No Apologies

Reader, I fear I’ve grown rusty in this business of writing you.

Twenty days. Yikes. To break such a silence begs a certain gravity of prose, doesn’t it, but I find myself in an easier mood this evening. I could tell you what I’ve been doing, that I’ve been going through old pictures. That I started raising fragrant herbs and lusty pink orchids and this vague, green indoor palm that I’m not so sure about. Or that I’ve been painting and lifting, drilling and dusting, watering and washing, been spending entire days on my hands and knees these three silent weeks.

I can tell you I’ve been busy rebuilding my life here in California, but that all reeks, somehow, of complaint and apology. And I hate that, reader. Instead let us tiptoe around my long absence. Let me simply say it has been good, consuming work, and mercifully, the work of the body—of arms and legs and elbows and hands—which today are all a happy kind of tired and sore.

I’ve been working but I am not cooking today, reader, and haven’t been, because these days I’m sharing the kitchen with a rather remarkable cook. Meet Mamie Mears. She didn’t teach me how to cook, but she taught me to love food, to take pride in making it well. I’ve said before that I never try to make the things she makes. You see, I have very little tolerance for personal fuckups—I believe they reveal deformities in my character—and to attempt one of her dishes would, I fear, tempt precisely that kind of crisis of self.

So this recipe—which is, in my father’s opinion, the very yummiest slurpable of all time—does not belong to me. But it is, I confess, one of only a host of Chinese foods that I crave, so I should probably learn how to make it. Someday. Just… not today. Today I luxuriate in my new room with the pink orchid and the autumn pictures, and listen to the clamor of someone else’s cooking.

I should probably get down to it, right? The food? The Shanghai breakfast soup, I’ll call it, or soy milk stew, or xian jiang, 咸 酱, meaning “salty jam” or “savory sauce,” if you speak Ethnic as fluently as I do. In English it’s soy milk, soy sauce and vinegar lovingly frothed together, coffee shop-style, to the very edge of boiling. For extra funk, there’s also dried baby shrimp, pickled Chinese vegetables, and hot pepper oil. You dunk savory Chinese donuts and sesame flatbread in it. Then you dunk your face in it.

And again, reader, no apologies. This stuff is remarkably good, and no, it’s not exotic and it’s not weird. It’s brunch. I hope you try it sometime, even if taxes your courage.

Xian Jiang

– 1 carton unsweetened soy milk
– 1 package Sichuan preserved vegetables
– 1/2 cup dried baby shrimp

– 3 overflowing tbsp apple cider vinegar
– 5 overflowing tbsp soy sauce
– 1-3 tsp of hot pepper oil, to taste
– 1 tbsp minced scallions
– 2 Chinese savory donuts (you tiao, 油条)
– Sesame flatbread (shao bing, 烧饼), to serve alongside soup


Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Mince preserved vegetables and combine with soy milk and baby shrimp in a medium pot.

Place pot over medium-low heat, then add soy sauce and vinegar.

Meanwhile, toast you tiao and shao bing until they’re crispy on the outside and heated all the way through.

Once the you tiao is finished toasting, increase the heat under the pot until the soy milk begins to froth. Cut the heat in half when the soup gets fluffy (yes, fluffy); be sure not to let it boil over. You may want to add more soy sauce or vinegar. Now would be a good time, but please taste it first. Stir in hot pepper oil. We like it pretty aggressively spicy.

(See how fluffy it’s getting? See!?) Split one toasted you tiao down the middle vertically, and, using sharp kitchen shears, slice it into the stew.

Add minced scallions, stir, and serve hot with the remaining toasted you tiao and shao bing. And enjoy, for crissakes. It’s good for you.

11 thoughts on “No Apologies

  1. John Mears says:

    OMG, Angela, I was there when you shot that, and I ate that xian jiang, and seeing your photos & reading your prose brings it back. What a fine brunch that stuff is!

  2. heather says:

    i was so intrigued by the photo and “brunch soup” caption, and then i read your post and became even more interested. what a soup! and i think there should be no apologies in blogging — this is your space and do with it what you like. live you life and THEN come back, tell us about it, show us some photos and make our mouths water like you did here.



  3. Marisa says:

    This is definitely a boundaries bending soup! I just know my curiousity is going to get the better of me forcing me to make this.

    Oh, and welcome back. 🙂 No need to apologise.

  4. Juls says:

    I tried to make this last night from your recipe and whilst it was nowhere near as pretty as yours it tasted so good! completely comforting and a bit unusual and a definite to do again! Thank you for posting this 😀

  5. Malu says:

    This reminds me, not literally in terms of the recipe, of my own mother’s lovely complex, intuitive and most importantly, “dunk your face in” meals…Ones that will most likely take decades for me to attempt, for very much the same reasons you expressed. The southern Indian food that my grandmother makes is not my mother’s, and I know mine will not be hers. But one day, I’ll make my own… when I build up the courage and, neccessary skills and spice cabinet…

  6. Kristen says:

    I had to leave a comment, because after years and years of having this bookmark tucked away in my “to make eventually” folder, I finally made it and it was one of the single best meals I have eaten in a long time (and that’s not for lack of cooking!). So incredibly unique. I worried over the “fluffy” stage but once I whisked it all together then added the Chinese doughnuts… oh my goodness. Spicy, creamy, salty, comforting goodness. I hope you still check the comments on your blog because this was incredible! Thanks for posting this great recipe.

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