KUALA LUMPUR, Aug 29 — It’s been a veritable season of tong sui — Cantonese dessert soups or literally “sweet water” — as manna for the parched soul.
When, after almost half a year, the worldwide pandemic shows no sign of abating, who could blame us for craving some snow fungus tong sui with ginkgo nuts and red dates? Every spoonful promises to reinvigorate one’s body and soul.
Who would say no to that?
Every tong sui that I learn to make, I discover something new about my heritage, my family and myself. My mother, who is Hokkien, tells me how she never cooked until she married my father. Being part of a Cantonese family, she told me, means you must know how to cook and cook well at that.
You needn’t have cooked before; you’ll learn. She tells me of her sister’s family and how her children grew up with a Cantonese nanny. They all have a Cantonese palate now, of course.
For all of us who grew up Cantonese, no meal is complete without a bowl of tong sui at the end. It’d be unfinished, our taste buds and our bellies lacking that sweet ending.
This weekend the sweetness I crave is some pak kor yee mai fu chok. Smooth kernels of ginkgo and soft pearls of barley. Slippery strands of dried bean curd or yuba as the Japanese call them. A heavenly blend of textures and light, healing flavours.
There’s an undeniable elation knowing you always have the ingredients at home to create a pot of nourishing, comforting goodness. When most of what you need are dried foodstuffs waiting patiently in the pantry for when your tong sui muse strikes your fancy, what could be easier?
When you are done with your preparation and cooking — all the soaking and blending, boiling and simmering — ah, then all that remains is to ladle your homemade tong sui into ready bowls. To be enjoyed by ready mouths, waiting for a simple bliss during not so simple times.
Mind and body, we are weary from all the uncertainty. Some of us have had pay cuts, some of us have lost our jobs. Making ends meet is suddenly a serious prospect we have to face. An affordable elixir would add sweetness and hope to our days.
Hot or cold, a bowl of silky smooth pak kor yee mai fu chok will chase the blues away.
‘PAK KOR YEE MAI FU CHOK’ (GINGKO, BARLEY & DRIED BEAN CURD ‘TONG SUI’)
Ginkgo nuts have to be shelled and their bitter centres removed before using. If the process of removing the ginkgo shells prove to be too intimidating, try looking for vacuum-packed shelled ginkgos that are now readily available at most supermarkets.
The steps which follow are simple enough. The main variation in this pak kor yee mai fu chok recipe involves boiling the dried bean curd separately and then blending the softened sheets into a soy milk-like consistency.
This essentially creates a version of soy milk as the base for the ginkgo nuts and barley. Some may prefer to cook all the ingredients together so that the fu chok merely breaks up into flake-like pieces. More texture that way, too.
To each their own. The tong sui will taste heavenly either way, whether with a bit more of slurp-worthy bits of fu chok to enchant your tastebuds or a smooth soy milk foundation for the ginkgo and barley to shine as textural contrast.
One final note: Serve it hot but also try serving it chilled. An hour or two in the fridge would provide you with a cold tong sui, a delight in its own right.
Perhaps choose your style of serving based on the weather, whether it’s hot and sunny or cold and rainy. (We’ve been having enough of both lately, that’s for sure!)
2 litres water
200g fu chok (dried bean curd), soaked in water for half an hour to soften and drained
100g dried barley, rinsed and drained
30 ginkgo nuts, shelled and middle part removed
5-6 pandan leaves, tied into a knot
Rock sugar to taste
Bring a large pot of water to boil. Add the soaked and drained fu chok. Reduce heat and simmer for about 30 minutes until the fu chok begins to disintegrate.
Ladle the now very soft fu chok and half of its cooking water into a blender. Blend until you get a consistency close to soy milk, but with some tiny pieces of fu chok still suspended in the liquid.
Once you have your milky fu chok mixture, add that back to the rest of its cooking water in the pot. Return to a boil.
When the fu chok milk has come to a boil, add the barley, ginkgo and pandan leaves. Again, reduce heat and simmer for about 30 minutes until both the barley and ginkgo has softened.
Once the barley and ginkgo has reached the desired softness, remove the knot of pandan leaves and discard. Add rock sugar to taste: make sure you stir well until the sugar has dissolved and taste again before adding more rock sugar.
When the tong sui is sweet enough to your liking, turn off the heat. Serve immediately while hot or chilled, after an hour or two in the fridge.
For more Weekend Kitchen stories and recipes, visit https://lifeforbeginners.com/weekend-kitchen/.