Shark fin soup
What is shark fin soup?
Shark fin soup is normally a soup that has little to do with sharks or fins. It is a chicken soup, lightly thickened with potato starch, containing strings of chicken and strands of egg.
The ‘real’ shark fin soup is mainly eaten in China, Taiwan and Hong Kong. The authentic version is very expensive because of the price of real shark fins, which sometimes cost hundreds of euros per kilo. In China, the dish is mainly eaten during special parties: a wedding, an important business dinner or to celebrate New Year’s Eve. Shark fin soup is a status symbol.
Shark fin soup has been a Chinese delicacy for over a thousand years. During the empire of Emperor Taizu, it was served to symbolise his power, strength and generosity. Since the fifteenth century, the court became increasingly famous and loved, until the Communists came to power and everything reminiscent of pride was swept off the table. It wasn’t until the 1980s that the dish once again returned as a status symbol of the rich and powerful.
Most Chinese restaurants are unlikely to serve real shark fin soup as it is an expensive and controversial delicacy. If you are unsure, check the price. A bowl of genuine soup could cost as much as £180 per bowl!
Did you know...
The cutting of shark fins is prohibited by the EU on European ships and in European waters. The demand for shark fins is high so sharks are often caught only for their fins, which is wasteful and cruel. In the meantime, the number of sharks still living in our seas is declining drastically, which poses a threat to the water’s diversity and balance. Moreover, shark meat appears to be unhealthy, even toxic, to humans.
How to make shark fin soup
To make imitation shark fin soup i.e. the western non-shark variety of the dish, prepare a chicken broth from dried Chinese shiitakes and/or cloud ears, chicken thighs and sometimes pork or ham. The stock is further flavoured with soy sauce and sesame oil. The tasty liquid is thickened with cornflour or potato starch. Just before serving, when the soup is hot and it has been taken off the heat, a beaten egg is stirred through it. The resulting soup is thick, slightly lumpy, with gelatinous strands of egg in it.
How to eat
The Chinese eat soup with chopsticks in one hand and a soup spoon, often a nice flat earthenware spoon, in the other.