Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Chinese women count calories? No way.

A common morning greeting in China is "Ni mai cai qu?" meaning, are you going to buy vegetables? The Chinese character cai means vegetable; it also means dish of food.*  The phrase stems from a typical thousand-year tradition of going to the vegetable and fruit market first thing in the morning.

For those same thousands of years, Chinese women, on average, stayed slim by American standards, but they didn't carry calorie counters or apps and they didn't start meals with the words "I shouldn't be eating this". I used to sit down to meals a lot with a Chinese grad student I shared my house with last year. "You eat less than me" Linfen would say, though clearly my waist was not as slender as hers.

It is true, she'd come to breakfast ravenous, and sit down with her son to steaming bowls of noodles, egg and greens. For lunch and dinner, mother and child got a bowl of rice, and they ate each bite with fresh cooked greens or bok choy, daikon radish, eggplant, meat, and fish. Tantalizing aromas rose from each dish. Neither showed much interest in sweet desserts.

Their "secret"? An entire food philosophy based on nourishment, balance, flavor, and knowing when they were hungry. And finally, not being expected to count calories or eat a certain portion. "You don't eat soup?" Linfen asked me one day about 2 months in. Yes, we do... I make soup sometimes, I replied. "Whenever there is a group meal there is always soup in the center of the table," she tells me. She tries to explain about yin and yang and the importance of warming foods.

(I cooked snow peas, yellow squash, and corn in a bean-paste with a TBSP of canola oil and then 1 TBSP each water + sweet hoisin sauce.)

I try often to re-create the aromas and Asian-style nourishment my friend brought to our kitchen. I'm not counting calories, I'm eyeballing nutrition. I'm balancing. I never knew Zen would make its way into our evening meal. But I'm glad it has.


Here's a good recipe from Yummly. Notice the balance of flavors 
in the little chart. You can leave out the cornstarch... 
it's not supposed to be a thick sauce.

* from whythechinesedontcountcalories

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