I just returned from a wonderful week of visiting our son and future daughter-in-law in Hong Kong. We saw amazing sights, checked out all the exciting wedding plans, and ate lots of wonderful food with our new extended family. I was so intrigued with the food; I can home with four new cookbooks, spices and plans to change my eating habits forever.
I spent the last 20 hours (it is a very long trip) reading, "WHY the CHINESE don't count CALORIES". Bottom line .....(even though I am totally jet lagged) I am off to buy a WOK and some leafy greens.
Here is review of the book:
1. Strong cultural and culinary identities. Traditional cuisines pass on the collected food wisdom of a culture from generation to generation, and China is no different. As scientists begin to learn more about nutrition and how nutrients work in tandem with each other, much of what is passed on in Chinese cuisine is backed up by modern nutrition. The Chinese also talk about food as being determinative of a regional identity–like the stereotype of Sichuan people having fiery tempers because of all the spicy food they eat. By way of contrast, in The Omnivore’s Dilemma, Michael Pollan makes the point that because Americans do not have a unifying food culture, Americans tend to be particularly vulnerable to savvy food marketers and diet fads (think Atkins, South Beach diet, etc).
2. Vegetables, vegetables, vegetables! Chinese cuisines tend to make vegetables the star of the show, with meat as a flavoring or compliment. Part of this is because of historical patterns of consumption, until very recently the average Chinese person simply could not afford vast amounts of meat. Contrast this to an American or British diet, which relegates vegetables to limp supporting roles for meat.
3. Balance is key. Clissold invokes the Chinese concepts of yin and yang. A properly balanced meal includes both yin foods (cooling foods) like cucumbers and lettuce and yang foods (heating foods) like spicy foods and meats. If you eat too much of either one, then your body will become unbalanced. The Chinese way of eating family-style with shared plates also allows greater opportunities to balance yin and yang versus a Western-style one-plate meal.
4. Eat with all five flavors in mind. On a related note, the five flavors are bitter, sweet, pungent, salty, and sour. Each of these flavors addresses a specific part of the body. For instance, a bitter food like bitter melon feeds the heart, while a sour food will nourish the liver. Again, balance is important–if you eat too much of one flavor then you are only feeding one part of the body.
5. Eat until you are full, and enjoy your meal. This seems like a no-brainer, but Clissold is specifically addressing the different attitudes that Chinese and Americans and the British have regarding food. While Americans and the British food cultures often incorporate guilt and unhealthy cycles of binging and purging, Chinese people just plain enjoy their food. They talk about food all the time, and a common Chinese greeting is “Have you eaten yet?” Make eating a pleasurable activity, instead of one that induces guilt.