Turtle Soup — A Flashback

Here is an interesting repost from a year ago when I first started blogging. I’m pulling it from the archives of my old blog site to give it a bit of fresh air here. There will be a few of these in the next coming weeks. They will feature personal essays with poetry to give you a bit more of a colorful look into my life.

Turtle Soup (Personal Essay & Poem)

Originally posted on 4 April 2021

A couple of weeks ago, I was with my family in a small town in Jiangsu province, China having a meal full of their local dishes. My father-in-law, Baba, is originally from this area and you could just see the joyful anticipation in his eyes as the dishes were ordered. The most special dish was a huge soup pot full of fish, frog, and various less identifiable things. In the center of the dish was a single, whole turtle. To Baba’s dismay the soup was a steamy deep red. Apparently we had accidentally ordered a ‘modern’ variation on the traditional dish and it was spicy hot.  In the past Baba loved some spice, but as he’s aged he can’t handle the heat anymore. His disappointment was palpable and we quickly made the decision to order another one “traditional style” for him. He will normally complain about spending money like that, but he said nothing this time and just waited for the dish to arrive. When it came it looked identical to the first, with the single whole turtle sitting in the middle, but the broth was a creamy white.  

The dilemma we now faced was what to do with the first, spicy turtle.  In my heart, I knew what to do. It had been years since I originally tried turtle. When I first got married, I was told that turtle was ‘good for men’s health’ and my parents-in-law kept serving it up to me with hopeful smiles thinking about sparking off our very own household baby boom. In those days I always listened either out of respect or resignation and I’d eat what was put in front of me. Including the turtle. It wasn’t long before my first daughter was conceived. I learned a lesson to never disregard the power of traditional Chinese beliefs. The turtles disappeared from the menu for a few years, until they wanted a grandson. My son is now 19 years old and we put our foot down about having any more, so its been a couple decades since I’d had turtle. But here it was and I was in the mood (to be a good son-in-law), so I took it for the rest of the family and slid the whole turtle onto my plate and got to work. Baba’s eyed glowed with happiness and we ate our turtles side-by-side quietly.  It was our moment. 

Anyway, when today’s theme came up to write about food, turtle soup popped into my mind. Hope you enjoy.

#NaPoWriMo2021 No. 4/30

Turtle Soup

It sat there in the pot, seemingly staring at me

His anatomy was complete and looked healthy despite the boiling bath

I imagine him walking into the pot for a warm soak before bed

Perhaps he nodded off and just awoke, surprised to see me

He’s probably never seen someone like me, pale white and pasty

Or perhaps it was just an illusion; maybe he was looking past me

Out the window and wanting to be free.

Of course, none of this was true

The reality was he was boiled through and through

Neck extended, curving up suggestively

Signaling it’s fertility enhancing potency

Beneath the shell, little legs poked out

Dotted with tiny white toe-nails

Greenish-brown skin wrinkled

Glistening in the spicy broth.

I’m not one to get too explicit

When it comes to things like this

I’d skipped bio class on dissection day

To avoid such things

So let’s just say I did my best

Leaving only a small pile of bones on my plate

Not overthinking what I’d ate.

The answer to your first question is yes

It tastes like chicken to me

But a chicken that has been swimming at sea

A bit fishy and, in this case, hot and spicy.

The answer to your second question

Will remain with me

I don’t kiss and tell 

I’d appreciate some privacy, please.

But I can share that many years ago

When I’d just married

It was turtle soup that the in-laws served me

And their wish came true momentarily

In the form of a beautiful bouncing baby.

Be well,



  1. gigglingfattie says:

    What a lovely memory of you and your family!! Thanks for sharing it Monty!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Kathleen says:

    I remember when JC was served a turtle in Pudong….

    Liked by 1 person

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