Homemade Chicken Soup – Mom, Hmong Heritage, Minnesota, Home, – by Nancy H. Thao. The North Star Reports: Global Citizenship and Digital Literacy, at NorthStarReports.org and facebook.com/NorthStarReports

Homemade Chicken Soup – Mom, Hmong Heritage, Minnesota, Home, – by Nancy H. Thao. The North Star Reports: Global Citizenship and Digital Literacy, at NorthStarReports.org and facebook.com/NorthStarReports


After staying up in Duluth for three years, there is one homemade dish I will always be craving for at least once throughout the school year and that is chicken soup. I especially love it when there are herbs in my chicken soup! It is the most delicious dish when it is made with fresh chicken and herbs. In the picture, it is the chicken soup I made with my mother’s freshly picked herbs. If my mother had told me to go picked herbs from the garden for the soup, it would have been a tremendous failure on my part.


When my mom was coming up to visit me, I constantly reminded her to bring me chicken and some herbs. She jokingly asked me, “Why? Are you pregnant?”. Why would she ask me this? Well, usually women who have just given birth will go on what is called “the chicken diet” in the Hmong culture. It is when the women will eat only herbal chicken soup with rice for every meal for a whole month. It has been a part of the Hmong cultural tradition for many centuries. I remember how a lot of my cousins were excited to go on this chicken diet when they had their first child, but after a while they could not wait until it was over. Based on what I have seen and heard, traditionally the women did not eat anything else beside the chicken soup. This mean no fruits, vegetables or junk food. The purpose of this chicken diet is to help cleanse the body and to rejuvenate it. At times, the chicken diet doesn’t always work for everyone. When my cousin had her child, she said the chicken diet was giving her heartburn, so instead she replaced the chicken with quail instead. Like the unexpected changes in our lifestyle, so does the traditions we carry on changes with the choices we make. My aunt told me that her sister would have one apple pie per day, but still stick to the herbal chicken diet. It is hard to preserve a tradition without changing it a little to accommodate to our likings.

Nancy serves as an editor for The North Star Reports.

Please contact Professor Liang if you wish to write for The North Star Reports — HLIANG (at) css.edu

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40 responses to “Homemade Chicken Soup – Mom, Hmong Heritage, Minnesota, Home, – by Nancy H. Thao. The North Star Reports: Global Citizenship and Digital Literacy, at NorthStarReports.org and facebook.com/NorthStarReports

    • Paige Perreira

      I found this to be a very interesting part of Hmong culture that I’ve never heard of before! It’s hard to imagine eating the same food, 3 times a day, for 30 days straight. Even if it was my favorite food, I feel like I would get sick of it. The pictures make my mouth water for sure. I’m curious of the origin of this tradition, and if there are similar traditions in other cultures around the world. I can totally relate to a certain food making you miss home, or being a reminder of someplace away from mediocre college cafeteria food. I know for me, my mom’s special chocolate chip cookies are what I tend to crave when I get farther into school. Great writing! I’m really glad I came across this!

    • Maria Nowak

      Nancy, this was a very fun article to read! I appreciate you being able to share your traditions and your stories with us. The pictures of the chicken soup looked absolutely delicious. My mom’s chicken soup is also one of my favorite dishes she makes, and tastes the best that I’ve ever had. I found your story and tradition about the pregnant women from your culture going on the chicken diet to be very interesting! They are brave women, I don’t think I could go through a whole month like that. That is why I really liked your comment about traditions changing to accommodate for our needs. Though we like to do things that remind us of those that came before us, we also like to do things that make us happy. Is this something you think you will do if one day you decide to have children?

    • Nicholas Gangi

      I really liked how you tied the evolution of cultures into something as simple as diet. It really shows just how deep cultures run. And how no matter how much you want to follow tradition you have to change sometimes. Also, this brought me back to my first memories in Minneapolis and hanging out with a Hmong friend and having some delicious soup. Thank you for the great insight into your culture.

  1. Alex Oliver

    I absolutely love chicken soup, it is kind of interesting how cultures have the same idea for soup but different from cultures to cultures. Because most of the chicken soup I have is chicken noodle soup. I am currently doing a workout program where I am cutting out major carbs, this is a good meal when eating healthy and cutting major processed foods. One thing that I didn’t realize is that this meal is used when pregnant.

