It’s a common misconception that Chinese food is fattening and therefore unhealthy. That of course will not come as a surprise if your experience has been limited to deep-fried spring rolls, or a battered sweet-and-sour chicken coated in a thick, sugary sauce. But do Chinese people really subsist on a daily deep-fried diet?
The answer is of course no. There are many different methods of Chinese cooking. Let’s explore a few here.
Firstly, we should begin with Chinese cooking methods. We have a short phrase “煎炒烹炸蒸煮炖” (jian chao peng zha zheng zhu dun), which sums up the seven fundamental Chinese cooking methods: pan-fried, stir-fried, sauteed, deep-fried, steamed, poached and simmered. But these seven methods are themselves only a shortened version of the overall 28 methods that make up traditional Chinese cooking. As you can see, deep-frying is only one way of doing it. And yet, it has rather unfortunately come to dominate the image of Chinese food in the western market.
The Chinese, as we mentioned in our first blog, adhere to Yin and Yang principles and this is as much so in the kitchen and food as in other spheres of life. For want of a better description, it’s all about balance. A good Chinese meal should be balanced with the right combination of protein, vegetables, carbohydrate and some good fat. It’s this fundamental principle that actually puts Chinese cuisine among the most healthy in the world.
First, vegetable dishes are not treated as an afterthought to enable us to reach our ‘five-a-day’ quota. They are as essential to the meal as the meat or fish taking centre stage and it is not unusual to see two or three plates of steaming hot, stir-fried vegetables encircling that gloriously embellished sea bass in a chilli and black bean sauce, a plateful of plump scallops on a glass noodle base, a stunning Xinjiang lamb on a bed of aromatic onions or a vibrantly colourful beef and broccoli in black bean sauce.
Secondly, the Chinese tend to have around 2-3 dishes a meal, which can help in the intake of a diverse range of essential nutrients. At the same time, it also makes eating more fun, as you get to experience many different flavours and textures. That might include a spicy hot soup, or a cold refreshing crispy salad alongside the ubiquitous soft and satisfying rice.
The Chinese also embrace fat as an essential element of any good diet. If a fat is natural, it is by definition good. If it is not, then it is probably best avoided. The classic red braised pork belly dish, slow cooked to its most tender and juicy state not only puts a smile on everyone’s face as they gather expectantly around the table, it is, especially in winter time, a source of some essential, good fat that gives your skin a real glow and keeps the brain sharp. And with that lovely feeling of warmth it gives the body and soul, there’s something kind of hygge about it, even if I say so myself!
There’s an important point here. The Chinese look on food as if it were medicinal. Some of the most vital ingredients in Chinese cooking are ginger, garlic, spring onion and chillies. All of them have been proven to have great health benefits. If you have a cold, Chinese people will tell you to eat some raw garlic or drink some ginger tea. And if you have a sore throat, Chinese people will probably make you some pear dessert soup. Most of the time, when the Chinese have a stomach problem, they will probably eat lots of porridge and soup. However, Chinese porridge is not made of oats but a mix of grains, such as rice, green beans or barley. It also tends to be more ‘soupy’. Needless to say it is delicious! Liquid based foods are of course filling in a way that does not necessarily leave its mark on your waistline either!
Three good meals a day is another essential element of the Chinese diet and they tend to eat until they are full. In other words, the western obsession with clearing everything on the plate does not really register on the Chinese table (not that we in anyway condone excessive waste!).
(By the way, veganism, vegetarianism and gluten free requirements are not yet really in vogue for China. But Kewei’s Kitchen can and already has catered extensively to meet our guests needs.)
Not convinced? Well, how’s this for a litmus test. The Chinese as a rule do not have a health culture in the body beautiful sense that is typical in the western world, yet, despite eating three excellent meals daily, their obesity rates are relatively low. In fact, obesity has only begun to be a problem in China with the advent of fast-food culture.
A Chinese person who eschews that phenomenon tends not to be fat. After all, ask yourself this question. How many obese Chinese people have you seen?