One of the typical Chinese refreshments which some people greatly cherish is sour plum soup. Versions of it are available bottled or canned, imported from both Taiwan and the mainland, as well as from other places.
In San Francisco you can find it in shops on Clement Street as well as in Chinatown.
I believe it is also available in the Tenderloin.
酸梅湯 SUEN MUI TONG
A tangy sweet drink, it is made by simmering dried crow-plums (wu mui 烏梅 Prunus mume) in water, with sugar, licorice root (kam tsou 甘草 Glycyrrhiza uralensis), and osmanthus flowers (gwai fa 桂花 Osmanthus fragrans), straining the liquor, and chilling it. Because the plums have been dried over fires, there will be a slightly smoky-salty flavour.
It is very popular during the warm season, being both cooling and beneficial to the digestion.
Also quite delicious - it is healthy, yes, but that isn't why you are drinking it.
Since making it at home can be a bit tedious, almost everyone purchases it ready-made. You can also buy a bottle of syrup and dilute it to the right strength yourself. A variation is to put a few salt plums in a glass with soda water, and moosh them up a bit with a spoon. And that, too, is very refreshing.
In Peking, in the olden days, vendors would roam the streets selling sour plum soup during the summer. This was one of the sights that many travelers mentioned whenever they wrote about the capitol. Both Ba Jin (巴金 1904 -2005) and Lao She (老舍 1899 -1966) who lived there for most of their lives made mention of such things when writing about aspects of Peking which have disappeared.
Sour plum soup is very traditional. Better tasting than most canned beverages, and healthier too.
However, some of us also think of it as a fine sexy drink.
This is because we saw the movie 中國最後一個太監 (Chungkwok tsoei-hau yat go taai kam) and remember one scene particularly.
Irene Wan (温碧霞), who plays the wife of Lai Shi (the last eunuch of the title), is seated, with her feet deeply immersed in a vat of muck, pulping the plums and water which her husband will sell tomorrow. Lai Shi is questioning her, but instead of speaking, she quietly smiles in response.
A smiling beauty knee-deep in goo? Adorable!
It would have been so lovely if they had also shown us what her footsie-wootsies looked like with fruit gloop between the toes.
But that might have caused riots, so it's probably better that they didn't.
Still, a very great pity.
Ever since seeing that movie at the Taai Ming Sing Theatre (大明星戲院) in 1989, I've been much fonder of sour plum soup.
And no, I don't always think of darling feetsies when I drink it.
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Note: for another interesting article about Chinese culinaria, see this: http://atthebackofthehill.blogspot.com/2011/11/best-roast-duck-in-san-francisco.html
Best roast duck in San Francisco.
Yes that scene with Irene Wan mooshing the muck with her feet was absolutely hot.
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