It’s summer in Shanghai. While many people are getting ready for their summer vacations, I’m getting ready for school. Usually, when people my age talk about starting classes, they’re referring to their kids. However, I think you’re never too old to go back, especially when it’s essential for your career advancement. It’s been nearly 8 years since I’ve been in school for nutrition. I try to keep up with current advancements and never stop learning, but it isn’t easy while living in Shanghai. It’s very difficult (if not impossible) to be involved in local Chinese organizations and attend their health conferences when you cannot speak fluent Chinese.
Education is life itself …
After much research, my course choice settled on The University of Western States MS in Human Nutrition and Functional Medicine. It wasn’t easy finding an accredited program I could complete from abroad and it also came on good recommendation from an RD living in Shanghai. I am looking forward to some exciting classes such as Sports Nutrition & Exercise Metabolism, Meal Planning in Health & Illness, Nutritional Epidemiology & Clinical Research and Cardiovascular Disease & Metabolic Imbalances. I swore after my first master’s degree I would never go back to school. Thanks to the efforts of some very gracious teachers I was able to graduate with my MPH. For my own sanity this time around, I will not take more than 1-2 classes at a time. I am not in a race to the finish line and have the option to do it at my own pace. I’m looking forward to writing some blogs based on my new classes.
It’s the year of the pig here in China. I am a pig! I was born in the year of the pig and I certainly share some porcine attributes with my fellow piggies – I love to eat and drink and I can be a bit gluttonous! To get away from it all, I decided to take a break from the big city of Shanghai for the Chinese New Year celebration.
Sunny climates like Thailand, Vietnam or Bali are popular CNY destinations for China expats. While these vacations sound great, I went for a very cost effective and more unusual option – I headed for rural China.
A break in the country
This was my second Chinese New Year in the countryside and it was an amazing experience, rich with relaxation, healthy vegetarian food, exercise and fun. I followed my Ayi to her hometown. I promise she invited me, and that I wasn’t avoiding the responsibility of watching an active 9-month-old baby on my own 😉 Ayi is from a very small farming and industrial town in Anhui province. While driving to her hometown from Wuhu city, I could see nothing but the wide road and stars for miles. I instantly felt relaxed.
I enjoyed gazing at the pearl farms, crab farms, vegetable gardens and hundreds of chickens and ducks that surrounded me. Every evening there were vibrantly coloured fireworks across the horizon.
We spent a day hiking around a beautiful mountain. We spent hours walking through the town’s back-roads and streets. We talked with many villagers who were interested in what brought me to their town. There were old buildings, small temples and people practicing traditional Chinese New Year activities. I always ate dinner and lunch with Ayi’s family and was made to feel very welcome. Chinese hosts often order huge quantities of seafood and meat dishes to impress their guests. However, they ordered a load of vegetable dishes for my benefit. The food was fantastic but my hosts probably never want to see another vegetable in their lives!
I have written this before but it’s worth repeating – it’s amazing what can be done with vegetables and tofu here in China. Back home, vegetables usually meant sautéed in olive oil with some garlic or tomato sauce. Here, the variety is fantastic. I had sweet lotus root stuffed with rice, spicy peppers with marinated tofu and crispy rice with mushrooms in mushroom sauce. I had at least 40 different Chinese vegetable dishes during my trip. Even my baby loved the vegetables! I only took a few pictures of the gorgeous food; mostly because I was too excited about the eating and socializing part and forgot!
Back To Reality in Shanghai
I came back to Shanghai feeling well rested and relaxed, and with a new-found appreciation for the festivities of Chinese New Year and Chinese hospitality. Nearly ready to throw myself back into the fast-paced, over-stimulating, money-burning city of Shanghai! As someone who loves the big city and being busy, I’m always striving to strike a balance. Sometimes I’m successful and other times I get caught up in it all. An occasional retreat to the country can definitely help with getting the balance right. Thanks so much to Ayi & her family for such fantastic hospitality!
One of many great things about living in Shanghai is the availability of cooking classes. I recently attended a plant based Chinese cooking class by Shanghainese American chef Shiyin Wang . He taught some very eager students how to make Sichuan eggplant, Dongbei salad and cauliflower dry pot!
Cauliflower dry pot is one of my favorite Chinese dishes but it isn’t as healthy as it sounds. This dish is usually cooked in pork fat (but you wouldn’t know unless someone told you) and may have bits of pork in it. This rings true for many Chinese dishes. Whether you are vegan / vegetarian, celiac, have allergies or simply want to avoid something detrimental to your heart health, learning to cook your own Chinese food is a great idea.
Cooking At Home
As I’ve written here before, cooking at home gives you complete control over your ingredients and calorie content of meals. Chinese restaurant food may taste fabulous, but the chefs are often making up for a lack of quality ingredients or old vegetables by adding loads of salt, MSG and other mystery ingredients. Having quality ingredients allows you to use less of the “bad stuff” and reduce the oil content without compromising flavor.
