Mama Tong (Soups for Moms)
Hi, my name is Jane Lin and I make post-natal soups for women recovering from childbirth. These soups are representative of foods typically made for the month after a baby is born also known as the practice of zuo yuezi (to sit a month). It is also sometimes translated as the “Confinement Month” because you (are supposed to) stay inside for 30 days. I learned to make these recipes from my mom who is from Hong Kong. I grew up in the Bay Area, so I didn’t even know these soups existed until I had my first baby.
There is a great tradition of soup making and eating for healing in the Cantonese culture. There’s ones for reducing a fever, ones for hangover, ones for making your skin better. The soup that is the most traditional for supporting breastfeeding and milk production is zhu jiao jiang. It’s a rich concoction of pork knuckles, sweetened rice vinegar (it’s black), lots of ginger, and eggs. I liken it to the richness of BBQ sauce. The vinegar unlocks the gelatin, collagen, and other good stuff in the bones essential to milk production. Plus it’s really good to your skin. This soup is somewhat ceremonial too. Often a close family member will bring the soup for everyone at the first month birthday (red egg party) where everyone can enjoy it.
There’s also a special version of Chicken Soup for childbirth recovery, which includes uses silkie chickens (black chickens) red dates, goji berries, snow fungus, wood ear fungus, long an (dragon eye) fruit, and again, lots of ginger. Every family seems to have a special recipe, versions vary from ones with peanuts to special worms. This is a very nourishing soup that helps build the blood and give you some energy so that you recover faster.
I’ve learned that the tradition of zuo yuezi has become newly popular for new moms in Asia. There are even some lavish hotels where you can rest, recover, and bond with your baby. They make these specially prepared foods and assist you with our equivalent of a post-partum doula team. Traditionally, this is what your mother-in-law does for you if she’s nice, close by, and knows how to make the soups.
When I learned to make these soups, I had to learn more about chinese markets and became a lot more aware of the herb shops in Chinatown Oakland and more familiar with Ranch 99 grocery stores. Through these soups I found a new part of my culture. And, I was inspired to start a business, which I call Mama Tong. Tong means soup in Chinese. I have begun to sell these soups online for local delivery and through care packages that I mail overnight. I will be at the Birth and Baby Fair at Fort Mason on September 29, 2012 where we will debut our soups to mamas in the Bay Area. Come see us and taste the soups!