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Other Ingredients
Chinese Ingredients with Medicinal Properties
Anyone who has witnessed a Chinese family preparing meals or a specialist making a traditional tonic may have wondered what all the weird ingredients are that go into something as simple as a soup. On this page we will begin to explain what some of the most common of these are, and why they are added.

Needless to say, this page will grow over time, as my wife buys and prepares our own food at home.

The names are Anglicized in Yueping (粵音), which is Mainland Cantonese as written in English. This was invented by Jonno of China Expats as a means for foreigners to pronounce Mainland Cantonese words correctly. Jyutping is Hong Kong Cantonese written in English, which is very different. The other common notation is Pinyin, which is Mandarin as written in English. We will be pleased to hear from anyone who knows the Chinese characters and Mandarin pinyin + additional uses or properties of any of the below:
Bak Kay

Bak Kay are the shavings of a dried root that are a very common ingredient of home made soups and Chinese medicines. They can also be found sparingly scattered in many hot pot dishes from all over China. The thin strips as about a quarter of an inch wide by several inches in length.
Bak Kay are used when the weather is very hot, and are considered very good for cooling the blood naturally.

Bak Kay would normally need an hour or so to soften, being added dried to the soup. They are delicious in a rather tasteless sort of way, and I enjoy eating a few of them with my soup.

Bak Kay is one of the few words that is not given in Yueping, but is of local origin. My wife has no idea what other names my be used for them, but we guess they will be quite similar to this in Toisanwah (Taishanese or Taishanhua).
Image: Bak Kay - Click to Enlarge
Dong Gui

Although similar in looks to Bak Kay above, Dong Gui have different properties. The name should probably mean "Eastern Ghost". These are a thinly sliced root about 1 inch wide by a couple of inches long.
Dong Gui are especially useful for 'Girl Blood' as my wife so eloquently described their use.

Upon questioning she confirmed my presumption that they help greatly at certain periods of the month. Working to harmonize the body's blood, Dong Gui can also have helpful properties for menopausal women.

They are generally used in everyday soups, added dry and simmered for an hour or more, and until soft. They can also be beneficial for boys, and are definitely on my 'edible' list.
Image: Dong Gui - Click to Enlarge
Dong San

Dong San are roots about 1/4 inch wide by several inches long. They are one of the most common ingredients in Chinese soups.
Along with Gay d'Zhee these roots are probably one of the commonest medicianal ingredients in everyday Chinese cooking. They are added to promote healthy blood.

They are generally used in everyday soups, stews and hot pot dishes, and should be considered as one of the basic ingredients for all such dishes.
Image: Dong San - Click to Enlarge
Gay d'Zhee

These are small oval orange fruits about 1/4 inch long. They are one of the most common ingredients in Chinese soups.
Very often used in combination with Dong San above, these two medicinal ingredients are added to most Chinese soups, stews and hot pots.

Gay d'Zhee are very good for the blood system and can be used in tandem with other ingredients listed on this page.

When cooked they can double in size and may start to break down if roughly stirred or cooked for more than 4 hours. However, a long cooking does release more of their medical properties.
Image: Gay dZhee - Click to Enlarge
Ham Dan or Salty Eggs

Ham Dan or 'Salty Eggs' are one of the more curious Chinese dishes that have a specific purpose. They are used to counter the feelings of light-headedness some people occasionally suffer from. Perhaps you stand up and suddenly feel as if you may pass-out? I think most of us have experienced this nauseous feeling from time to time.
According to my wife, Salty Eggs are the immediate cure.

First of all, these are not any old Chicken's eggs. These have to be the almost white ones, and should be organic / naturally grown and harvested.

The cooking is very simple, and quite like boiled eggs, except:

1. You need to fill a pot with a very course kosher or rock salt. The salt grains should be as large as possible and easy to pick up an individual grain in your fingers.
2. The salt is added to a large sealed crock and the eggs embedded in the salt. Then more salt is added to completely cover the eggs. My wife used about 2 Lbs of this salt.
3. The crock has a double lid, and is placed in a large jam kettle or similar, resting on a towel to cushion the heat from the gas ring. Water is added to the kettle, brought to the boil, and then left to simmer for at least 3-hours with the lid on.
4. Check every so often there is still water for steaming, and add more as required. Remember to replace the lid of the jam kettle once done.
5. The pictures (Right) were taken after steaming for 4-hours, and you will notice the salt crystals are still intact. They are later stored for future use with this dish.
6. The eggs when finished cooking can be eaten either hot or cold, but hot is preferred. Shell them just as you would a normal hard boiled egg, and enjoy!
Image: Salt Eggs - Click to Enlarge

Image: Salt Eggs close up - Click to Enlarge

Image: Crock with outer lid - Click to Enlarge     Image: Crock showing inner lid - Click to Enlarge
From the dozen eggs that she cooked, my wife immediately ate 8 of them - and that's a lot of eggs! However, her condition vanished, so all I can say is "Don't knock it till you try it!"
Red Dates or Hong Zhao

Hong Zhao is the name for Chinese red dates, which are usually found dried. They are also available as 'Chinese sweets' and I use the term quite broadly.

