Thursday, February 17, 2011

Green Bean Soup with Rue

Will dialect goes extinct with the next generation?

Though my son can't speak fluent Cantonese but he is able to comprehend. My daughter, whom she didn't stay long enough with my parents, can't comprehend but I suspect she did pick up a word here and there.

My husband who grew up in a Malay village is able to speak fluent Malay. In fact, he is such a linguist that he can speak 7 languages including dialects. Smart isn't he?

For me, I am the hopeless one at home. Besides Cantonese, English and Mandarin, I am clueless with other dialects. I think I am the only one that can't understand Hokkien nor Teochew in my family. Even more hopeless is that I actually married a Teochew but my father in law speaks to me in Cantonese or English and my mother in law to me in Mandarin.

During the Lunar New Year visiting, a hot topic that popped out was dialect. For this generation of mine, we are still able to converse in our own dialect but for our next generation, they know nothing about this dialect.

I think eventually our dialect will die with us as our next generation no longer speaks a word.

To think about this, it is actually sad, isn’t it?

The weather is getting hotter by the day. Today is also the last day of a 15 days celebration. I think we had enough of munching on all those Lunar New Year goodies that are loaded with tons of calories. I am sure our yin and yang elements in our body are totally off balance.

With hubby just came home last night from a cooler climate, I thought it will be a perfect timing for us to have a bowl of Green Bean Soup with Rue (臭草) to balance back the chi in our body.


Rue is commonly used to flavour green bean soup. It is botanically known as Ruta graveolens. Many years ago, I did try to grow it but being a temperamental plant, it didn’t survived.


This plant is not commonly found in wet market and thus many vendors do not use this herb in their green bean soup. I have to go down to Chinatown to look for it and it is not cheap either. I guess because it is hard to cultivate.

Adding Rue to Green Bean Soup somehow make it taste better. Then again, it is very subjective, just like cheese and durian. I suspect some day, Green Bean Soup with Rue will also died with me.


To add some romance to this simple dessert and hopefully to catch a glimpse of the first full moon of the New Year (Chinese's Valentine's Day). I created a heart with some coconut milk for hubby's serving.

Happy Valentine's day dear.

I am also submitting this to Aspiring Bakers #4: Love In The Air (Feb 2011) hosted by Cuisine Paradise.

What you need:

250g Green Bean
1 stalk of Rue (throw away the stem)
40g sago (optional), soak for 10 mins and drain
Sugar to taste (I used thai palm sugar)
500ml + 250ml Water
4 stalks of pandan leaves
Coconut cream (optional)


Add green bean, pandan leave and water. Brisk boil for 20 mins.

Add in the other part of water and continue boiling till beans are "open".

Add in sago and continue to boil till sago is done.

Add sugar to taste and coconut cream.
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  1. Green bean soup! Just perfect for the hot weather these few days! In Hong Kong, I think most people cook it with kelp 海带. That plant you'd used looks very curious though. Do you know its name in Chinese or Cantonese? Very difficult to state its latin name to the Chinatown aunties leh!

    And I agree with you on the use of dialects. I remember using it with my grandparents when they were still around. Then there was a period of time when I kinda resented speaking in Hokkien thinking its rather uncouth sounding. But now I try to speak it with my parents whenever I could, despite our lingua franca is by default Mandarin. A part of me just don't want it to die off. Behind a language entails so much cultural bearings, one of which we hold on dearly, is food. :)

  2. Once when young, my brother consumed this Chow Chou Bou Look Dau and it triggered his asthma. My mom never cooked it again.

    It's truly sad to see the younger generation losing their dialects. Luckily my friends from my generation saw this coming and am now talking to their kids in dialects rather than mandarin or English. But I on the other hand had no choice but to converse with my girls in English, simply due to the fact that the current town that my girls will grow up in has a very poor standard of English, and there is no way that she will be able to practise English in school or with friends. I wished my hubby's family will talk to her in Hokkien, but they still prefer to talk to my girls in English, trying to add in a few Hokkien words here and there, but smatterings are never enough. My mom though, is trying to instill some Cantonese in my girls.
    And now when my elder is attending kindy, she's learning Malay as well, it's funny to see her calling chicken in a few languages, and she does get confused in constructing her sentences. But I know she'll manage it well later.

  3. I don't know what it is known as in Hokkien, but in Cantonese, it is call 臭草 aka "smelly grass". Sounds disgusting it is not as it adds fragrance to that bland green bean soup.

    I totally agree with you that behind the language we used, food is the next closest association to our roots.

    Seriously, I really don't want my kids to lose that.

