A few days after giving birth to Kaia, my aunt messaged to say that she was putting together a care package of dried ingredients to send to me. This was so that I could make the ji jiu tang, or chicken wine soup that is a well known and popular Chinese postpartum soup. She said that I likely didn’t have time to go down to Chinatown to buy all the ingredients, so she wanted to save me some time and effort and send them over. She obviously could not send over the chicken or the Chinese rice wine, but she sent all the dried ingredients: dried shiitake mushrooms, wood ear mushrooms, lily buds, and Chinese red dates. In addition to these, she also sent some chocolate, a random bag of dried lentils (that my mom apparently asked her to pack me… don’t ask), and a carefully double bagged ziplock bag of thinly sliced ginger soaked in Chinese sweet black vinegar. She messaged and called several times to let me know how sorry she was that she couldn’t be here in person to make this as well as other Chinese postpartum dishes for me, but she hoped that I could make the soup myself with the ingredients she sent. “Don’t forget the ginger!” she said. Ginger, if you didn’t already know, is in pretty much EVERY Chinese postpartum dish. The black vinegar-soaked ginger is in place of the Chinese black vinegar/pork knuckle soup that is a well known Cantonese postpartum dish that moms or grandmas will make for their female family members after giving birth. She told me to eat a few pieces of the soaked ginger each day to help my body recover.
Other than the chicken, the only thing I needed to run out and buy was rice wine, so I went to a local wine shop to pick some up. Unfortunately, they didn’t have Chinese wine and only had Japanese rice wine, so I got a bottle of that (after texting my aunt to confirm this wouldn’t change the flavor or essence), soaked all the dried ingredients to rehydrate them, and dumped them into my Dutch oven to prepare. She was right: it really was easy to prepare and didn’t need too much precision. And when the soup was simmering over the stove, a very familiar savory, warming scent wafted through the apartment, and I realized that I’d had this soup many times growing up. When I took a taste of it, it was like I was immediately transported home into my grandma’s kitchen: she made some of the most delicious Chinese soups, many of which required hours and hours of simmering chicken and pork bones down to nothing. I immediately felt comforted and knew I would enjoy every spoonful of this. Chris enjoyed the soup, as well.
In my family, food is basically a love language, but I suppose that’s like most Asian families. Most of the time, they won’t tell you that they love you or care about you, but you know they care about you when they ask if you’ve eaten (then constantly add food to your plate until you are stuffed to the brim), and when they remember your favorite foods and ensure you have them when you come over to their home (or order them when out at a restaurant). You also know they love you when they prepare delicious, nourishing soups like this one for you, or when they so painstakingly soak hand cut and peeled ginger for hours for you and have it Priority-Mail shipped to get to you ASAP after giving birth, or when they insist that you have this soup for yourself and apologize endlessly for not being there in person to nourish you themselves in your delicate postpartum state. I felt so loved when I received the care package from my aunt, and I made sure to send her photos to get her seal of approval once I finished making the soup, as well.
“Smart girl!” she texted me back. “The soup looks very good! Now I’m going to make a big pot of it to eat, too!”