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Pea Egg-Drop Macaroni Soup Recipe

Hetty Lui McKinnon’s love for macaroni soup runs deep. It’s an evocative dish, a reminder of her mother’s devotion to cooking hearty breakfasts every morning and the quick lunches they would share when it was just the two of them at home. This version was inspired by her mother’s recipe, but McKinnon’s version includes egg drop, which not only thickens the broth, but also adds a richer finish. She recommends topping it with her Umami Crisp, which you can find in her book, Tenderheart. 

Excerpt from Tenderheart © 2023 by Hetty Lui McKinnon: 

My mother started every day with intention and purpose. By the time I rose to get ready for school, she had already been awake for several hours, organizing her kitchen for the day ahead. Dried shiitake mushrooms rehydrating in a bowl of water, a bunch of greens soaking in the sink, meat defrosting in a colander, steam rising from several pots.

A typical breakfast in our house was anything but ordinary. Often there were several options, each customized to the whims and preferences of her three children. Cantonese fried eggs, cooked in hot oil in the wok and known for their crispy burnished edges, were made three ways: firm yolks for my older sister, medium yolks for my older brother, and soft yolks for me. Some mornings, she made fried rice or vermicelli noodle soup. Other days, she dished up my favorite, macaroni soup, the quintessential breakfast of my childhood.

My mother’s macaroni soup is equal parts broth and macaroni pasta, dotted with pieces of diced ham or Spam, shiitake mushrooms and either frozen mixed vegetables or peas. On indulgent days, the broth was made with leftover chicken bones, but, mostly, she used chicken bouillon cubes, one of the treasured ingredients in my mother’s immigrant pantry.

For the children of immigrants who grow up in the West, often there is no frame of reference for the foods and customs from our ancestral homelands. I had no idea that tripe in black bean sauce and pig’s intestines soup were not typical dinner fare in Australia, nor did I realize that sausages were not usually eaten with soy sauce and white pepper, or that a hot savory breakfast was not how my school friends started their days. During childhood, my only knowledge of pasta was from my mother’s macaroni soup. For the longest time, I thought small pasta shapes were a Chinese ingredient, just like noodles or rice. My exposure to European food was virtually nonexistent.

For most of my life, I believed that my mother’s macaroni soup was unique to her, one that she created just for us kids. But I was very wrong. I discovered my misapprehension by happenstance, during a 2018 work trip to Hong Kong. One morning, as I walked past McDonald’s, I glanced up at the breakfast menu, and my eyes bulged at the words macaroni pasta soup, served optionally with breakfast sausage and egg. My mind went into overdrive. How is McDonald’s serving my mother’s macaroni soup?

Later, and still in mild shock and confusion, I ventured into a local café near my hotel in Wong Chuk Hang, where there were several macaroni soups on the menu—some served in chicken broth with ham, corn and peas, same as my mother’s, and some versions with a tomato broth with scrambled eggs on top. As I explored Hong Kong, a city my mother lived in for several years while she waited for her path to Australia to become possible, I found macaroni soup on menus everywhere—most notably, they appeared to be a specialty of the ubiquitous cha chaan tengs, the low-budget diner-style eateries where Chinese and Western influences seamlessly fuse.

Things started to click for me. I called my mother and grilled her about it. Like many things, she thought my questioning was odd and brushed it off as if it was common knowledge that macaroni soup is a Hong Kong classic.

It turns out that my mother’s macaroni soup was not her creation, but the outcome of her brief but seminal time in Hong Kong as a young adult. The dish is quintessentially Hong Kong, offering hints of the West, with a nod to the East.

In the years since, macaroni soup has become a dish of connection for me, a shared experience with fellow Cantonese children who grew up with parents from or who lived in Hong Kong. A friend described her mother’s mood-dependent “casual” and “gourmet” versions, the former with plain chicken stock and a side of leftovers from the fridge, and the latter topped with a sunny-side-up egg and two thick slices of pan-fried Spam.

Like many of the dishes I grew up with, the dish feels almost too sacred to share in a cookbook, because it is a humble dish that, without the nostalgia and memories attached, may be interpreted as too plain or simple. However, over the past decade, I have learned that sharing the food of my culture, no matter how complicated at times, creates pathways for understanding and conversation. For me, that is the power of food and writing recipes, to create a discourse around our personal histories that are simultaneously unique and analogous. Writing my mother’s macaroni soup recipe and memorializing it in my book Tenderheart, is my way of preserving not only Cantonese and Hong Kong culture, but also, most importantly, my family’s history.

Today, I also have many versions of macaroni soup which I make for my three children. But my favorite is this version with frozen peas, which are sweet and plump and create a gorgeous green backdrop for the floating pasta. Though it’s called macaroni soup, this dish can be made with any small pasta shape. Small shells are a great option because the broth and peas creep inside the shell cavity and then explode in our mouths. Adding an egg-drop is not traditional to macaroni soup, but I do so in my recipe because it adds a luxurious silkiness to the soup base, thickening it up and delivering a richer finish.

The Cantonese name for macaroni soup is tung sum fun, which translates to “through heart noodles” and while the name has no clear bearing to the actual dish, to me, my mother’s macaroni soup represents home and heart, offering a bridge to her past, emblematic of her passage through time and place, and a symbol of her reinvention, renewal and acceptance.

Active Time: 20 mins | Total Time: 30 mins | Servings: 4


2 cups elbow macaroni or other small pasta

4 teaspoons toasted sesame oil

1 1-inch piece ginger, peeled and finely chopped

2 cloves garlic, finely chopped

6 ⅓ cups low-sodium vegetable stock or broth

4 large eggs

1 ½ teaspoons sea salt, divided

Pinch of ground white pepper plus 1/4 teaspoon, divided

2 ¼ cups peas, thawed if frozen

2 scallions, finely chopped

Toasted white sesame seeds, Maggi seasoning sauce and chili oil for garnish (optional)


  1. Bring a large saucepan of water to a boil over high heat. Add macaroni (or other pasta) and cook according to package directions. Drain and rinse with cold water.
  2. Heat the saucepan over medium heat. Add sesame oil, ginger and garlic; cook, stirring, until fragrant 30 to 60 seconds. Add stock (or broth), increase heat to medium-high and bring to a boil.
  3. Meanwhile, break eggs into a spouted measuring cup or a bowl with a spout. Season with 1/2 teaspoon salt and a pinch of white pepper. Whisk well.
  4. Once the stock is boiling, season with the remaining 1 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon white pepper. Add the pasta and peas and increase the heat to high. When the soup comes to a boil again, very slowly trickle the beaten egg into the soup (no need to stir). Cook until the egg is set, 30 to 60 seconds.
  5. Ladle the soup into bowls and top with scallions. Garnish with sesame seeds, Maggi and chili oil, if desired.

Nutrition Facts (per serving):

399 Calories

11g Fat

57g Carbs

18g Protein

By Hetty Lui McKinnon / EatingWell

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