Life in China 2017: A Picture a Day, May 17 – When you see a package of “Almonds” sliced like this in China, they usually aren’t really almonds! They are usually apricot kernels or seeds. The confusion goes way back historically. They look and smell alike, and both are called 杏仁 “xingren.” There are two types of apricot kernels: sweet, which are fine to eat, and bitter, which can be dangerous because they contain Amygdalin (vitamin B17), which can break down into cyanide! I’m honestly not sure which kind are usually sold here, hopefully sweet, but the package does warn that you shouldn’t eat too many and that they aren’t safe for children or pregnant women, so…. Maybe they are the bitter ones? The package also says to rinse them before eating (but I never knew that until now!). The bitter ones are considered a TCM remedy for cancer and dry coughs. They do have an amaretto smell and taste good, or I wouldn’t bother with them! We usually just sprinkle a few in our yogurt or chia pudding, the Chinese put them in soup. The only estimate I’ve seen of how many you can eat, said that about 50 kernels would be a lethal dose for adults, 10 for children. I’m surely no doctor, just writing what I have read that seems to be in agreement from multiple places! www.myownchinesebrocade.com
Life in China 2017: A Picture a Day, March 10 – Another new experience with Traditional Chinese Medicine. It’s probably been about six months now that I’ve been dealing with pain in my right thigh and hip from bursitis. I decided to see (with a friends help) if the pharmacist could recommend any TCM remedies. He suggested two things, one was a normal pill form, which came with a 2 ½ day supply. The other was the interesting one! In the box were six little plastic containers, filled with dough type balls. The containers even had fancy little Chinese looking designs on them! I had to scrape off the wax that held the ball closed, then work to pop it open. Inside was the ball of medicine wrapped in wax paper. The pharmacist said I could just break pieces off and eat them, but that it didn’t taste very good, so he suggested that I break little pieces off and roll them into balls and swallow them like a pill (which I did). I did taste it also, and it wasn’t as bad as I expected, but didn’t taste good either! I did this twice a day, so the box was only a 3 day supply. Both medicines together cost 15rmb or $2.20usd. Now, did they work? Not miraculously! But, the day after I started them, I really over did the walking, and I’m not sure anything could have helped! So, I need to buy more to give them an honest try!
Life in China 2017: A Picture a Day, March 3 – Today we tried Monkey Head mushrooms by recommendation of my Chinese teacher. They can go by a lot of other names, but the Chinese name “hóu tóu gū 猴头菇” literally translates to “monkey head mushroom.” These are usually found in the dried mushroom section of the Chinese supermarket, and sometimes, if you are in China, you can find them fresh. As you can see by the picture, they look kind of “furry.” They are also used in Traditional Chinese Medicine, for many different benefits! My teacher suggested we try them in soup, so we did, but, I must admit, I wasn’t crazy about them! They had an unusual taste to them, somewhat bitter. Because they are dried, you are supposed to reconstitute them. I thought that since they were going to cook in the soup for a couple of hours that I didn’t need to … wrong! I read afterwards that soaking them, even overnight, can remove the bitterness. The texture was interesting, they were like sponges, holding a large amount of the soup broth. If you decide to stir fry them, be sure to squeeze all of the water from soaking out! We’ll try that next time! We looked at recipes and saw that they can be combined with numerous things, and are often used as a meat substitute. We made our soup with black silkie chicken, celtuce, carrots, some dried daylily buds, and the mushrooms.