  4. Dear Edith:

    I'm mexican, from Tamaulipas where i live with my husband, son and daughter. All are us are learning mandarin. I think that your post is very interested because in our country it's happen somenthing like that with our native languages as nahualt, totsil, maya.
    We consider our roots very values as you and believe it's a very important need keeping them in use.
    Now we are learning chinese because we had many chinese neighbors and we hope some day can speak with them fluidity.


    Mary Tere

  5. That soup sure looks appetizing...though I must admit I have never tasted green bean soup.

    About the dialect...I do not have any experience with the languages you are speaking I know only English and Dutch (I live in Canada). My parents were born in Holland, immigrated to Canada, spoke to us in Dutch, but once we went to school and had "english emmersion" we lost much of our dutch. Unfortunately OUR children, my parents grandchildren, do not know even one word of dutch. When older people get older yet, they often revert back to their "mother tongue", so that begins to put a real language barrier between them and their grandchildren. This is unfortunate, but I guess there is no way around it. Funny though...certain names of Dutch Food, and candy (!) my kids only know the dutch name for!


  6. Wendy, this is the first time I heard that Rue with Green Bean can trigger asmtha. Perhaps it is not the rue but rather the green bean as it is a "cooling" dessert.

    Thanks for dropping by Mary. I am truly impressed that your family is picking up Mandarin! Keep it up.

    Nice of you, Rhubarb Pie to drop by. I truly see your point. My brother and his family also reside in Canada. My 3 yrs old nephew was born in NZ and had never been home till last Dec. My sister in law now is encouraging my 8 years old nephew to speak Mandarin but the exposure can be quite challenging.

    So there is definitely a language barrier when they communicate with my mom who only speaks a little English.

  7. Yeah, I guess it's due to the green bean. Even now, if he consumes anything with green bean, he gets mild attack, even Penang dragon ball biscuits of which the filling is made of green beans, but it's not as bad as the time when he consumed it when cooked with rue. But it all depends on individuals, only my 2nd brother got it, the rest were ok from the soup. But somehow, I can't accept the taste. Smelly.. hehehe.

  8. I love this dessert but my husband cannot stand the smell of rue. I started with one plant pucked from my sister-in-law's garden and it spreads easily. One time a contractor worked near the plant and had allergy from it. I have not used rue for a long time.

  9. Edith, been meaning to voice out on this topic. Finally ...

    I dunno about the situation in Singapore, but over in KL, YES, after even my generation, dialects may go extinct!

    My parents and siblings actually converse to me, and among each other, in Mandarin majorly, with Cantonese, English and Malay thrown in, and now, a little bit of Cambodian because of the helper.

    See, if it weren't due to external influences from, say, friends, old neighbors, any (local Chinese) strangers, even some locally produced shows that come in Cantonese, and Hong Kong shows and Cantopop, I'd have been totally clueless about Cantonese! Worse off, I myself am a Cantonese who traces her roots back to Toisan, Guangdong. I know nuts about Toisanese (a subdialect of Cantonese, part of "Sei Yap" 四邑); I can only understand two words: "yim sui" means "to drink water," and "haiek fahn" means to eat rice. *Sigh*

    Now, walking on the streets of KL, at schools, you'll hear youngsters conversing in Mandarin, for the most part. And, today's young parents all have chosen to communicate with their children in Mandarin and English. *Gasped*

    I think, as a southern Chinese descendant, we need to revive the practice/tradition of speaking our own dialects. Just because speaking Mandarin is like the trend now so everyone feels compelled to jump on the bandwagon? No.

    Thank goodness, we still have commercials and ads, radio shows, TV shows in Cantonese over here. I hope this can continue well into the future. To be frank, I feel sad when, say, Hong Kong shows are dubbed in Mandarin in Singapore. Cantonese and Mandarin are not mutually intelligible! If I was told to choose, I'd rather live to speak Cantonese than Mandarin, partly because I take pride in my own cultural heritage and that Cantonese is able to achieve many things that Mandarin is unable to, e.g. in expressing humor. Cantonese is such fun and lively language! Sometimes, I believe it's a language on its own--not a dialect. (Well, I do believe Hokkien has something lovely to it. Sadly, I can't comment much on it as I dunno anything about this Minnan dialect.)

    Nice topic. Thank you! As long as I'm alive, I'll speaking my own dialect--Cantonese.

  10. Hi edith! thanks for the clarification on the chinese name! Will definitely go take a look when i'm in chinatown!

    any plans on how you wanna kick start your kids on the use of dialects?


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