Monday, February 8, 2010

Comfort Food #1 - Tianjin Preserved Cabbage Meat Ball Pasta Soup

Comfort foods are familiar, simple foods that are usually home-cooked or eaten at informal restaurants. Comfort foods are tied to times and places in our memories that remind of us safety, joy, warmth and comfort.

One of my comfort foods is ‘Tianjin Preserved Cabbage Meat Ball Pasta Soup’.

It’s a homey dish that is very tasty and flavourful.

During primary school my grandparents would babysit me as both my parents worked. It’s a dish that my grandfather would often cook for me and I would have a bowl after school.

It’s something that my mum would often cook for lunch on a Sunday when I lived at home.

It’s a dish that I would request my mum to cook when I feel sick because I want to eat something that was easy to digest and flavourful.

Whenever I cook this dish it makes me feel good – I think it’s the combination of soup with meat balls (which contribute a pork based stock), the unique flavour that the tianjin preserved cabbage brings to the dish, pasta, garnish of fresh herbs and the umami provided by the seasoning of fish sauce!

To make this dish, firstly prepare the meat balls by putting 300g of pork mince into a bowl and adding a little of each of the following ingredients to bring flavour to the mince:

  • 2 teaspoons oyster sauce
  • 2 teaspoons fish sauce
  • 2-3 spring onions (finely diced, I mainly use the bottom third as the white part has more flavour)
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon pepper
  • 1 teaspoon cornflour
Mix everything together well so that it is all combined.

In a pot, bring to boil 1.5 litres of water and then add in 1 ½ teaspoons of the tianjin preserved cabbage and spoon the mince mixture into the pot as balls. Simmer on low heat for 45 minutes.

You can buy Tianjin preserved vegetable from Asian groceries in earthenware crocks. It consists of finely chopped Tianjin preserved cabbage (which is a type of pickled Chinese cabbage originating in Tianjin, China), salt and garlic. It is quite pungent so you only need to add a small amount.

So while the soup is simmering, cook pasta according the packet instructions (I used San Remo – Curls) and drain well.

After the soup has simmered on low heat for 45 minutes, bring to boil on a high heat and add ½ teaspoon of salt, 1 tablespoon of fish sauce and a pinch of sugar. Add in the pasta and cook for 1-2 minutes.

Spoon into a bowl and garnish with coriander, spring onion and freshly ground pepper.


  1. Hello..i'm one of those thousand people who just bought the cabbage for the neat little pot.
    i assumed whatever was in it would not appeal to Midwest American tastes.wrong! i made the pork meatballs from ingredient's i got at United Noodles here in Minneapolis.
    Wonderful and a change from the normal Winter comfort foods of meatloaf or oatmeal.Thanks!!

    1. Hello, thanks for your comment. I'm glad you enjoyed the recipe :)