Life in China 2016: A Picture A Day, December 10 – Longans are another popular fruit in south Asia. They are similar to lychees, which I wrote about back in July, but aren’t nearly as messy, and I think have a sweeter taste. They are called “long yan” in Chinese, which is literally “dragon eye.” You can probably see in the pictures how the translucent white flesh, with the dark seed in the center, can be compared to a dragon eye. The thin outer covering can easily be removed by first squeezing it on the side so it splits open, then peeling it off. When you purchase the fresh fruit, they are often still on the branches because they supposedly stay fresher that way. They can be eaten raw, cooked, often in soups or desserts, and dried. I like to use dried ones in fruit tea. They are also popular in Traditional Chinese Medicine, where they have quite a list of healing properties! www.myownchinesebrocade.com
Life in China 2016: A Picture A Day, December 7 – Living in the USA, I only ever knew gingko as either the tree with the unique fan shaped leaves that turned such a pretty yellow in the fall, or the health supplement known to help with memory problems. Once moving to China, my first introduction to gingko seeds or gingko nuts, in Chinese called “white-fruits” 白果 (bai guo) or “silver apricots” 銀杏 , was as a dessert in a Chiuchow/Teochew cuisine restaurant; it was delicious and I ate way too much! Gingko nuts have hard shells, are yellow or green inside, and are toxic to eat without cooking (because of something called MPN). Even after cooking, you should limit the amount you eat to approximately 8 per day (Nobody told me this the first time I had them! But, luckily, I was fine!). Quite a bit of information says that children should avoid them altogether, or eat about half of the adult amount. If you have a gingko tree near you and decide to harvest your own, be careful because the pulp can irritate your skin. We buy them in the supermarket shelled and vacuum packed, I’m honestly not sure if they are cooked or not, but we always cook ours in some way before eating them, usually in stir-fries. I’m surprised that the package has no information at all about the “safe” way to consume them! They usually have a slightly sweet taste, but sometimes can be slightly bitter, and they are kind of soft and chewy. The Chinese use them mainly in rice porridge, sweet soups and other desserts. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, they are good for the lungs, kidneys, anti-aging, and are considered an aphrodisiac.
Life in China 2016: A Picture A Day, December 4 – This display was set up outside of the supermarket in the town next to us. While this is not regularly there, snakes and turtles are commonly used as both food and Traditional Chinese medicine where we live, they are thought to give longevity and health when consumed. When snake is offered on a restaurant menu, it is often referred to as “dragon.” These people had a large container of snake wine and they were offering free samples, as well as selling bottles of it. Snake wine is made by infusing the whole snake in the wine. On display, there were also horseshoe crabs (which I’ve been told are used in soup), frogs, some kind of insects, and ganoderma (a type of mushroom). I personally missed seeing this, Jim and Leah saw it and took these pictures.
Life in China 2016: A Picture A Day, October 14 – I think I’ve said before that I really like many of the Traditional Chinese Medicine products… it’s basically natural medicine, which I’m all for. (Yes, I do know there are needs for modern Western medicine too!) Anyhow, I unfortunately have trouble with my knees, but for years now I have used these Chinese medicine patches or “plasters.” When I know I need to climb (like when we visited the rice terraces!), using these does wonders! I’ve been having more problems with arthritis in my thumb joints lately, so today I went to see the local pharmacist. I hadn’t realized that I could buy these pain patches in very small size! The pharmacist not only showed me what I needed, he proceeded to put the patches on my thumbs and tape them down good so they would stay! (I was kind of sweaty :-( we had been walking and it is still in the upper 80’s here) What service :-) So, if you have aches or pains, I highly recommend these! There are different types of the “tong” (pain) “gao” (paste/plaster) patches. They come stuck to both sides of a paper, and you have to be careful peeling them off so they don’t stick to themselves (or you won’t get them undone!). If you have really sensitive skin, you might have problems, and they have a pretty strong herbal medicine smell for the first couple hours. My favorite kind for my knees are the green package, the blue package are the little ones on my thumbs, and the big package are for your back. You can buy these online in the USA, but they are about 10 times the cost of in China! If any US friends want to try them, let me know and I can bring some home in November! Here’s an article with a little more info: http://www.theworldofchinese.com/2013/10/time-to-get-patched-up/
Life in China 2016: A Picture A Day, October 10 – Black fungus is a popular ingredient in Asian cooking. It is called “hei mu er” 黑木耳 (literally black wood ear) in Chinese, and is also called wood ear mushroom and cloud ear mushroom. When it grows on mountainous trees, it supposedly resembles an ear. They contain a toxic substance when fresh so are usually dried in the sun and sold, then they must be soaked before cooking. When rehydrating, they should be rinsed until the water is clear. They don’t really have any taste, but absorb the flavor of what you cook them with. They are considered a jelly fungus, and when cooked, although they soften, they keep a nice texture. We like black fungus and have eaten it often in restaurants. We decided to try cooking with it ourselves, saw some fresh and bought it. We didn’t know about it having a poisonous substance when fresh until we got home and looked up how to cook it! We weren’t sure if what we bought was actually fresh or rehydrated, so we soaked it a little and cooked it! We didn’t get sick, but I think we’ll try the dried next time after reading about it!
