The Grocery Ninja leaves no aisle unexplored, no jar unopened, no produce untasted. Creep along with her below, and read her past market missions here.
I wasn’t about to argue with someone who has a “been there, done that” T-shirt, and granted, that sugary carbonated drink with two charging bulls on the can was a Thai concoction. But the version most of us are familiar with was made-over for “European tastes”—the original being way sweeter (if that’s even possible) and nonfizzy—by an Austrian entrepreneur employed at a toothpaste factory. I guess that’s why he cut down on the sugar.
But, back to the "Asian Red Bull." Because the average Asian kid has to go through years of back-breaking, soul-destroying, “pressure cooking”—also known as “rote learning and memorization of textbooks till the wee hours”—energy boosters that lift you up high temporarily but send you crashing an hour later are a no-no. You cannot be downing nine cups of coffee or equivalent, nightly, on a regular basis. You probably shouldn’t be popping sulbutiamine pills like candy either. Especially if you’re only pushing Grade 5.
So, as an alternative, Asian moms whip out their trusty stand-by: chicken soup. But not just any chicken soup—chicken soup made without any added liquid, the very essence of chicken itself. Just one rice bowl worth of pure chicken (slightly more than a cup) is extracted per bird.
If you’re wondering how it’s made, the short answer is that the chicken is steamed au naturel and the juices that result three hours later will make junior smarter. The more involved answer is that the chicken (organic and free-range because it’s leaner) is first skinned, with all visible fat trimmed away. Then it’s chunked and smacked with the side of a cleaver, piled on top of a small bowl that’s nestled within a bigger bowl, covered, and steamed. Junior does not eat the by-now-falling-away-at-the-bone meat—it’s saved to make “lesser” soup for the non-exam takers.
Of course, no one has time to do something quite so involved on a regular basis, so you can easily find bottled “essence of chicken” in supermarkets, with chicken as the only ingredient (no preservatives or other funky stuff). It’s also not just kids who take it when pulling all-nighters; adults drink it to combat work stress, especially if they’ve been suffering from “I woke up feeling like a truck ran over me” syndrome. Pregnant women knock it back for its nourishing and restorative properties. Some people savor it for its flavor, even using it in cooking. For the few who don’t like its concentrated chickeny-ness, it’s available in pill form, coupled with supplements like B-complex, calcium, and gingko.
If you don’t like ultra sweet stuff (and I can’t think of a whole lot of legal energy boosters that aren’t), or don’t relish the sugar/caffeine crash, chicken essence is your ticket. Here in the States I’ve spied them in Asian groceries (usually behind glass shelves, hanging out with the dried, shaved deer antlers used in Traditional Chinese Medicine) and Chinatown drugstores. Brand’s, New Moon, and Eu Yan Sang are reputable brands. And no, it’s not just psychosomatic.
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