Cultural Exchange Series: Sop Mutiara

Today I’m going to highlight a dish that brings me back to my childhood: sop mutiara. Literally translated as “pearl soup” in English, it is part of the local cuisine of South Borneo, where my grandma was from. I couldn’t find so much historical information behind it, but it’s a specialty dish linked to the Cina Peranakan – the Chinese populations who are born in Indonesia.

I myself am a fourth generation Chinese-Indonesian. My grandmother was born in Kota Baru to a Mainland Chinese father (I don’t know where he was exactly from and neither does my mom) and a Chinese- Filipino mother. She practiced Confusianism and traces of Chinese culture, yet she wore kebaya, a type of traditional Indonesian clothing. My closest link to China was my grandpa, who was born in Jiangmen. Granted, I have no information about the family lineage from my dad’s side.

Even though sop mutiara is traditionally served during Chinese New Year, in our home it’s pretty much a staple, at least as I was growing up. The soup consists of tiny home-made chicken meatballs (the “mutiara”, or “pearls”), sausage, carrot cubes, peas and macaroni, finished with evaporated milk, parsley, spring onion and fried shallot.  Nutmeg is the main spice that gives it character.


I had fond memories of stealing the meatballs from the pot as the soup simmered. My grandma would yell at me for eating the meatball before the soup is ready, yet upon seeing how much I liked it she would give me another one, plus a piece of sausage. When lunch time came she would give me a bowl of soup and put a tiny scoop of rice on it. Even to this day, I always, always eat the veggies first and leave the best part for last.

In tribute to that memory, I’m trying to recreate the dish for my parents and introduce it to Sean. I’ve made it a couple of times in Davis, yet because I was only one eating it, I ended up having soup for like a week straight.

The verdict? It was quite nostalgic for my parents as tonight was the first time they had this soup since my grandma passed away seven years ago. My mom had a second bowl consisting of only the fillings with no soup, just like how she has always liked it. Sean thought it was kind of odd to have rice with macaroni, thus he ended up bailing on the rice but ate three bowls of soup. Overall, it’s a successful attempt to integrate our contrasting palate into one family dinner. I will definitely include this in our weekend menu.

If you’d like to try making it yourself, find the recipe below. This should feed 8 hungry people.

Basic spices:

15 small shallots (equal to two American size shallots)

8 cloves of garlic

1 tbsp vegetable oil

Chicken buillion powder to taste

2 tsp nutmeg

3 tbsp sugar

Meatball ingredients:

400 grams ground chicken

100 grams peeled shrimp

1 tbsp full cream powdered milk (omit this if you have no powdered milk. Add liquid milk will mess up the consistency of your meatball mix!)

1 tbsp butter, softened

3 tbsp sugar

Chicken buillion powder to taste

1 tsp nutmeg

2 egg yolks

1 medium-sized potato, peeled, boiled until soft and mashed

The rest of the soup:

1 can evaporated milk

4 sausages (anything works!), cut into small round pieces

2 carrots, peeled and cut into cubes

½ canned peas

100 grams macaroni

Chopped spring onion

Chopped parsley

Fried shallot.


  1. Throw in shallot and garlic into a food processor and blend into a smooth paste.
  2. Transfer 2/3 of the paste into your soup pot and sautee it with vegetable oil until fragrant.
  3. Fill up the pot with water (about 2 L), throw in chicken buillion, sugar and nutmeg, then bring to boil.
  4. While waiting for the water to boil, into the food processor containing the remaining shallot/garlic paste, throw in all of the meatball ingredients and mix into a smooth paste. I used 1½ tsp chicken buillion.
  5. Form the mixture into tiny meatballs using your hand and a spoon by dropping them one by one into the boiling water. To see how to do this exactly, watch this video from minute 2:39.The light quality is not that good but I think it’s quite clear. The meatball mixture from this recipe will be a little bit wetter than the one in the video. Your meatballs are cooked if they start to float.
  6. Once the meatballs are cooked, throw in carrots, macaroni and sausages into the pot. Cook until the carrots and macaroni are soft. Traditionally, we always cook the macaroni until they are super soft, not al dente. If you’re picky about your macaroni consistency, throw in the carrots first for about 2-3 minutes.
  7. Add condensed milk and bring to boil.
  8. Mix in canned peas, spring onion and parsley.
  9. Serve hot with fried shallot garnish and rice.

I hope you guys like it! When I have the energy, I think I’ll try to make Iranian food and see my parents’ reaction to it.


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