Black fungus is used for various treatments in TCM; It is very high in iron, nourishes the blood, increases circulation, reduces cholesterol, is good for detoxing digestive system, and is considered good for weight loss.
Life in China 2016: A Picture A Day, September 23 – The persimmon season has started J I like to eat them fresh by either taking off the top and scooping the insides out, or, if they are too soft, just peeling the skin off and putting the insides in a bowl to eat. Last week, we made a puree from the fruit and made persimmon muffins (which were yummy!). We also like to buy them dried as a handy snack when we are out and about. There are numerous kinds of persimmons, and they can be sweet or astringent, so you have to know what you have before biting into it! The ones we get here look almost like tomatoes and are really sweet, but I can’t name which variety they are, in Chinese they were just called “red persimmons.” They are usually so soft when you buy them that you have to be really careful not to squish them when taking them home. I had never had a persimmon before coming to China and I remember when someone first gave me one I had no idea what it was! They supposedly have been used in Traditional Chinese Medicine for thousands of years, for a wide variety of things ranging from curing hiccoughs to hangovers! The dried ones we buy come 2 in a package for 2 rmb or about 30 cents usd, 2 fresh ones were 3.30 rmb or about 50 cents.
Life in China 2016: A Picture A Day, August 5 – 红枣, “Hong zao,” Chinese red dates, or jujube, whatever you call them, they are delicious! This is the season for fresh dates where we live. There are different varieties, some are larger and more rounded, some smaller and oblong. The texture reminds me of an apple, they are crunchy and sweet, not juicy, but not dry either. Year round, dried red dates are popular here for a variety of uses. My picture shows a couple different sizes of whole dried red dates, some that are sliced, and a drink packet where they have been combined with medlar (goji berries) and sugar. I love to just put a big handful of dried dates in a cup, cover it with hot water and let it sit for a while until I have a delicious “tea.” The dried dates are also often used in soups, porridge, dim sum style cakes, and desserts, and they can be bought candied as a snack. They are also popular in Traditional Chinese Medicine as they are packed with nutrition. Maybe the fresh aren’t available worldwide, but good chances you can buy the dried ones!
Life in China 2016: A Picture A Day, July 18 – Black sesame is another food/drink that you don’t see much in the USA but it is common in China. It is often used in desserts as a soup/paste/porridge or drink, or as a filling inside rice balls. For the soup, it is usually mixed with rice, water and sugar. You can buy “instant” powder that you just add water to, or, it’s supposed to be easy to make your own, but we haven’t done that yet! We have found that the powder in the supermarkets also usually have milk and peanuts in them (a no-no for me!). The brand we buy is from Hong Kong and is peanut and dairy free and has less sugar than the others. You can also buy special flavors like red date, walnut, etc. Black sesame is also used in Traditional Chinese medicine as it is high in B vitamins, iron, calcium, magnesium, zinc and vitamin E. It is used for anti-aging, a lactation aid for nursing mothers, and to treat anemia, digestion and constipation, and to reduce blood pressure! I don’t know why, but it tends to keep me awake at night, so I stick to having it in the daytime. I like to add enough water to drink it, but I think it is supposed to be thicker if you have it true Chinese-style. The supermarkets have quite a large section as you can see by the area of black packages in the picture. On one side is oatmeal and the other is walnut milk powder.
