Connect with Us: Foodservice RDs & Health Professionals

Happy Chinese New Year

February 3, 2011 welcomes in the Year of the Rabbit which is supposed to bring good luck, a life style to be leisurely as we allow ourselves the luxuries we have always craved. A natural fit for spending time making good food at home, or enjoying long meals with family and friends.

Longevity, fortune and kindness, simple values but symbolic of a culture and cuisine. What are these principles and what do they have to do with food?  These principles go hand in hand with this years Chinese zodiac; the year of the Rabbit.  Chinese tradition and the philosophy of the Chinese zodiac coincide with food as part of a cultural experience; the sign of the rabbit references a philosophical viewpoint that life should be enjoyed and Chinese culture’s viewpoint of food suggests that there should be a strong focus on enjoying the good things in life.

There are two main cultures that influence Chinese food:  Confucianism and Taoism. The philosophy of Confucianism spills over into Chinese cuisine in several ways:  Small bites are necessary for serving portions and proper table etiquette is of utmost importance.  Taoism has also influenced the Chinese view on food in that the underlying philosophy is built upon the fundamental principle of selecting food that has healing powers.  As can be noted by many Asian dishes, color is vivid and eye appealing; this is in sync with Taoism philosophies.

The food style of the Chinese culture is defined not only by the underlying theological philosophies, but by the natural resources that are present and abundant in the near surroundings. Some of the primary ingredients in many Chinese dishes can be classified into certain food groups such as:

“Vegetables:              Mustard Greens, turnip, radish, mushroom and Chinese cabbage.

Legumes:                   Soybean, peanuts and mung bean are some.

Starches:                    Rice, wheat, maize, sweet potato and yam.

Fruits:                        Peach, apricot, apple, pear, crab apple, orange, and litchi.

Meats:                        Pork, dog, beef, mutton, chicken, duck, geese , pheasant and many different types of fish.

Spices:                      Ginger, red pepper, garlic, cinnamon and onion. “

(2005. Chinese Food).

While ingredients may vary, careful preparation is taken in how a dish comes together. Chinese cooking evolves around a philosophy of joining ingredients.  While the assembling and blending of foods is important, the cooking methods are as important as the actual ingredients for an Asian dish.  Certain cooking techniques seal in the flavor; while others seal in juices.  Some techniques such as stir fry tend to allow for vegetables to have a firm texture. Steaming is a technique that can be performed in one of two ways: Steam surrounds the dish to be prepared or the dish is partially submerged to cook.

Many American’s may recognize a Chinese meal by some frequently present at meal; rice, chopsticks and Tea.  Chinese tea is considered to be the national drink of China. Tea is made from the tea leaves of the tea tree.  There are two distinctions in tea: Fermented and non-fermented.  Green Tea, a popular tea, is made from unfermented leaves and is known for its correlation to prevention of certain diseases.  Studies on green tea have indicated that “green tea catechins have been shown to inhibit oxidation, vascular inflammation, atherogenesis, and thrombogenesis�?. (2011. Barcaly.)

Essentially, this indicates a role in prevention of coronary artery disease. Health is a predominant tone for Asian dishes, and a nutritional analysis indicates many Chinese dishes tend to be some of the healthiest entrees that can be consumed. From a cooking methodology, most chefs use very little sodium and poly unsaturated fats.  When a flavor enhancer is deemed necessary, the flavor enhancer chosen tends to be soy sauce. A favorite in cooking, soy sauce also contributes to the diet, in that soy sauce is made of a high amino acid content. When a chef is concerned about the sodium content of a dish, the chef will use  soy sauce in lieu of salt n that one teaspoon of soy sauce is the equivalent of using one tablespoon of salt; with only a fraction of the sodium.

All in all, Chinese cuisine is a harmonious experience that blends color, taste, and shape. To experience the Chinese cuisine, one must be ready to not just consume food but to experience and enjoy the pleasure of eating and socializing. As a final thought, a harmonious experience also allows for Chinese food to provide health benefits and suggests that cooking and eating more Chinese food could be factor in maintaining health and preventing disease.

Sources:

Barclay, Laurie, MD.  (January. 2011) Green, but not Black, Tea May Reduce Risk for Coronary Artery Disease.  Medscape Medical News. January 27, 2011.  Sourced from www.medscape.com/

Celebrating Soy Sauce. (2005) ChinaTown Connection.  Sourced from www.chinatwonconnection.com/chinese_soy_sauce.htm

Chinese New Year of Rabbit Brings Savory Taste. (2011)  The Street. January 24, 2011.  Sourced from
www.thestreet.com

Chinese Food: History, Popularity, Healthy. (2005)  Chinatown Connection.  Sourced from
www.chinatownconnection.com

Ethnic Foods Company sourced from http:/www.ethnicfoodsco.com

Food in Chinese Culture.  (2011) Sourced from www.chinesefooddiy.com

Travel China Guide. Sourced from www.travelchinaguide.com/intro/cuisine_drink/cuisine/