  2. Sofia Pineda

    I think food is a very big part of someones culture. Food, even the smell of certain spices or herbs, allow you to travel in time and space. When I smell certain dishes I am not in Minnesota with freezing weather outside, I am back home sitting in the dinning table with my family enjoying the warm weather the tropics has to offer. It is very beautiful and interesting when certain dishes are associated with a specific period of a person’s life. Are there any dishes that are commonly eaten to celebrate any life achievements?

  3. The picture you have of the chicken soup looks absolutely amazing, I would be craving that too if I had grown up with it (I kind of am right now :)). I am impressed with your cooking skills! Very interesting to read about the chicken diet Hmong women go on after birth. We have a similar thing in my culture with a food called Genfo (a wheat or barley porridge served with spices and special butter), but I do not believe it lasts for a whole month, I can see how that could be difficult to do. You are right about our traditions and how we shape them according to where we are in life, I am sure this has been going on since the beginning of culture.

  4. Very interesting Nancy! The picture you provided does look quite delicious! I suppose this would prove to be very difficult for someone who is a vegetarian, like myself. I think it is interesting that you bring up ways to modify traditions so that they are not lost and instead are adapted throughout time. Is there any specific reasoning for the chicken diet during pregnancy? Are there any particular benefits?

  5. I appreciate your honesty within your article because it is a difficult transition for some when they move away to college. I know most complain about the food available on campus because nothing can compare to a home cooked meal. I thought it was great that you included some cultural background on your favorite home cooked meal because it allowed me as a reader to learn a little bit more about Hmong culture. One thing I found interesting within your article was the notion that wherever people go they bring with them their culture but modified it to accommodate the new culture and or society they settle into. I find that interesting because it is completely true here in the United States, which is home to a very diverse population, and when people move here they not only bring their culture but it gets Americanized in a way so that it’s accessible to others. I’m not sure if that is a positive or negative thing, but the mix of cultural cuisines and the shared experience of home cooked meals is something that people can really connect with when forming new relationships.

  6. Ellery Bruns

    Tradition. Usually, when I hear that word I always think of Tevye from “Fiddler On The Roof” belting out “TRADITION!” Honestly, traditions make me uneasy because in my extended family’s case it usually means some older male, and sometimes even female, figure has a very opinionated view about which activities women, especially women with children, are allowed to participate in or what careers they should choose. Also, there is a definite hierarchy in some of my families minds that I, along with my parents and some aunts and cousins, disagree with completely. This is not to say that I don’t love all of my family, I do. We just can’t come to a consensus on some issues, which, frankly, will always happen. A consensus among a large-ish group of people is impossible.

    However, I recognize that not all traditions are oppressive; some are truly beautiful and exciting. I don’t know anything about Hmong culture, but I would love to learn more. I loved how you illustrated how a simple bowl of chicken noodle soup is a major part of your culture’s traditions; that is amazing. Thank you for sharing your families traditions, so we all can learn more about the complex world we experience, and on occasion, take for granted. I hope to read more.

  7. McKenna Holman

    Chicken soup is one of my favorite things! I love when my mom makes it for me and whenever I go home for break I always bring some home with me! Its really interesting that chicken soup is so prominent in Hmong culture. It is neat that women who have just gave birth go on this diet to cleanse their bodies, however I feel that a whole month of eating the same thing would be very difficult! How would it work for someone who was vegan or vegetarian?
    The idea of traditions and how they can change to fit currently life changes, etc. is really interesting and I think that it happens in many cultures with many different traditions. Times change and sometimes a tradition will not work for everyone in your family all the time.

  8. Nancy, I resonated with the entirety of your report and for obvious reasons. My bi-cultural upbringing always felt normal until I moved to Duluth for college. And in some odd way, I was forced to choose which culture I would identify with on a public to private spectrum. I stopped eating traditional Hmong food because I was criticized by my peers on campus and I dreaded going to the school cafeteria when Chinese food was featured because I didn’t want to fulfill the stereotype of being “too” Asian. Food is a huge part of any given culture, maybe for its association with the moments we choose to spend alone or with others. I find it easier to connect with another human being over food because we inevitably share a part of who we are with them. I’m glad you used this forum to explain the significance of eating chicken soup for pregnant women. It brought me back to the first time I learned this at nine after my mom gave birth to my youngest brother. Thank you for sharing this Nancy!!!

  9. This is a fascinating tradition. The familial and generational influences can be very strong, especially in this case when it falls during a critical time of nurturing and growing a new life and family member. That being said, it is always interesting to see how tradition is molded and shaped to suit the next generation. It has led me to wonder- at what point is something still a tradition? If the custom has changed to substitute the chicken for quail and to add apple pie, is it still the same tradition? Or is it the beginning of a new tradition?

