The Hakka (客家, kè jiā in Mandarin or hàg gá in Hakka) are a diaspora that have settled in many places throughout the world. They hail from northern Guangdong Province in China, though it is said they originally came from farther north. Their name in fact means “Guest People,” which sort of suggests that wherever they are now they are from somewhere else previously.
Taiwan has a couple significant Hakka population centers in the less fertile foothills (not to mention smaller populations scattered about). Where they are wedged in between the majority Taiwanese population on the fertile plains and the Indigenous populations that are largely relegated to the mountain regions. In Taiwan the Hakka are considered to be frugal, industrious, persevering, unpretentious, and conservative in taste. In other words they are largely rural and largely poor. So they have had to grow and preserve their own food and generally make do with what they had. Stereotypes aside, I greatly appreciate anyone who can do for themselves.
I made it a mission to pick up a Hakka cookbook when I was in Taiwan. While their food is largely considered “peasant food” it is none the less significant for understanding the food landscape of Taiwan. And never mind that food does not have to be fancy to be good. While perusing cookbooks I came across one with an intriguing recipe, a recipe for Dried Persimmon Chicken Soup (柿乾燉雞湯 shì gān dùn jī tāng or in Hakka, cii è gíe tóng ). That was the deciding factor in which book to get, and the first recipe to try my hand at. Helps that it is dead simple to boot.
Back in New England the only difficulty was waiting for the snow to let up long enough to venture to a proper market. Once I managed to tunnel out it was not really hard to source most of the ingredients. Dried persimmons are pretty common in Korean markets, so that was not a problem. The Chinese market had large bamboo shoots (preboiled for convenience). The only minor snag was that I had to substitute white shimeji/clamshell/beech mushrooms for the brown shimji/clamshell/beech mushrooms that the recipe calls for. Not a huge difference.
The dried persimmons make a wonderfully sweet broth, but not everyone eats them after the soup is made. At best, the persimmons give their all to the broth and are rendered largely flavorless. At worst, some varieties of persimmons after all the sugar has been diffused out are rendered into a very astringent and inedible bit of fruit.
- 5 Dried Persimmons 柿乾
- 2 Large boiled bamboo shoots 涼筍
- 2 Chicken leg quarters 雞腿
- 15 g. Fresh ginger, sliced thin 薑片 (about a thumb size piece)
- 1 bunch Brown shimeji/clamshell/ beech mushrooms 鴻喜菇
- 1 T. rice wine米酒
- pinch of salt 鹽巴
- dash of white pepper白胡椒
- 6 c./1500 cc water 水
- Remove the stems from the dried persimmons and cut the persimmons into quarters.
- Peel (if needed) the large bamboo shoots and cut into about 1 inch cubes.
- Separate the mushrooms, trim off only the very end of the stalk.
- Chop the chicken leg quarters into bite size pieces and blanch those pieces in boiling water for a couple of minutes.
- To a stew pot add the blanched chicken pieces, mushrooms, ginger slices, cubed bamboo shoots, quartered persimmons, rice wine, salt, white pepper, and 6 cups/1500cc water. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low, cover and simmer for 25 to 30 minutes. Until the chicken is done and the flavors have melded.