Sharing Food: Qaib rau tshuaj (Hmong chicken in herbs)

Sharing Food, a series by A&E, seeks to connect students and their own cultural cuisines, letting no meal go unshared.

Mayflower Vang, a Hmong student, prepares a traditional Hmong chicken dish in her sister’s house on Saturday, Oct. 16. The boiled chicken dish is served with a variety of fresh Hmong herbs.

Nina Raemont

This week’s Sharing Food recipe comes to us from the Hmong Minnesota Student Association (HMSA).

Qaib rau tshuaj (kai-tau-chua) is a chicken and herb dish that, in HMSA member Mayflower Vang’s own words, is “homey, nutritional and earthy.”

In Hmong culture, after a woman gives birth, she is supposed to go on a chicken diet where she eats only chicken for a whole month, Vang explained. The herbs in this dish are seen as beneficial to the woman’s body during this time.

“These herbs are meant to nurse the woman’s health back to normal,” Vang said.

Like many picky children growing up, Vang remembered not liking the dish when she was younger. But as she got older and became more accustomed to the strong scent and taste of the medicinal herbs, she came to love it.

Hmong culture is an integral part of Minnesota, with more than 66,000 Hmong people residing in the state today. In fact, the Twin Cities is home to the largest concentration of Hmong people in America, according to the Minnesota Historical Society.

Qaib rau tshuaj is simultaneously earthy and umami while also refreshing. This hot chicken and broth will warm up even the coldest of October days.

Ingredients:

  • 13 cups water
  • 1 whole chicken, chopped into pieces or pre-cut
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon MSG or 1 teaspoon chicken bouillon

A few medicinal herbs to throw into the broth:

  • Pawj qaib (grassy-leaved sweet flag)
  • Tauj dub (lemon grass)
  • Zej ntshua ntuag (type of Joe-pye weed)
  • Nroj rog liab (Okinawa spinach)
  • Nkaj liab (Iresine)
  • Ntiv (type of Joe-pye weed)
  • Black pepper

Instructions:

Put 13 cups of water into a large pot and boil. If you have a whole chicken, chop the chicken into pieces by cutting the legs off diagonally, then splitting the carcass in half, slicing the breasts off afterward. Chop the wings off. Put chicken into the pot.
Add salt and MSG or chicken bouillon.
Once the chicken boils, impurities from the meat will float to the top of the pot. Skim those off with a spoon and discard. Continue boiling the chicken for another 10 minutes.
After 10 minutes, drop in the pawj qaib, tauj dub, zej ntshua ntuag, nroj rog liab, nkaj liab, and ntiv. Cook these herbs for around eight minutes or until aromatic.
Sprinkle black pepper on top of the dish to serve. Eat the chicken with the broth like a soup or drizzle the broth on top of rice.