It’s Discovery Channel’s 26th Shark Week! Of course everyone has to write something about sharks this week, so here’s my small contribution. Being Singaporean Chinese, the obvious shark topic then would be shark’s fin soup.
Back when I was a kid, attending wedding banquets and fancy Chinese dinners usually meant putting on my best dress, sitting with strange people for three hours and eating shark’s fin soup. The soup, a gluey concoction of mostly starch and water with some crab meat and real shark’s fin dispersed in it, was more or less a standard item on the menu at every respectable fancy Chinese dinner I went to. I always add a huge dollop of black rice vinegar to it, because the soup by itself is actually quite tasteless. It was more like a vinegar kick for me each time.
Like many have realized and pointed out, shark’s fin soup doesn’t have magical medicinal or nutritional value, it’s more or less tasteless and the shark finning industry continues to make huge dents in shark populations worldwide. It’s only a symbol of status and wealth in Chinese society, as only those who can afford it are able to serve the soup at their children’s wedding banquets. And really, it’s kind of depressing to think that my ethnic group is causing so much trouble with our traditions and customs and beliefs, especially when it is all for feeding egos. (There’s another one: starting today 7th August, the first day of the seventh month in the lunar calendar, the air surrounding my parents’ apartment block back in Singapore where I grew up will be clogged with smoke, ash and the smell of burning incense paper. This is because the seventh month is “Ghost month” and we have to appease the spirits by burning offerings. The festivities will last until the “Gates of Hell” close on the last day of the seventh month, 4th September this year.)
My mum made soup out of it once, and it was pretty damned good. OK, maybe it was because my mum made it. Here’s a recipe for shark’s fin melon soup from NoobCook, no starch to thicken it, no need for black rice vinegar to give it some taste. Maybe when, or if, Cucurbita ficifolia takes over shark’s fin as the status symbol in Chinese society, we should start worrying about its spreading plantations causing deforestation and loss of habitat and the like. Till then, don’t put yourself in dangerous situations like trying to kiss a shark on the lips!