  10. Breena Alfredson

    I was immediately reminded of the “traditional foods” that I crave from my family. That tradition for Hmong women is so interesting. I can not imagine that it would be an easy task, only eating chicken for a month. Transforming old traditions so that they are more suited for the present is such a delicate balance I imagine, as the heart of the tradition still needs to be preserved.

  11. Andrew Bailey

    Nancy, so great to hear about a dish that is held dear to both you and your family. I find it fascinating to learn about different cultural traditions and foods. I have talked to you briefly about your cultural heritage, but I never knew that women in the Hmong culture go on certain diet while they are pregnant. When I started reading your article, I immediately thought about this past summer. I was home a lone because my family went out East to visit family in New England, and I was in the Midwest working in a warehouse. My mother made a couple tubs of chicken stew for me and she put it in the freezer for me as I was cooking most of my own food. Although my family was over 23 hours by car, I felt like they were right there with me when I would get home from work late at night and heat myself up a bowl. It may sound cheesy, but to eat something prepared by my mother made me feel connected when I was by myself.

  12. Diana Mena

    Nancy, I understand you more than you can even imagine. I also have the same struggle living up here in Duluth. In my culture we have a soup that is called soapao which is soup with basically everything- chicken, vegetables, rice you name it. This soup is very famous for Dominicans and it is actually my favorite. I always crave it and it has been extremely difficult being in Duluth and having the sources to make it. Just like your mom joke that you are pregnant my mom as well jokes that I’m getting married. She says this because in our culture this dish is the dish that women make to their spouse when they are going to get married. Thank you for sharing about your experience, great post!

  13. Hannah Schaaf

    Hey Nancy, nice post! I really enjoyed the information you shared about your mother’s chicken soup, and the tradition behind it. I never would have known about it, without reading this. I liked what you said about keeping traditions alive, but changing them a little to meet the needs of our lives today. I think that it’s better to change traditions a little bit in order to keep them alive, than to not do it at all. I know that there’s certainly foods that my mom or I make from my home that I miss, and I’m excited to go back and eat them! Have a happy holiday!

  14. Thomas Landgren

    Thank you for sharing Nancy. The soup looks delicious and right now with how cold it is in Duluth I could really use something like this. That’s so interesting that pregnant women would go on a chicken diet for a month to help cleanse their body. Do you remember the story behind why it started? Or did it just start? I agree with the idea you brought up about how traditions are always being tweaked nowadays. Great article!

  15. Christopher Killian

    Looks delicious! I find the story behind the chicken soup interesting and how women will only eat the soup and rice for every meal for a whole month after giving birth. Do you think “the chicken diet” actually works? I find that any traditional meal holds a purpose in any family and has a story behind it that everyone can enjoy. One traditional snack my family makes during the holiday season is homemade pumpkin pie from a recipe my family has had for a long time.

  16. Rachel Reicher

    Thank you for sharing this story, Nancy! There are so many new foods in this generation that we may loose sight of what foods come from our heritage. It is great that even though your soup dates back through your heritage, you continue to have such a desire for it over the food of our generation. I wish I could have a strong connection through my heritage through food. Also, I love chicken soup and would love to try some of your wonderful homemade dish!

  17. Madeleine Scanlan

    Whether you’re a domestic or international student in college, nothing beats home cooked meals and the cultural traditions that you miss. Food, cooking and eating habits play a central role in every culture. It is interesting to think about how important food is on special occasions. Significant life events such as pregnancy and childbirth are generally characterized by numerous cultural or religious beliefs and practices regarding food and health, so this would perhaps explain the significance of eating chicken soup for pregnant women.

  18. Whether you’re a domestic or international student in college, nothing beats home cooked meals and the cultural traditions that you miss. Food, cooking and eating habits play a central role in every culture. It is interesting to think about how important food is on special occasions. Significant life events such as pregnancy and childbirth are generally characterized by numerous cultural or religious beliefs and practices regarding food and health, so this would perhaps explain the significance of eating chicken soup for pregnant women.

  19. Michaela Campbell

    Of all the things that are great to learn about within a different culture than the one we are used to, I always find traditions involving food to be one of the most exciting things to learn about. There is always a certain type of food that seems to be the best when a close relative prepares it. You mentioned that your mother’s herbs are a key aspect to the chicken soup you enjoy so much, and I think that having the tradition/style of chicken soup is something so unique. I am not very familiar with Hmong culture, so I love to hear about how/why other cultures do the things they do! Going on a chicken soup only diet would seem relatively easy after having your first child, but I am sure that after the first week or two it becomes almost unbearable to eat the same thing over and over! I wonder what other spins/twists women have put on this in the past? I hope to hear more history and cultural trends from you!

