Wednesday, 22 June 2011

chinese borscht / abc soup / luo song tang

If you have some kind of Chinese background, you probably know this soup, and you've probably made it dozens, maybe even hundreds of times before. At home, my mum calls this luo song tang (罗宋汤). My cousins call it ABC soup. I've seen Chinese restaurants with English menus refer to it as Chinese borscht. Whatever you choose to call it, it's delicious, ridiculously easy, and the meat and vegetables involved can be sourced very cheaply. Great taste-to-effort ratio, great ROI with simple ingredients. What's not to love?

chinese borscht, aka abc soup, aka luo song tang (罗宋汤).

Everyone seems to have their own way of making this soup, with slight (or not-so-slight) variations in ingredients plus other quirks. My mum always uses either chicken or pork, but I've seen others use beef. I've even tried making it with lamb, which is rather unorthodox but also wonderful. But that's not all. Which cut? On the bone or filleted? (For the record, I prefer using not-so-lean cuts, and I find meat on the bone tends to end up more lusciously tender.) Aside from that, the choice and balance of vegetables also vary. Then there's the matter of method and presentation. Some people like the ingredients fine and dainty in the form of little cubes - not me. Chunky and hearty is how I roll.

In the end, you play with the basic idea and make this your own. No one I know bothers with a recipe when they make Chinese borscht, at least not after their first attempt. It's rustic, adaptable, effortlessly delicious - and that's why we love it.

Without further ado, here's a rough guide to how I usually do it...

A lovely and nutritious soup-stew, perfect for any weather.

chinese borscht / abc soup / luo song tang 罗宋汤 (serves 2)

3 cups water (add more if it reduces too much during the cooking process)
2 medium potatoes, cut into chunks
1 medium carrot, sliced diagonally
1 large tomato, cut into wedges
1 small onion, roughly sliced
2 cloves garlic, whole and unpeeled (optional)
3 chicken thigh fillets, roughly chopped, or 4 chicken drumsticks on the bone
seasonings: light soy sauce and white pepper, or salt and freshly ground black pepper

I usually approach this in a fairly casual manner: I pour the water into a large pot over a robust flame, and while waiting for it to boil, I set about chopping up my ingredients and throwing them into the pot as I go.

I do either the potatoes or the carrots first, then fling in the tomatoes, onion and garlic. By this time, the water is boiling quite merrily and I'll put the chicken in, turn the heat down and let it gently simmer, covered, for approximately 45 minutes or until everything is superbly tender and the potatoes and carrots are almost, but not quite falling apart into the gradually thickening soup. Now all it needs is a final touch of light soy sauce and white pepper - alternatively, salt and cracked black pepper is also always a good bet.

Serve this as a soup entree, or have it as a main meal with steamed rice.

Oh, and one more thing! Feel free to double or even triple the recipe if you have a generously sized pot and ample space in the refrigerator, for after you finishing cooking this, the flavours will continue to schmooze and mingle even as it cools down, begging you to re-heat it again hours later for another meal. Your Chinese borscht then transforms from a summer-friendly soup into a winter-worthy stew. Either way, it's homely bliss to warm one's soul, over and over again...

come on, have a spoonful of chinese borscht!


  1. Love a comforting dish like this where you can just chop up the veggies without much care about getting it perfect. It's all about the taste

  2. Chunky and hearty sounds like a good idea to me! This looks gorgeous. And so simple!

  3. I've never seen this on restaurant menus before! it's one of my favourite soup. We would have this soup every week at home, but now that I'm here, I haven't had it in ages!

  4. I love the new measurement unit of taste-to-effort ratio. It should be standardised. Hahaha!

    This recipe reminded me of my ex, who made it when I was sick with a cold. It damn nice! The taste of TLC.

    You know it's also good with Varanidae(similar to Komodo) and cobra. Honestly I am no joking. Go to Jakarta and try it in front of restaurant 369.

  5. Thanks Adrian and Foodycat! I'm definitely a fan of rustic meals, especially when I'm lazy!

    Adrienne, I've seen it at Hong Kong style cafe restaurants. Some Chinese restaurants also serve something similar as an appetizer. :D

    Haha thanks PFx! I don't think I've had lizard or snake before. But I'll keep that in mind, especially if I visit Indonesia! :)

  6. I have a confession. Even though I'm Chinese, I have hardly seen this cooked at home! Carrots and potatoes makes the dish almost feel "western".

  7. Almost like minestrone! I call it ABC soup when I was younger. Whatever the name, it is one of my favorites!

  8. Fatbooo, that's food for thought... maybe I see it back home so often because my mum knows I love it! But I know it's very popular amongst many of my friends and relatives too.

    Michelle, I'd nearly forgotten about Kim Gary! I think I went there once, many years ago. :p

    Yay tigerfish! I still don't really know why it's called ABC soup. I think the theory is that it has vitamins A, B and C?

    Muppy, it is. :D

  9. Fie on my lack of Chinese background! I've missed out on a meal that could've inspired endless renditions of Jackson Five singalongs over the dinner table!

  10. I agree! Every chinese family I know has a different way of cooking this soup.. Yumm.. I still do it sometimes on my lazy days :)

  11. Hannah - lol!

    msihua, I would love to see your version!

  12. I do not have a Chinese background, and I learned something new in this post. Thank you! Look forward to coming up with my own version : )

  13. Thanks Trix! I hope you like it as much as I do. :D

  14. Passei para rever seu blog.
    Essa receita é fácil e super saborosa.

    ° 。✿ °° 。
    / \ 。 ✿

  15. Lovely vegie soup, this would be so perfect right now!

  16. This is another example of simplicity at its best...and I like how you put it in terms of the ROI....well, sounds brilliant and I will make it without the chicken - am sure, it will still taste delicious....makes me hungry right now...


  17. Oh leaf this is exactly what I need right now! i'm holed up in my apartment with laryngitis and coughing and sneezing and the works. This soup is spot on!

  18. Thanks Maria!

    Shilpa, thanks! Feel free to experiment and substitute with your favourite protein. :)

    Oh no Yasmeen! That sucks, I hope you feel better soon. xx


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