bowl of pork sparerib and mustard green soup

Sometimes, when it’s cold outside and you’re bundled in bed incapable of cooking and yet you need some food that feels and tastes homemade, but your mom is maybe 1,500 hundred miles away, it’s time for the smart shortcuts.

Sure, the first can of chicken and stars brings back fond memories, but by the tenth or twelfth, even after heretical adulterization with dandelion greens or hot sauce, that bowl of comfort starts tasting rather thin. You’ve finished that delicious chili dropped off by a friend and your loved one is in meetings all day. Driving a stick shift up hills is most definitely beyond your abilities, assuming you even get past peeling off your flannel nightgown and navigating the laces on your shoes.

That’s when you call for an order of pai gwat, those savory little tidbits of pork spareribs that dim sum houses and any decent, neighborhood Cantonese restaurant list on their menus. Then you dig around in your vegetable bin for any possible hint of vegetables, preferably a not too wilted head of mustard greens or a bunch of watercress or even, in desperate times, a well-rinsed bag of baby spinach already past its prime.

You still have to open a can: chicken broth. Then all you need is a spoon to stir it all together and bring the savory tidbits of goodness to your lips.

pork sparerib and mustard green soup ingredients

Pork Sparerib and Mustard Green Soup

If you’re feeling healthy and motivated, you can track down a butcher who will cut spareribs into little one-inch pieces. Simmer them for 40 minutes in water flavored with a bit of dry sherry, salt, pepper and ginger to make your own soup base. Or you can just pick up the phone.

1 order of take-out pai gwat (usually about 1 pound)
1 can good-quality chicken stock (about 1 1/2 cups)
Extra ginger, as much as you like, cut into slivers (optional)
Black pepper
A big pile of dark greens, such as mustard, turnip, watercress, spinach or escarole

Dump the pai gwat directly from its take-out box into a pot. Stir in the chicken stock, ginger, black pepper and a cup of water. Bring just to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for about 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, wash the greens and tear them into large pieces that will fit onto your spoon. Add them to the pork and stock, and cook to desired tenderness. (The worse I’m feeling, the longer I tend to cook the greens, for that lovely silky texture and for the more rounded, mellow flavor that develops.)

Serve over rice in a big bowl.

Easy Comfort: Pork Sparerib & Mustard Green Soup 17 December,2008Thy Tran

  • I made this last night. Went over to Stockton and Jackson, walked in and asked for Pai Gwat. Seeing as I am not asian (or asian looking) dude was really amused that I knew the name of the hanging meat (Thank you, Thy)– he kept laughing and telling his co-workers. Ok, so maybe he was making fun of me, whatevs.
    In this case it still had the ribs, but I asked him to chop it up and then when I got home I went ahead and carved the meat of the bones. I used some Kale and some white rice from a meal a few days ago and It was delicious. Truly an easy dish to make that fed 3 and was grand total of like $7.

  • Wow I never thought about pairing it up with pork but your dish looks SO GOOD!
    I will have to try your recipe sometime. I just love mustard greens…check out my soup!


Thy Tran

Thy Tran writes literary nonfiction about food, the rituals of the kitchen, and the many ways eating and cooking both connect and separate communities around the world. She co-authored the award-winning guide, Kitchen Companion, and her work has appeared in numerous other books, including Asia in the San Francisco Bay Area: A Cultural Travel Guide and Cooking at Home with the Culinary Institute of America. Her writing has been featured in The Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, San Francisco Chronicle, Fine Cooking and Saveur. A recipient of a literary grant from the San Francisco Arts Commission, Thy is currently working on a collection of essays about how food changes in families across time and place.

Though trained as a professional chef, she works on cookbooks by day, then creates literary chapbooks by night. An old letterpress and two cabinets of wood and lead type occupy a corner of her writing studio, for she is as committed to the art and craft of bookmaking as she is to the power of words themselves. In addition to writing, editing, teaching and printing, Thy remains active in local food justice and global food sovereignty movements. Visit her website,, to learn more about her culinary adventures.

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