Randy Lau has fond memories of growing up around his parents' Chinese restaurant, where he and his older sister would chat with customers as they enjoyed their meals and often snuck pots of their dad's hot and sour soup from the kitchen to eat themselves.
But when Lau was about six years old, his parents' restaurant, Wah Yuen, located in Concord, California, was lost in a fire, resulting in his parents making the decision to step back from the restaurant business so they could spend more time with their family.
While Lau's father continued to work as a chef in other Chinese restaurants, his mother went back to nursing, a career she had left behind when she immigrated to the U.S. from China in 1982.
"For me, this project was something I flirted with doing for several years, but I think the pandemic made me realize how short life is and made me reevaluate what my priorities were," Lau told TODAY Food. "This time with my parents, especially as they get older and older, is something I won't ever get back, and I realized how important it was to start working on it ASAP."
Every Tuesday, the Lau family publishes a new video where they cook through one of their dad's recipes, then sit down together as a family to enjoy the dish and talk about their family memories and what life was like for Lau's parents growing up in China.
Lau recently shared a beloved recipe from his childhood — his father's hot and sour soup — on his YouTube channel, as well as on Reddit, in the popular Old_Recipes subreddit.
"Hot and sour soup has always been a favorite of ours, and I felt like it'd be a recipe that the community would appreciate," said Lau. "Not only does the recipe go back thousands of years in Chinese cuisine, but so many people abroad have their own memories and nostalgia with this soup."
Lau's mom shared her own special memory of the soup in their YouTube video about the recipe.
"Soon after immigrating from China, she was out with her friend during a cold, snowy day in New York," said Lau. "They stopped by a Chinese restaurant, craving something that would warm her up: Hot and sour soup ended up being the first thing she ever ordered at a restaurant in America."
As the cold weather approaches, I was curious about whether the Lau family's hot and sour soup would be a good addition to my winter recipe repertoire, so I gathered the ingredients and decided to make it myself.
The soup calls for four types of mushrooms: Enoki, king oyster, shiitake and dried wood ear mushrooms are chopped into thin slices and combined with other vegetables like tomatoes, carrots and red bell pepper.
I followed Lau's lead and used tofu as my protein, although in his Reddit post, he says chicken or other meats can be used instead.
After cooking the soup in a wok according to Lau's instructions, I added fresh eggs, vinegar and sesame oil to finish. I served the soup garnished with crispy wonton strips and green onion, with egg rolls and a salad on the side.
I was sure I'd like the soup, but mushrooms and eggs are not my favorite foods, so I served myself a small bowl. Surprisingly, I found myself scraping the bottom of the bowl with my spoon and even tipped the bowl up to drink the remaining broth. Needless to say, it exceeded expectations.
My daughter, 10, is a budding food enthusiast and announced that she loved the simple, flavorful broth of the soup combined with the cubes of tofu. My husband went back for another bowl, even dipping his egg rolls in the broth like it was a sauce.
It's safe to say I'll be making the Lau family's soup again this winter. And I'm beyond excited to dig into the leftovers packed away in my fridge.
So, what advice does Lau have for those who want to create his dad's soup?
No. 1: Use any type of mushrooms you have available to you.
"If you have a hard time obtaining some of the mushrooms in the recipe, it's OK," he said. "There's really no right or wrong way to make hot and sour soup."
Lau also emphasized the importance of the white pepper.
"The vast majority of the heat in this recipe comes from the white pepper, and from a small amount at that," he said. "I'd be careful with adding just the right amount to suit your tastes. And make sure to add the white pepper before you thicken the soup with cornstarch so that doesn't clump up."
Lau said it's been fun to see both the Reddit and YouTube communities embrace his family's recipes.
"My parents have become really invested in this project as well, which has been really great to see," he shared. "My dad has actually started experimenting a lot more with his cooking, and my mom reads every single comment that we get on YouTube and social media and tries to incorporate all of the feedback into our next videos."
"This project has really brought us closer as a family … in the short time we've been working on this blog and YouTube channel, I already feel like it's significantly improved our relationship and I'm excited to continue to foster a deeper relationship with my parents."