Mum’s Pork & Chinese Yam Soup: Rejuvenating the Soul

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In 1993, Straits Times editor Felix Soh gave a teenage news intern a tip that an illegal puppy mill might be operating in Singapore and said, “Check it out.”

After some digging and a little undercover work, a story ran that drew swift justice — authorities instantly shut down the mill, which had been keeping dozens of dogs in the most deplorable conditions. And I’ve been hooked on journalism ever since.

Felix, the man who walked and talked faster than anyone I know and had an infectious child-like glee whenever he smelled a good story, was the best first editor, teacher, mentor and friend that anyone could have — he taught me how to write a news story, never to be afraid to ask the tough question and pushed me to always, always be both curious and skeptical. I would not be where I am today without him.

It was with great shock and sadness that I learned Felix had suddenly passed away last week. I had just arrived back in Singapore for a visit and had been thinking of checking in. Although it’s been over 20 years since I was his intern, Felix has always been something of a journalism father figure to me and I greatly treasured the catchup lunches he’d managed to squeeze into his busy schedule.

Felix and I shared many things in common — a big passion for newspapering, the same birthday and most of all, a love for good food. During our lunches, he was always trying to teach me something about food, whether it was taking me to a new terrific Hainanese chicken rice joint or savoring foie gras chawanmushi at the Shangri-La’s Nadaman, an upscale Japanese restaurant he knew I likely wouldn’t have tried as as a college student because I simply could not have afforded it.

While I can’t make either of those dishes, I did want to share a recipe for the memorial-themed Let’s Lunch that my online cooking club was doing this month. This Chinese soup is not a tribute to Felix in the sense that we never enjoyed this dish together. Rather, it’s what my mother whips up whenever she thinks I’ve had a trying time and need a little pick me up.

And so after returning from paying our last respects to my old boss, this ensued …

First, handfuls of barley and various dried Chinese herbs went into a pot: Wai sun (Chinese yam), yu zhu (Solomon’s Seal), red dates and almond seeds (which are actually apricot kernels, though no Chinese person calls it that).

When I asked what the amounts were, my mother did her usual thing — she harumphed and said, “Just agak agak!” (Malay for “guess guess.”)

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My mother is a big believer in the healing properties of wai sun so she added a fresh version of it to the pot, too. She usually peels it and chops it into large chunks.

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Next, she added in about 3/4 pounds of pork bones and enough water to cover everything and set the pot on the stove, boiling the combination for at least an hour.

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The soup isn’t anything terribly special, she’ll tell you — it’s just a comforting earthy porkiness designed to make anyone feel better. Also, she always tells me wai sun has rejuvenating qualities and will pep you up if you’re feeling run down.

Which is just what I needed.

So, here’s to Felix and everything he did for generation of journalists in Singapore as well as Singaporean journalism.

Felix Soh

Thank you, boss, and rest in peace.

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Don’t forget to check out other Let’s Lunchers’ memorial dishes below. And if you’d like to join Let’s Lunch, go to Twitter and post a message with the hashtag #Letslunch — or, post a comment below.  

Betty-Ann‘s Chocolate Cupcakes with Vanilla-Buttercream Frosting at Asian in America

Demetra‘s Stone Soup (Pork & Tomato Stew) at Sweet Savant

Linda‘s Lemon Pie Ice-Cream at Free Range Cookies

Linda‘s Khoresht-E Bademjan (Persian Eggplant Stew) at Spicebox Travels

Lisa‘s Yolan Frank’s Legendary Chiffon Cake at Monday Morning Cooking Club

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Mum’s Pork & Chinese Yam Soup

Ingredients:

  • 3/4 pounds pork bones
  • Small handful of seedless dried red dates, each one cut in half.
  • Small handful of dried wai sun (Chinese yam)
  • Small handful dried yu zhu (Solomon’s seal)
  • Small handful dried barley
  • Small handful Chinese almonds
  • One fresh wai sun, peeled and chopped into large chunks
  • Water

Directions:

Place dried herbs, fresh wai sun and pork bones in a large soup pot, cover with water and boil for at least an hour. Serve immediately.