They are one of the most common ingredients of any standard Chinese soup, and are very similar in look, taste, and usage to British Rose Hips.They can also be added to hot pot, and have culinary and medicinal uses in many other dishes.

Treat them as you would rose hips, and add for their general tonic properties and taste. They should be naturally sweet, but this is a compound flavour which is quite subtle and unique.
Image: Chinese Dried Red Dates - Click to Enlarge
Whilst cooked Hong Zhao are very soft to eat, with even the skin becoming very edible, please know Chinese will always cook and serve them so as to include the single central stone.
Lin Zhi and Yue Mei
Lin Zhi, properly pronounced 'lien' are a type of nut, whilst the smaller type of pea shown is called Yue Mei.

These two ingredients are usually used together, and especially for making the specific Cantonese dish, which is basically any Chinese soup made with Chicken's Feet.

Chinese Chicken's Feet Soup would perhaps not rate as one of my all-time personal favourites, but Chinese girls love it! Whilst I may personally remain underwhelmed, this soup when made properly is very beneficial for those suffering from foot conditions (And Chinese wives).
Image: Lien Zhi and Yue Mei - Click to Enlarge
Mango or Mok Gwa

This common fruit helps promote milk production for breastfeeding mothers. My wife used Mango in soup to help her produce milk.

Mango also promotes healthy skin, but this is more beneficial if the mango's are eaten fresh, not cooked.

Related Page: Mango
Gives more details of this common fruit and several unusual recipes, including a delicious soup.
Image: Common Mango or Mok Gwa - Click to Enlarge
Red Beans
Chinese Red Beans are a very common addition to soups and stews and are considered to be a tonic.

I would wash them before adding to the pot, although Chinese seldom bother.

These beans should be cooked for about one hour, which is ideal when making soups. They will swell to double their size during cooking and also turn brown.

I find them a little earthy and boring, but a few are fine to eat.
Image: Chinese Red Beans - Click to Enlarge
Sam Xi
Sam Xi is yet another root with medicinal properties. They are bought in bunches as shown right, and should be washed before use.

Sam Xi feel a little like angelica to the touch, with a few roots being added occasionally to soups and medicinal concoctions. However these would normally be used to make a Chinese tonic tea, which is known as 'leung cha' or 'two tea' in English

Like most of the ingredients on this page, these roots may be stored for many months and my wife keeps ours in the fridge.
Image: Sam Xi - Click to Enlarge
Vine Leaves
Ground vine leaves may not be related to the vine genus at all, but are an excellent tonic and assist recuperation from many minor ailments. They can also be served stir-fryed as a vegetable.

To make a medicinal Tea, simply remove the leaves from the stem and wash well. Place in a rice cooker set to 'porridge', or simmer in a pan with several pints of water for a couple of hours.

Once you see the indicative yellow tea forming, strain badly so some of the leaves enter the serving dish, and give to your loved one.

My Cantonese wife has cooked these several times for me - when I have been labouring for breath, or had a bad foot. They work!
Image: Medicinal leaves served as a Tea tonic - Click to Enlarge
White Roots
These are yet another root with medicinal properties and are often found in soups and stews. They are bought as shown right, and should be washed before use.

Chop into lengths of between 1 and 4 inches, as best suits the dish being made.

They are cooked when they are soft. They are considered to be a general tonic and work well with soups and stews.
Image: 'White Roots' - Click to Enlarge
Yuk Choi

These are long roots about 1/4 inch wide by at least 6 inches long and are used in medicinal soups. They are very good for 'girls' and used for relieving mentral problems and balancing the blood.
Do note eat these!

Cooking releases medicines into the soup, and whilst eating them may not cause any problems, my wife told me not to.

Prepare for use by washing lightly under running water and then chop diagonally into inch long slices. Cover with water and leave to soak for several hours. The ones pictured were soaked for 4 hours, and lost their initial whiter insides.

Soup Recipe

* 1 handful Yuk Choi
* 1 or 2 pork knuckles
(Usually vertibrae)
1/2 cup red beans
* A few Dong Gui or 'white roots'
* 1 dozen or more Red Dates

Put in a wok with water from the yuk choi and simmer for an hour or more. Add more water as required to make a thin soup.You can add other ingredients as you please.

When ready drink a bowl of the liquid and enjoy the meal. I find this needs added salt and pepper, but otherwise it tastes good.
Image: Yuk Choi - Click to Enlarge

Image: Yuk Choi Soup - Click to Enlarge
Yun Sam

These things are a little over an inch long by a quarter inch wide. They resemble dried branches, although I am informed they are in fact a type of root.
Prepare for use by washing lightly under running water and then chop with a hefty knife into slivers across their width. You will end up with something that resembles small coins. One or two pieces should be sufficient for most soups, although as a medicinal ingredient this may be increased somewhat.

They are a fairly common ingredient of Cantonese soups, and have the effect of reducing internal body heat - which can be a real problem in this hot and humid part of China. As usual they are left to simmer in the soup for an hour or longer.
Image: Yun Sam - Click to Enlarge
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