Medicinal Cuisine! Part 2 – Chinese Cuisine

Many Asian cuisines have enthralled the taste buds of many food lovers worldwide. But none have had the same reputation and popularity that Chinese Cuisine has. There are over 41,000 stores in the US alone; to put that in perspective that’s three times the number of McDonald’s franchise outlets in the US. And in a poll conducted by Sharwood’s, Chinese food was voted the favourite in the UK beating Indian Curry and British food – which were voted to be second and third respectively. So what makes Chinese food so good?

Well, a simple answer would be that ‘Umami’ flavour which is so unique to Chinese and Japanese cooking. The flavour is caused by a natural substance from the seaweed known as Glutamate, but can be artificially brought about by Monosodium Glutamate (MSG). In the 1960s, when Chinese food was gaining more and more popularity among the western countries, there were many theories on how MSG would affect the health of the consumer. Many customers were associating a wide range of symptoms and illness (which usually are not linked to each other) to have been caused by Chinese food. This was later abbreviated as the Chinese Restaurant Syndrome (CRS). However, years later, this theory was debunked as the international community started to accept that MSG is generally safe for most of the population. Though they are not any health issues related to MSG anymore, it’s an undeniable fact that the flavour MSG gives is what makes Chinese irresistible to us. But does authentic Chinese food need this flavour to be tasty and healthy? Of course not.

Authentic Chinese food is one of healthier cuisines in the food world, not just because of the ingredients but also the method of preparation. The Chinese culture has a special way of serving food that is cut into small bite pieces. The food should also look good in colour and texture to be ‘well prepared’. Chinese cooking involves the use of a wok. A wok allows strong heating of the food and condiments which are used in making the food free of germs and bacteria. Chinese cuisine showcases a wide variety of soups and broths. Some recipes call for ‘double boiling’ a preparation method in which a ceramic jar (Yes! They still use ceramics for this) is submerged inside another pot to slow cook the ingredients. This method ensures there is no loss of moisture or its essence. This method is usually used for cooking expensive ingredients which are of medicinal value. Birds’ Nest Fern is one good example; it’s believed to have healing agents and to be able to boost immunity in kids and adults.

Chinese food also stresses the importance of the right combination of ingredients like herbs and condiments which are served together with the food. Herbs such as Ginger, Ginseng and even garlic- which are integral parts of traditional Chinese medicine- are essential to many Chinese dishes. Ginger has long been used soothe nausea and research shows that they can be used to calm down morning sickness as well. Sesame Seeds are another key ingredient that is filled with minerals such as copper, magnesium and calcium. And Chinese cuisine generally includes all kinds of spinach and other vegetables which supply your body with essential vitamins and minerals.

Although meat is also used in Chinese food, it is used in moderation and hence avoids high levels of animal fat and cholesterol. Even then, only lean meats are used in cooking. Chinese culture is so concerned about fat intake that dairy products are almost non-existent in its food. The fact that it’s served alongside brown rice and noodles (traditionally) proves once again, that Chinese cuisine is one the few fat-free cuisines out there.

One of the most basic and common concepts of a healthy eating habit among the Chinese is the balance between the yin (feminine) and the yang (masculine). The Chinese believe that the root cause of most illnesses and ailments is the failure to maintain this particular balance. The Yin foods comprise all the fruits and vegetables while the yang food consists of types of meat. Their culture believes that this ensures a healthy diet in anyone who wants to have long and full filling life. So next time when you go out for some Chinese food, chew on this: Even when you are chomping down your beef stew, you are getting healthy!

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