Behind The Bib: Ah Er Soup

To the Chinese, food and medicine are two sides of the same coin, and nothing encapsulates the philosophy better than a piping hot bowl of Chinese herbal soup.
Husband and wife Chen Hua Qiang, 50, and Ms Qu Fa Di, 46, have been ladling out bowls of soup and rice from their humble hawker stall in ABC Brickworks Market and Food Centre since 2012, winning diners over with their rich traditional Chinese herbal soups.
Originally from Guilin, China, the couple moved to Singapore more than 20 years ago, making the city state their home where he went to work as a chef in Chinese restaurants before joining his chef friends Ma Pit San and Nong Gan in setting up a branch of Ah Er Soup in ABC Brickworks.

“Now there are eight stalls around Singapore with roughly the same menu offerings,” he says. “And although we use the same ingredients, the soups from each stall all taste a little different because of each chef’s personal cooking style and control of fire and temperature.”
Husband and wife Chen Hua Qiang, 50, and Qu Fa Di, 46, serve up soups at ABC Brickworks Market
Husband and wife Chen Hua Qiang, 50, and Qu Fa Di, 46, serve up soups at ABC Brickworks Market

The light and clear-looking soups bely their rich flavours, extracted over a three- to four-hour long cooking process. Accompanied with a bowl of rice, these soups make a satisfying meal on their own.

Chen offers eight types of soups at his stall—the signature Buddha Jumps Over The Wall, Ten Tonic Ginseng Chicken Soup, Herbal Ginseng Black Chicken Soup, Gingko Pork Tripe Pepper Soup, Lotus Root Peanut Pork Ribs Soup, Old Cucumber Pork Rib Soup, Watercress Pork Rib Soup and ABC Pork Rib Soup.

Related: Why Double Boiling Is Good For Your Health
Ah Er's soups look light and clear but taste incredibly rich
Ah Er's soups look light and clear but taste incredibly rich
Prices range from $3.50 to $6.50 for the Buddha Jumps Over The Wall soup, which has become the stall’s most sought-after dish after it received the Bib Gourmand accolade. It’s easy to see why: for the price, the bowl is chock full of premium ingredients like scallop, dried oyster, fish maw, abalone, chicken and mushroom, swimming in a milky, collagen-rich shark bone broth.

However, Chen notes that it’s the simpler offerings like the Lotus Root soup that sells out the quickest everyday. The Watercress and Old Cucumber soups too, are popular for their ‘cooling’ properties in sunny Singapore.
Each bowl of soup ranges from $3.50-$6.50
Each bowl of soup ranges from $3.50-$6.50

Chen’s wife, Qu, prepares two types of rice to go with the soups each day, white and pumpkin rice, the latter selling out quickly as some hungry customers eat several bowls with just one order of soup.

Coaxing out flavours

The day starts at 7.30am every day for the couple as they open the stall and begin prep, washing vegetables, scalding pork ribs and dividing up herbs. Then, they battle the heat from eight large pots of soup which bubble and boil till 11am, making sure to control the temperature of the fire at every step of the way.

Each vat only has the capacity to make about 20 bowls of soup, with soups that contain a lot more ingredients, like the Buddha Jumps Over The Wall, only yielding about a dozen bowls. “We never cut our soups with more water during the cooking process, so although the amount we can produce daily is limited, you only get the best flavor,” Qu says in Mandarin. The soups usually sell out by 1.30pm at lunch time and the two start the process all over again for dinner service at 5pm.

Related: 5 Low-GI Alternatives to White Rice 

The stallfront of Ah Er Soup
The stallfront of Ah Er Soup
Ah Er Soup 6 Jalan Bukit Merah, ABC Brickworks Market & Food Center # 01-143
Recommended reading: View all Behind The Bib stories here

This article was written by Wu Xiao Jun and translated by Rachel Tan. Click here to read the original version of this story.
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