Indulge in Soup, Restrain in Soup: The Curious Bothness of Soup

One example I think that shows a valuable insight into the Chinese approach to Indulgence versus Restraint, has to do with soup. Yes, indeed, good ol’ soup. Chinese have a fascination with soup. There are books, articles, formal recipes and endless oral recipes, or those written down in some napkin, stashed in some dusty drawer about Mom or Dad’s, or Grandma or Grandpa’s soup. It is the delivery mechanism for most traditional Chinese remedies. It is the waypoint for all manner of delicacies. That is if you are eating Shark’s Fin, or eating Owl (also known as “Cat-heated Eagle in Chinese), or some obscure turtle, the stopping place for that delicacy is going to be soup. Most times the turtle or the owl is eviscerated by the time it comes to your bowl, but the soup, well, that literally sums up the old adage about the “journey is the destination.” The soup itself becomes the delicacy, absorbing the goodness of whatever headline ingredient it was initially just a vessel for. But one thing about soup for Chinese, an ancient fact of its existence is that it serves a very pedestrian purpose.

Whether you are operating in a Shanghainese or Cantonese, or some other food culture, a meal begins with soup because it prevents you from overeating. This is the Chinese way. To have an elaborately brewed broth, that may contain something exotic, or maybe its just the freshest carrots and pork bones available, seems to be an indulgence. But, then again it is just water molecules with flavor. 

The curious bothness about soup is no ceiling exists for how indulgent it can be; nevertheless, it's very purpose is to fill you up before eating solids, to preclude you from over-indulging.