When I feel under the weather, I automatically think of ABC soup, the comfort food of many a Malaysian Chinese household.

My parents made ABC soup at least once every two weeks when I was growing up. What’s not to love? It’s one-pot, delicious and nourishing to boot. Each parent had his/her own twist though. Dad loved to boil it with pork rib bones. Mum would add loads of cracked white peppercorns.

There are many more variations. Some people add corn and red dates. (Not for me though. I feel that these ingredients make the soup overly sweet.) I’ve seen others adding lotus root, and so forth. But there are two variations that you may not have heard of.

*****If you prefer the classical version of ABC soup, stop reading now!*****


I learned this tip when I paid a visit to my friend Clare last year. In return for her hospitality, I offered to cook dinner and the menu included ABC soup. As I was about to finish cooking, Clare suggested adding some pickled vegetables, a condiment that she uses to make “ham choy thong” (salty vegetable soup). I was intrigued. How would it change the flavour of the soup? (PS Clare is a phenomenal cook. Am currently persuading her to share her chicken curry recipe right now!)

Turns out that the pickled vegetables add a sour “kick” to the soup, elevating it to almost tom yam like.

I loved it!!!

ABC soup is one of the most versatile soups around; you can add anything you like


This idea was inspired by a dish that isn’t even a soup.

What happened was this: the other day, I saw my dad adding dried cuttlefish (“tiew phin” in Cantonese) to stir-fried asparagus. He first fried the cuttlefish briefly in oil to intensify its smokiness. Then I recalled some other Chinese soups, such as lotus root soup, that also employ this technique. So I thought, why not add it to my ABC soup?

So last week, I secretly added it without telling hubby to see if he’d notice the difference. He did – he commented the soup was sweeter and nicer than usual!

An important caveat – pickled vegetables and dried cuttlefish are strong-tasting ingredients so they may not work for everybody.

But if you like intense-tasting foods, you’ll enjoy the variation.

After all, cooking is meant to be fun and creative. I believe we don’t have to be too rigid with rules, as long as the food turns out delicious. Do let me know in the comments if you have your own special family techniques for ABC soup!

ABC Soup

As simple to prepare as its name implies, ABC soup is delicious and heartwarming, the ultimate comfort food.
Prep Time 10 mins
Cook Time 1 hr 30 mins
Course Soup
Cuisine Malaysian


  • Soup pot, frying pan


  • 5-6 cups water (start with 5, you can gradually add later if necessary)
  • 1 handful dried anchovies (ikan bilis), gutted and beheaded
  • 1 piece dried cuttlefish (Optional)
  • 1 bone-in chicken drumstick and thigh
  • 2 small carrots, cut into wedges
  • 1 medium-sized potato, cut into wedges
  • 1 ripe tomato, cut into wedges
  • 1/2 big yellow onion, sliced into wedges 
  • 2 pickled mustard leaves (or any pickled vegetables) + 1 tbsp of the pickled mustard juice (Optional)
  • Salt to taste and cracked white peppercorns
  • Oil


  • Heat up a bit of oil and fry cuttlefish until it starts to be aromatic. Remove from heat. (See Recipe note 1)
  • Make the stock.
    Start by filling a soup pot with water, anchovies and cuttlefish, and bringing to a boil. Then lower heat to a simmer and boil for 45 minutes until flavours have been fully extracted. Discard anchovies and cuttlefish.
  • Add the rest of the ingredients - chicken, carrots, potato, tomato, onion, pickled mustard leaves and juice.
  • Boil for 30-40 minutes or until vegetables and chicken are soft enough. 
  • Add salt and white peppercorns. Serve!


  1. Alternatively, you can also bake the dried cuttlefish in the oven for a few minutes. Thanks for the handy tip, Olivia!
Keyword healthy cooking

For more heartwarming stews/soups, check out my Korean-style kimchi tofu stew.