Lets Get Cooking!
My favorite ingredient was Chef Shiyin’s chili oil. The oil is flavored with various spices that added a lovely flavor to the cold vegetable and tofu salad. I am looking forward to a class on using Chinese spices and creating your own sauces!
Shiyin’s classes; part hands-on cooking lesson and part dinner party; bring together a community of Shanghai expats who want a tasty and sustainable way to eat healthier. Shiyin teaches Chinese dishes that bring great flavor to whole foods (mostly vegetables) made from natural, quality ingredients. Moderation is key to this way of cooking. While the focus is on healthy veggies, it’s ok to include small indulgences as part of a balanced and happy diet. These classes are not about feeling anxious over weight or size, but rather about being happy about tasty, nourishing, nutritious food.
Classes cater for a maximum of 8 people. Expect to cook and eat three dishes. Ingredients are all from Fields, so they are fresh, local, and safe. Wine pairings are included. Future planned classes will feature vegan Chinese food, healthier dumplings and noodles, cooking with ayis, and more! Add Shiyin on WeChat (ID: swangyin) to join a class.
Ingredients Used in Class
Oils: Chili oil – Shiyin’s homemade chili oil contains canola oil, Sichuan red chili peppers, Sichuan peppercorns, cumin, garlic, ginger, and cinnamon – and that’s it!. Use it to spice up stir fries or dressings.
Light soy sauce: –the everyday variety used for most cooking. It is salty and rich. Be aware that it contains gluten!
Dark soy sauce: – it’s thicker, sweeter, and smokier due to longer aging and the addition of molasses. Use it sparingly for marinades, braising, and sauces. It burns easily due to the sugar content, so don’t overcook it!
Doubanjiang: – also called broad bean paste – it’s a core sauce of Sichuan cooking. It’s salty, spicy, and pungent, and it’s made from fermented fava beans, soybeans, salt, rice, and spices.
Laoganma: – sometimes called Old Godmother, this venerable sauce is famous in China and abroad. It was created by Tao Huabi for her noodle shop in Guizhou, and soon took on a cult following. The fiery sauce, a combination of chili oil and “chili crisp,” is made with Sichuan pepper and a variety of spices.
Plant Protein: Yuba (Fuzhu) – a “tofu skin” made by skimming off the dense, top layer of soymilk during the making of tofu. It provides calcium, protein and a small amount of iron. It is a traditional meat substitute in Chinese Buddhist cuisine. It usually comes dehydrated, and needs to be soaked for two hours before cooking.
Finally time for another blog! I haven’t written anything in around 5 months. I wrote my last blog shortly before the birth of my first child. Having a baby has brought on many new challenges in my life. For example, breastfeeding has been much more challenging and time consuming than I had anticipated. This new chapter, of being a working mom, has redefined what I thought busy meant. While this blog isn’t about babies, I must say that I have a whole new appreciation for moms!
Eat, Drink, and be Healthy
This blog is about a nutrition book called “Eat, Drink, and be Healthy: The Harvard Medical School Guide to Healthy Eating.” I rarely recommend nutrition books because I feel the author often has an ulterior motive. The research and facts can be distorted to gear the reader towards what the author wants them to believe (or to purchase!). For example, poorly done research can be presented as promising evidence to promote a new fad. However, I find this book to be a very refreshing take on healthy diet. It isn’t trying to sell you on any type of diet trend. The advice is practical and based on current research. It dives into detailed information on a range of topics including macro / micro nutrients, glycemic load / glycemic index, grass fed vs. grain fed beef and bottled vs. tap water. I will hopefully write about some of these in future blog posts. It also does a great job in explaining why we hear so much conflicting research in the field of nutrition. While I may not agree 100% with everything in this book, I would still recommend it for those interested in detailed nutrition information. I would also recommend visiting the Harvard School of Public Health’s website (https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/).
Becoming more informed about nutrition information can help with avoiding fad diets and other dietary pitfalls. I try to get that message across in all of my nutrition consultations in Shanghai. The most important thing to remember is that a diet must work for you. There are genetic, environmental, and psychological or social factors that affect us all differently. Choose a diet that has plenty of food choices (diets should not have huge restrictions), is sustainable, healthy for your body, and doesn’t include many expensive foods and supplements. One resounding theme for a healthy diet is to balance healthy proteins with fruits, vegetables (in abundance!), whole grains and healthy fats while reducing sugar and processed foods. I’ve posted a few photos of what I enjoy eating for lunch here in Shanghai (lotus root, amaranth, soy beans etc.), Hopefully, they can show it’s possible to eat well in Shanghai or elsewhere!