This summer when I visited China, I ate something that seemed like taro root but not exactly. I had it boiled in a hot pot and stir fried with soy sauce. I couldn’t figure out what it was at the time, and I learned later they are Chinese yams, also known as cinnamon vine. It is not at all related to the orange-colored yams Americans eat at Thanksgiving. The Chinese yam is often used in Chinese herbal medicine, translated as mountain medicine. My mother tried to feed it to me, boiled with goji berries and a whole chicken, after I gave birth to my third child,. They come as a long, hairy, light or dark brown tuber and the flesh after peeled is white. It’s a healthy alternative to the potato in any soup.
We ate shan yao in pork bone soup this week when my Chengdu friends came for a visit. It’s very easy to make. Peel the Chinese yam and slice it into thick pieces. Bring pork bones and several slices of peeled ginger in water to a boil. Simmer for about 30 minutes. Add Chinese yams and cook until they are soft, and the soup has a rich flavor. Add salt and Chinese pepper as desired.