When I used to have a giant soup pot, I would break down a whole chicken and throw it all in (except for the giblets, which are not my fave, and the breasts, which I would freeze for later), but like I said, small Dutch oven, so thigh only this time.

Ingredients you need:
  • A whole chicken, broken down and chopped OR several pieces of dark meat, with bone, chopped (preferably a good soup chicken)
  • A few slices of ginger
  • A few pieces of dehydrated mushroom, rehydrated and chopped
  • A slice or two of Chinese ham, chopped (you can leave this out if you don't have it -- it adds saltiness and flavor)
  • EITHER dried abalone or dried scallop (the dried, yet mild seafood really adds complexity here)
  • EITHER a few dried red dates (not the Western kind, but the red kinds you get in Chinese desserts) OR dried longan fruit meat (I love love these but I often end up just eating the meat and there's none left to cook with). DON'T SKIP THIS. THE SWEETNESS IS IMPORTANT!
  • Dried lotus seeds, rehydrated, if you have them (make sure to remove the bitter cores from the seeds. I skipped this this time because I didn't have any)
  • Bamboo shoots (fresh if you have!) for some crunch (I skipped this time too)
  • Goji berries, to finish

Basically, I put everything except the goji berries into a pot and cover with water. 

If you really want to be fancy, you could blanch the chicken first and toss out the schmutzy water for a "cleaner" soup but I honestly can't be bothered. Also, if you are trying to watch fat intake or whatever, you could take off some of the skin and cut out some of the fat hiding under the skin, but I also can't be bothered.

I bring to a boil and then reduce the heat to let it simmer. I check the flavors along the way (depending on how large the pot is, it can be done as fast as an hour or two, but sometimes I like to simmer on super low heat for like five hours just to get out as much flavor as possible and to let that chicken really get tender) to see if it's as flavorful as I like. I love when the soup starts to turn golden! My mom will also skim some of the oil off the top because she's healthier than me, but if you haven't guessed yet, I can't be bothered.

Towards the end, I add a little bit of salt (you'll need less if you used the ham), and then cover and keep warm. 

Toss the goji berries in at the very end and let it simmer for another minute or two. I don't like the goji berries to get too soft, because I like their inherent taste, which gets lost if they soak for too long.

I like to boil some Asian noodles (preferably thin noodles) to add in the soup. It makes a perfect rainy day/sick day comfort meal, and the chunks of chicken are tender and fall of the bone delicious.

The soup tastes even better the next day! I know because I'm finishing the last of it as I type this.

And now all of you know how to make Chinese chicken soup!


  1. I miss Chinese chicken soup! (I actually wrote an essay about it a few years ago!) And YES to this tour of your wet market!!! I love a wet market with a FOOD COURT??

    1. the food court is famous for it's tomato beef noodle soup and ppl line up for it and it's sooo good

    2. and I also wrote an essay about it that was commissioned... then killed and I just never tried to place it again lol

    3. omg now i want tomato beef noodle soup ;___;


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