Life in China 2016: A Picture A Day, July 15 – Last week, when we were at the supermarket in the next town, we bought this drink to try, but it’s not something we see a lot, it is different from the usual supermarket stock. Leah and I like studying the unusual drinks in the Chinese supermarkets :-)This one is white fungus and bird’s nest. Both ingredients are popular in Traditional Chinese Medicine, however, bird’s nests are extremely expensive, so for the low price we paid for this drink, I doubt there is more than a minute trace, if any, actually in this can! It was listed last in the ingredients. Edible bird’s nests are made by swiftlets and are made from the bird’s saliva! Quoting this from online: “At as much as $4,500 per pound, edible birds' nests are among the most expensive foods on the planet.” There are different varieties, so it runs between about $1,000-5,000 usd per pound. Other information called white fungus “the poor man’s bird’s nest” because it supposedly has many of the same healing properties for a small fraction of the cost. After opening the drink and tasting it today, it was mostly sugar! Basically sugar water with white fungus! You could see the pieces of white fungus in it. It didn’t taste bad, but it was much too sweet for me!
Life in China 2016: A Picture A Day, July 2 – I’ve been having some sinus troubles so went to the pharmacy. We communicated to the pharmacist that I had sinus pain, and the first thing he offered, since you can buy antibiotics without prescriptions, was Amoxicillin. I really didn’t want to go that route quite yet, so asked for some Traditional Chinese Medicine or TCM. I ended up buying some “biyuanshu koufuye,” or “nasal sinusitis relief liquid.” When I buy TCM, I always look the pinyin name up on the internet to make sure I know what I am taking! This product has: magnolia, gardenia, Astragalus, skullcap, lovage root, Bupleurum (a Chinese herb), wild ginger, mint, Clematis vine, Poria (fungus), Angelica, and bellflower. There are 6 small vials in the package, instructions are to drink one vial three times a day. One package cost 18rmb or about $3usd. The picture should tell you how it tastes! YUK!!! I’ve only had 2 doses so far, so can’t say yet if it works either!
Life in China 2016: A Picture A Day, June 20 – Dried Starfish – Although starfish are sold in some places in China as snacks by street food vendors, I can’t find any information about people actually liking them! The supermarket near us does currently have sea stars or “hai xing” in the dried seafood section though, and they seem to be more commonly used to make a broth. I’ve been told by Chinese friends before that seahorses and horseshoe crabs are used in broth also, just for flavoring and nutritional value, but they are not actually eaten. Some examples of broth ingredients are starfish, pork, ginger, honey and a couple of dates. Another kind has carrots, corn, and lily bulb. One website, when translated to English, states “Starfish medicinal value: for acute slow convulsion, tetanus, epilepsy, epigastric pain, acid reflux, diarrhea, stomach ulcers. Has Anticonvulsant sedative effect.” http://www.haodou.com/recipe/791816/ I have not personally made this though. If anyone reading this has, please feel free to comment!
Reflexology foot paths are very common in China. These pictures show the paths that go around the lake we live near. I still haven’t gone all the way around the lake, but, everywhere I’ve been, they have had these paths. There are narrower ones, maybe 1 ½ feet wide, on either side of the main walkway/road, and then these wider ones, probably 2 ½ feet wide, are set back a little from the main road. Many reflexology paths in China are decorative, but these are simple. If you aren’t familiar with reflexology, there are pressure points on the soles of your feet that connect to your body meridians, so as you walk on a path like this, either with soft soled shoes, socks or barefoot, you are basically giving yourself a healthy foot massage :-) The stimulation to your feet is beneficial to different parts of your body! These are becoming more popular worldwide, so, if you see one of these paths, give it a try! It may hurt at first, take it slow if it does!
Leah and I leave in the morning for a trip to the USA…. I have managed to do 132 days straight of “Life in China 2016: A Picture A Day”, but for the next month I won’t be posting regularly. I do have some extra pictures saved up, so I will post once in a while :-) Stay tuned …. Daily pictures will resume in mid June!
