For the A TO Z CHALLENGE, I’m blogging for 26 days in April (except Sundays) based on the alphabet, and my theme is #foodiefiction, inspired mostly by the foods of Singapore.
Q is for qing tang or cheng tng (清汤)*
He was convinced that qing tang or cheng tng was the answer to most heaty (yang)** ailments.
If he felt a sore throat coming on, cheng tng it was.
If he felt the slightest bit constipated, a big bowl of cheng tng helped flush things along.
If he spotted a single pimple, more cheng tng please!
On the rare occasions that he feasted on fried chicken, finger-licking good fried chicken, dark meat, drumsticks, wings and all, he gulped down an extra large bowl of cheng tng to combat the heatiness of his greasy meal.
He soon became known as the Cheng Tng Man to his colleagues. His younger colleagues snickered at his every mention of cheng tng, those who didn’t snicker sometimes asked him for recommendations of his favourite cheng tng places. They asked him for recipes, but he didn’t know how to make it.
“You should make your own, since you’re so particular about your cheng tng!” said James, his usual lunch kaki and a fellow cheng tng lover.
That was true. He was particular and he could tell if stalls used shortcuts in their cheng tng or added unnecessary ingredients, or worse, if they missed out on key ingredients.
To him, a true cheng tng consisted of pearl barley, white fungus, lotus seeds, dried longan, gingko nuts, red dates, pang da hai (sterculia lychnophora or malva nut), and strips of dried persimmon. The soup needed to have a slight taste of pandan from about two or three knots of pandan leaves, and a slight sweetness from sugar. The right cheng tng was harmonious. A balance of just the right amount of these different ingredients, to orchestrate a cooling, soothing, mellifluous tonic for the soul and a refreshing dessert for the body. He felt that it was best consumed cold but if the ailment was constipation, he believed that the cheng tng was best drunk warm.
So one Saturday, he went to the supermarket and the Chinese medical hall and picked up all the ingredients. He even picked up a new pot for cooking his cheng tng in. And in his new cauldron he brewed up different versions of cheng tng, adding a little bit more dried persimmon to one concoction, a little more pandan to another, extra pang da hai to the third. Until he had found the right balance, the very best version of cheng tng he could ever concoct. He shared some with his friends and family, who clamoured for more. His colleagues asked for his recipe, which he slyly decline to divulge. Everyone wanted more and more and he began to charge for his cheng tng. It was hard work after all, buying the ingredients and cooking his brew to perfection. His customers began to request for specific brews, attuned to their various heaty ailments, and so he developed a cheng tng solution for pimples, another for constipation, and his best seller, the one for sore throats.
Then one of his younger colleagues, yes, one of those who had previously snickered, announced that he no longer was plagued by his rash, not since he had regularly been eating the special ‘anti-rash’ cheng tng. Another raved about the ‘clear skin’ cheng tng. It was a marvel, she said, as her oily t-zone was now pimple-free. The cheng tng craze began to spread to their networks and even to social media. The orders came streaming in. He couldn’t cope with both his regular job and his cheng tng business. As word of mouth spread, he had to formalize his business, adhere to government rules with regards to food safety and hygiene, apply for licences and whatnot. That he expected. But what he did not expect was a visiting Taiwanese songstress getting her hands on one of his concoctions, and announcing at a press conference that it cured her laryngitis, enabling her to continue her series of concerts around Asia.
It was an explosion. It was tremendous. It was overwhelming. He never understood the power that celebrities could wield, until now. He got requests for interviews, he received orders from overseas. He had suppliers offering him discounts for their products if he would just mention that he used their sugar, their longan, their pots and pans. He often wished that he could just go back to his regular desk job, not have to brew another batch of cheng tng again. He wished he could just walk up to a dessert stall and order their cheng tng, he couldn’t do that now as every cheng tng seller recognized his ugly mug. Some refused to sell to him. Others grabbed hold of him, refused to let him leave until they pressed their contact information onto him, telling him they would make great business partners. All this over a sweet clear soup that a singer raved about. All this over a dessert that once gave him such joy to eat. And now just stressed him out.
Cheng tng or qing tang (清汤) is a Teochew dessert, and is translated into ‘clear soup’. It originally was known as ‘five fruits soup’ as it had longans, gingko Nuts, barley, lotus seeds, and lily bulbs, and was meant to combat the hot and sweaty summers. When Teochew immigrants brought this soup to Singapore, it became more of a dessert, and more localized ingredients were incorporated and today it has far more than just five ingredients. But essentially it is a sweet clear soup with several different ingredients in it, sometimes including the five above, as well as agar agar strips, white fungus, barley, dried persimmon and more. It can be served either hot or cold.
* ok so I may have been pushing it using cheng tng as my “q” food. I mean, I never even knew that it was known as qing tang until I made a guess at the Mandarin translation of this Teochew word.
**yang is opposed to yin which is ‘cooling’