Our beauty practises aren’t really a secret if you spend enough time with us, however, if you don’t, here they are according to ethnicity:
While Westerners take the view that beauty is to be improved on from the outside, Chinese nourish the inside to improve on the outside. We believe that good health is imperative to ensuring youthfulness, and good health can only maintained or promoted through proper nutrition. Westerners’ idea of nutrition involves measuring proteins, carbohydrates, fibre, trace minerals in foods. Ours is about procuring the health benefits inherent in foods, observing the balance of heat, cold, moisture, wind and dryness in the body. None of this makes sense to the Western mind, but makes plenty of sense to us.
We eat according to the seasons, not because of the lack or availability of ingredients, but because doing so confers health benefits. For instance, Aussies love their BBQ lamb chops in summer. Most Chinese who follow a traditional diet, will contend that lamb should only be eaten in winter because it is a “heaty food”, in that it warms your body. Barbequing it will only add to its heatiness. Too much heat in the body will cause pimples, rashes and a host of other skin ailments; not to mention cause your nose to bleed.
Accordingly, we wait until winter to consume lamb chops, mutton stews, snake curries etc…the basic rule of thumb is that the more gamey a meat is, the more heaty it will be. Cooling foods counteract heatiness, but can also only be consumed in moderation. They include melons, most green vegetables, most root vegetables. That’s why in summer we boil things like winter melon soup, and in winter, body-warming tonics like ginseng.
We increase our intake of lard during the cold seasons to warm the body, and have more steamed foods and boiled soups in summer. In fact, many Cantonese consume soup at least once a day. Anita Yuen, a famous Hong Kong actress of the 90s, credits soup as being the reason why she doesn’t need to wear foundation unlike most actresses. Soup is to the Cantonese diet what kimchi is to the Korean, or Sauerkraut is to Bavarians. If I were to follow the recipe book given to me by my mother on soups, I’d be able to go half a year without seeing the same soup twice. That’s how many we have.
Westerners look at our broths and see meat-flavoured water. In our minds, that’s pure nourishment there. We divide them into quick boil (30 minutes or less, less nourishing) and long boil (minimum cooking time of 2.5 hours, the longer the better, premium stuff). I once met this woman who swam from mainland China to Hong Kong to join her husband. Her complain wasn’t about the guards at her back or the treacherous waters she had to cross, it was that, to quote her, “There wasn’t even a mouthful of soup to drink.”
Indeed, our broths are gold to us. Our mothers often tell us, “Even you don’t want to eat anything else, at least drink your soup. There’s 4 hours in there.”
We invite special guests in for a bowl of soup. Our women seduce men with soup. In addition to soups for the hot and cold seasons, we have soups to increase fertility, special soups for during pregnancy, more special soups for post-pregnancy, plus a myriad of watery gems for 101 bodily complaints. Hokkiens like His Royal Highness, and Hakkas like my father, consume soup less frequently, but even they have a special soup for the Chinese New Year.
So as to get you started on your soup journey, here are a couple of easy ones to try:
- To increase moisture in skin boil 1 cup pre-soaked Soy beans + I kg pork bones + 10 rice-bowls of water + 15 red dates + 1 TBSP goji berry (yes, this is how we consume it, not with chocolate by the handfuls) + half teaspoon of salt.
- To increase milk supply boil 1 cut pawpaw + 1 kg pork bones + 10 rice-bowls of water + 6 honey dates (can use red dates if you don’t have any), 1 TBSP goji berry + 2 TBSP bitter almonds (optional) + half teaspoon of salt.
- To decrease heatiness boil 1 cut up winter melon + 1 kg pork bones + 10 rice bowls of water + 15 red dates + half teaspoon of salt.
- To warm the body boil 1 small free-range chicken + 10 rice bowls of water + 5 or 6 thin slices of Korean ginseng + half teaspoon of salt.
Put the lot on high, then allow to simmer for at least 2.5 hours once it comes to the boil. To reduce the stench of meat, which most Chinese can’t stand, and to remove scum from your soup altogether, you parboil the bones first then you add it to a clean pot of water, along with the other ingredients. Alternatively, you can add in 1 or 2 very thin slices of old ginger. I prefer to parboil the bones because the resulting soups are much clearer. You can substitute the pork bones with chicken bones, although it will produce a different flavour. If making a fish soup, I will add ginger to remove the smell of fish. For my non-Chinese readers, I’ve especially added the video below to give you an idea of what it is you’re attempting to make.
To know what Indians, Malays and Indonesians do to stay youthful and vibrant, join me on my next post.