Chinese honey has gotten a lot of bad publicity, so I’m pretty careful where I buy my honey from. Larger supermarkets usually have an area where you can choose from numerous types of honey from larger jars. Options at this supermarket were: Chinese Date, Loquat, Acacia, Medlar, Wild Chrysanthemum, Wild Osmanthus, Mountain Coptis and Lemon. There are a few more kinds in the smaller bottles and you can also buy different kinds of bee pollen. Honey has long been a part of traditional Chinese medicine and the different varieties are used for different medical benefits. For example, loquat honey is supposed to be good for the throat, so it is recommended specifically for speakers, singers and smokers. Honey in Chinese is “fengmi” and a bee is a “mifeng” ….and after seven years, I still get them confused!
One of my favorite things in China is getting a foot massage! On Friday nights, Jim and I have a regular foot massage date. :-) Foot massage, called “xi jiao” or literally “foot wash” is much more than it sounds like! The routine at the spa we currently go to is to sit on the footstool, with your feet soaking, while first they massage your neck and shoulders, then back, also working on your spine and stretching you a bit, then you turn and sit back in the chair, still with feet soaking, and they massage your face and scalp from behind the chair, then arms and hands. Finally, it’s time for the feet! One at a time, the foot and calf are massaged while the other usually stays wrapped in a towel. They are well trained in knowing the pressure points all over your body, so they are working them the whole time. Once they finish massaging your feet, they rub liquid soap on your feet and lower legs and then you rinse them in fresh warm water. To finish, your legs are given more of an overall massage, including your upper legs. By this time, I’m usually ready to fall asleep if I haven’t already! I ALWAYS get a wonderful night’s sleep after a foot massage! An 80 minute massage costs 88rmb, about $13.50 usd, and includes some tea and fruit.
Honeysuckle is called Jinyin hua in Chinese. “Jinyin hua” literally translates as “gold silver flower,” because when the flowers first bloom, they are white (silver) then turn yellow (gold). Last week when we went to Walmart, we saw the dried flowers for honeysuckle tea, which is popular in Traditional Chinese Medicine. Then yesterday, we saw these cans and bottles of a honeysuckle drink. Leah said that the Chinese character after honeysuckle means “alcohol” (Hmmm, honeysuckle wine? Not for 3.5rmb a can!) ….but there is no alcohol in it! Another example of how Chinese words can have multiple meanings. It sounded interesting so I got some to try and had it this afternoon. It was too sweet for my liking, but the honeysuckle flavor was nice. The taste reminded me of the Wang lao ji drink I wrote about on January 23, which also has honeysuckle in it. It is best known for fighting bacterial and viral infections, helping reduce inflammation, reducing toxins, and good for use in the summer heat. The flowers, which is what the tea is made from, are considered very safe, but when using the stems and leaves you have to be careful not to use too much. There are supposed to be about 200 species of honeysuckle and three are known for their healing properties. I guess I don’t have to feel so bad when I think of all the honeysuckle I’ve pulled from my flower beds in the past in the USA, it did smell good, but probably wasn’t the right kind for tea :-)
I have a whole assortment of “tea” that I enjoy in China! “Old” ginger tea is considered not just a drink, but a Traditional Chinese Medicine Remedy. “Old,” or mature, ginger, with the light brown skin, is the type you probably see most often in stores. Young ginger is much lighter colored on the outside and doesn’t need peeled. Ginger is recommended for nourishing the blood, improving circulation, improving digestion, reducing nausea (including motion sickness), reducing inflammation, and as a pain reliever.
You can make your own tea at home or, in China (and probably Asian stores elsewhere), buy packets ready mixed with other beneficial ingredients. In the packets, it is generally mixed with black tea and dark brown sugar. The box on the bottom of the picture also has Luohanguo (see Jan 9 pic of day).
Ginger, red dates and brown sugar tea is sold especially for women to drink during their monthly cycle and post partum. The ginger helps with cramping, and the ginger and red dates are both good for blood circulation, and red dates are high in calcium and iron. Goji berries are also often mixed in.
Old ginger increases body temperature, so is especially good if you are cold (winter, poor circulation, etc). Young ginger decreases body temperature, so is good when you are hot (summer, fevers, etc).
Those with high blood pressure, hyperthyroidism, or in menopause, are advised to reduce or avoid use of ginger. It is a blood thinner so doesn’t mix with certain medications. It’s probably best to read up on precautions before using more than a few slices a day!