Friday, December 16, 2005

About Canned Sharks Fin Soup

I first encountered canned sharks fin soup when attending the University of Arizona in Tucson, in 1964. Back then, canned mainstream soups cost less than two bits at the supermarket. Needless to say, wasn't going to be there. I discovered it in a small grocery store that catered to whatever Chinese population Tucson had in those days. Ready to serve in a sixteen ounce can with a red label, it was as expensive---even then--- as it was mysterious.

For at least a decade, my can of sharks fin soup waited to be opened on some undetermined special occasion that never took place. Finally resolved to the reality that such an occasion was never to be, I eventually opened the can, contemplated its contents, and timidly tasted. About fifteen years after that, sharks fin soup was appearing on the menu at a few Chinese restaurants in large US cities. Twice I tried it, and twice it tasted like the contents of that can from decades before.

The much more recent can pictured above was a recent impulse purchase from one of Baltimore County’s ethnic food supermarkets. A brand name of Caravelle appears on the back of the can above the nutrition facts. It is in the form of a tiny logo with tiny print. Caravelle is one of many brands that are packed, imported and distributed in the U.S. through Los Angeles based Anhing Corporation . The listed ingredients are as follows: shark fin (20.0%---we find this hard to believe); mushroom(6.0% and much more in evidence than sharks fin); and chicken artificial flavor (2%). Lesser unspecified amounts are also noted of oyster sauce, pepper, modified corn starch, sugar, salt, and distilled vinegar. It tasted like you would imagine such a blend of ingredients would taste after having been cooked for hours at the cannery. Heaven forbid that they serve anything like this at those formal and fancy dinners in China for which sharks fin soup is a staple.

A return trip to one of those Asian markets could be in order to obtain dried shark fins if they are available, preferably without any outer skin attached. Soaking them will be the next step. All this just might never happen, but stay tuned.