  20. Emily Buugni

    My family always has Ritz crackers with cream cheese and olives. It is a tradition that is pursued every Thanksgiving and Christmas. It was brought about by my grandma and after she passed, we did a new take on her “olive crackers.” Along with her olives we would add jalapenos and we would change the plain cream cheese to onion and chive cream cheese. It is incredible how something that we are used to can be changed into something better with time. Maybe these examples of food can be applied to our lives; even if something has been going well for years, it may be time to switch it up and to test new waters.

  21. Francesca Do

    Nancy, I totally understand where you are coming from. I have also missed a lot of my mother’s Vietnamese traditional meals since I have moved up here to attend college. Traditional food can have a huge impact on a culture, especially the lifestyle of the culture. I have an acquired taste, for once I have tasted my mom’s home cooked meals, no one in the world can out do my mom’s masterpiece. It is so interesting to learn that a chicken meal can help purify the body. The chicken meal looks really delicious and I hope to try it one day!

  22. Kalahan Larson

    The meaning behind this article was quite interesting to me and not at all what I was expecting after the introduction of it. I have never heard of the chicken soup diet before and I find it extremely interesting that that is the food that people would want post partpartum women eating. Although yes there are many nutrients in chicken and with herbs, but I am curious as to why this diet is used? The main idea of the article is adapting, changing, and adjusting things to your personal preference, even if that means straying from what you originally are told to do. Sometimes in life, you are not going to be able to get by if you only follow the rules- the rules do not always apply to everyone in the same way. This also applies to our culture and how we may interpret it- yes there are some things that we want to keep and that we want to carry out, but things within cultures are always changing and we need to learn to adapt and be okay with the changes.

  23. Nouqouja Yang

    I knew everything that was talked about and their meanings because I am also Hmong; but there was this urge that drawn me to read your heart warming entry anyways. Thank you for such a comforting and nice blog. I think that it is so important to keep a part of your culture with you where ever you go. Surely, coming to Duluth will make it a little hard because the diversity here isn’t as big. I think it is so interesting how cultural foods and traditions can explain so many things about their people. It some how makes me smile because to me, it shows how human we are in a sort of heartwarming, caring way. Again, thank you for reminding me of home.

  24. Isabella Restrepo-Toro

    I know the feeling of missing food that you eat at home. After living in Duluth for 2.5 years I still don’t feel like the food here is as delicious and as appealing as Colombian food is to me. I crave the food so badly that after a while of not being home, once I am there, I eat as much as my body will allow it, and do it from the second I get there until I have to leave, and even then if I get the chance I do bring some food with me to the states for those days when I just miss home and need something to remind me of it. Some people don’t realize how important their daily food can be, and how much they love it until they no longer have it around, and although I do not eat ALL traditional dishes while I am home, I do eat dishes that I wouldn’t found anywhere else regarding flavor, fresh ingredients and the love people put into it. But going to back to this soup, I love the fact that it involves your own culture and that it is part of tradition not only as just a meal, but also as a cleansing process after pregnancy. The fresh garden herbs and the fact that they are part of the family garden just shows how much love, passion and how important this chicken soup is to a family, in the sense that it is part of their home.

  25. Molly McCusker

    This sounds like a tasty cultural tradition! I did not know about the Hmong culture before reading this, but it was so interesting to learn about the chicken soup… and it made me hungry for food! However, I don’t know if I would be able to only eat the soup for a whole month. I can imagine how they would not want to eat anymore after the month is over. Just like I look forward to my mom’s homemade casseroles when I come home for break, I’m sure this is such a comfort and cultural reminder, to be able to have some small things, like food, clothing, music, etc., that help remind you of your cultural roots and traditions.

  26. Sheila Iteghete

    Reading this post reminded me a lot of about pepper soup in my culture, which can be enjoyed so much like yours meaning the time after pregnancy. As you I also love eating this soup even though I am nowhere pregnant. I do believe that in my culture though it is also used to rejuvenate the body, but it can contain seafood, fish and everything you can think of if you want it. Also, it is not something that you eat all the time, it is just something that is cooked as a gift for the new mother by family members, friends, but most especially by her mother. I do know that it must be very spicy so I do try to make this, I would tend to make the easiest version of the soup and not use all the required herbs. Thank you so much for sharing.

