A healing sweetness: Snow fungus 'tong sui' with gingko nuts and red dates

Kenny Mah
A bowl of snow fungus 'tong sui' with ginkgo nuts and red dates promises to reinvigorate one’s body and soul — Pictures by Ck Lim

KUALA LUMPUR, Nov 23 — The weekend may well be the best time for a bit of self care. Many of us live far from home, away from our mother’s home-cooked food and traditional remedies.

Taking care of ourselves, with a bit of nostalgic love, doesn’t have to be that hard. In fact, when we feel under the weather, some gentle healing and nourishment can be just a pot of tong sui away.

Better yet, make that a pot of snow fungus tong sui with ginkgo nuts and red dates.

The ingredients are simple — snow fungus (xuě er), red dates (hóngzǎo), ginkgo nuts (báiguǒ) and rock sugar (bīngtáng) — and the cooking method is very basic.

Yet a bowl of this tong sui promises to reinvigorate even the most tired of bodies, the weariest of souls.

Simple ingredients, yes, but what a multitude of benefits! Snow fungus (which is also known as white fungus, white wood ear, silver ear and white jelly fungus) is particularly well regarded in traditional Chinese medicine.

The ancient Chinese believed that the xuě er is a balm for those with weakened immune systems. For those with compromised respiratory systems, the snow fungus is thought to nourish the lungs and throat.

Besides its role as a health tonic, the snow fungus is very sought after as a beauty treatment, thanks to its high collagen content.

The more snow fungus one takes, it is said, the more naturally youthful your skin will be, without the use of any harsh cosmetic chemicals.

Red dates have been used as an age-old remedy to elevate one’s energy levels while, in an interesting contrast, also alleviating insomnia.

Snow fungus is considered a health and beauty tonic (left) while red dates help alleviate insomnia (right)

Those who have poor memory may benefit from the ginkgo nuts, which has been employed in Chinese medicine to combat cognitive decline.

Taken in unison, the sum is greater than its parts: a spoonful of snow fungus tong sui with ginkgo nuts and red dates has a healing sweetness that tastes like a mother’s love.

SNOW FUNGUS SOUP WITH GINKGO NUTS & RED DATES

Selecting snow fungus doesn’t have to be a chore. While you can find them easily at both supermarkets and traditional Chinese medicine shops, the latter are a better bet as you can find the dried snow fungus in loose form rather than pre-packaged.

First, look out for its colour: choose snow fungus that is light pale yellowish rather than a pristine white. The white ones may look cleaner and more appealing but chances are these are bleached.

Also go for whole heads of dried snow fungus, which will keep their shape better when simmered for a long time, rather than broken pieces.

There’s nothing wrong with using raw ginkgo nuts. Just be prepared for a bit of work: from cracking open the shells carefully to prevent bruising the fruit within to removing the bitter heart from the centre of the nut with a sharp knife.

Or you could just use shelled and cleaned ginkgo nuts, which saves you time and trembling hands.

Ginkgo nuts have long been used in Chinese medicine to combat cognitive decline

Feel free to add other ingredients such as dried longan (lóngyǎn gàn), believed to rejuvenate blood circulation; black dates (hēizǎo), distinguished from the red variety by its smoky fragrance; dried lotus seeds (lián zi), which may help manage diabetes; and goji berries (góuqǐ), packed with antioxidants.

Ingredients

2 large pieces of dried snow fungus

2 litres water

3-4 large dried red dates, pitted

20 ginkgo nuts

3 pandan leaves, tied to a knot

Rock sugar, to taste

Method

First, soak the pieces of dried snow fungus in a bowl of water until it has softened and plumped up. Depending on the size of the snow fungus, this will take anything from 10-30 minutes.

After the snow fungus has rehydrated, typically turning a paler shade in the process, drain it of the soaking water.

Further rinse the fungus under the tap to remove any dirt particles that are still trapped in the folds.

Subtly sweet rock sugar (left) and fragrant pandan leaves (right)

Carefully trim away any tough parts — usually a darker, yellowish shade than the rest of the fungus — using a pair of kitchen scissors. Once the snow fungus has been cleaned, cut it into smaller florets.

Add the snow fungus to a large pot, together with the water, red dates and knot of pandan leaves. Keep the ginkgo nuts for later to prevent them from overcooking. Bring the pot to a boil.

Once the pot has come to a boil, lower the heat to a simmer. After 15 minutes, add the gingko nuts. Continue simmering for another 15 minutes.

Before serving, remove the knot of pandan leaves and discard. Finally, add rock sugar to taste. Serve hot or chilled (1-2 hours in the fridge will be sufficient).

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