  27. Megan Bingham

    I feel that every family has a special meal that reminds them of home or will never be cooked just as good as it is at home. This was an interesting meal choice in my opinion. I love chicken, but soup is something I typically only eat when I am sick. This is something unique to only my family. Each family has different traditions based off of their own family history and what they have known to be common. This ties to class discussion about how our culture and our location has a large influence on our traditions.

  28. Kendra Brunn

    Nancy, what an interesting post! I love that this food reminds you of your home and of your culture. My family is Norwegian, and the one food that always reminds me of home is lefse. I love it but I would not be able to eat just that. I also enjoyed that you included some background information on the soup. I feel that learning about the background of certain traditions makes them even more special. Thanks for sharing!

  29. Amanda Greene

    My mom makes chicken noodle soup every year during the holidays. she takes the leftover chicken and cooks it for a broth. The picture shown with full chicken legs is an interesting take to the chicken soup that I am used to. I could really relate to the women who are sick of eating chicken for meals all the time. While I was on a trip in Guatemala, the people there would feed us chicken everyday because they considered chicken a special meal. By the end of the trip we were grateful, but very bored of eating all the time. I couldn’t imagine it being my only diet for 9 months.

  30. Der Yang

    Hi Nancy,
    I am astounded to have read your article as I, among few is also Hmong. I understand exactly what you are sharing and definitely agree! Being a freshmen, I often crave my mother’s dishes such as the one you shared above. However, I have not gotten the chance to prepare my own herbal chicken soup here at CSS. Also, the diversity here in Duluth is very low. Therefore, I do not have much resources to shop for authentic Asian products and food. My family’s first grandchild is now one year old. Which means that my sister also had to go on the chicken diet. Her experience was described as, “refreshing but repeating.” I can understand why she that because there is nothing else that you can eat or drink except water, the broth, chicken and rice. All in all, thank you for sharing and retrieving this yummy dish into my mind!

  31. Ryan Sauve

    I am very interested in hearing when this tradition started. Looking at many new diet trends of “cleansing” and other dieting trends, it is neat to see a culture embracing this as a means of rejuvenation after a pregnancy. I feel as if I would have to agree with many of the women who cannot wait to get the cleanse over with because it would be tough for me to eat the same soup for a whole month. I assume that it also has other benefits with chicken soup being the nation’s choice of a food when sick. I wonder what types of diets that other cultures may go on after some type of life event such as giving birth! Great article!

  32. Will Richardson II

    Thank you for sharing a piece of your culture with us. I enjoy when these articles are written from a perspective of something known naturally and not learned or experienced of another culture. I think it is very interesting the chicken diet, it does indeed sound like a good way to cleanse the body. In my own culture I do not know of a specific diet that women consume following pregnancy, however it will be something that I will look into, and maybe someday if I have children I can follow the same diet as the mother of our children.

  33. Diana Deuel

    Hello Nancy,
    I loved reading this story. I also crave my fathers chicken soup at least once a year. There is something very comforting about a parents home cooking! I do not visit home very often but when I do I request that my dad makes a big batch of this pheasant or chicken noodle soup. I think it is really interesting that women go on a chicken diet while they are pregnant. I feel like that would be very difficult to manage long with pregnancy cravings!
    Thank you for writing this your mothers soup looks delicious!

  34. Angela Pecarina

    Thanks Nancy! I found your story very relatable. There are certain dishes I certainly miss from home too. In college it is not as fun as making your own food than knowing your parents can make it so much better! That was a big transition I noticed in college and now whenever I go home or go to a family members house, I love home cooked meals so much more. Thank you for sharing!

  35. Jane Kariuki

    Nancy, such a nice article that covers a lot of things for me. Traditional meals and how one can attach it to one particular person. For my culture, we often eat Ugali (cornmeal cooked with water) and some sort of greens. Growing up my parents would make this, but mostly my mom. After sometime I become acquired to the taste of my dad’s ugali and my mom’s greens and I would only eat it if my dad makes the ugali and my mom makes the greens. another thing that caught my attention is the substitution for the traditional meals. this concept is more common these days due to how we share information and how our world is changing. For instance, the spread of vegetarianism, this concept has become global affecting communities that have been reliable on meat for generations. On another note, I wonder is it only your mom that makes the chicken soup? or can this meal be prepared by any individuals of the family?

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