New Year with the Roosters

A farmer at work in the fields

How many of us have gone on holiday and come back feeling drained, requiring a vacation from our vacation?  Or have felt less healthy than before we left?  If you can often say yes, then maybe it’s time to go on a healthy retreat.

This Chinese New Year, I went on vacation with a tour group called M2adventure Shanghai.  I was looking for a chance to get away from the bright lights, the pollution and the concrete jungle for a few days.  I figured a technology detox, and a WeChat detox, was also in order.  My CNY adventure to a tiny (and I mean tiny) mountain village near Taizhou city in Zhejiang province was just what I needed.

View of a Chinese mountain village

My group of intrepid explorers (!) arrived at the base of a mountain where we disembarked from our comfortable bus.  We then had to climb 2-3 hours to make it to the village as it is not accessible by car.  There was no-one selling anything along the trail and during our ascent we saw no-one but the people in our group.  The mountain air was clean and fresh; I saw more stars than I had ever seen in my whole life.  We spent our days hiking and exploring nature.  We relaxed at night by talking, singing (and dancing!) around a bonfire.

I must of course tell you about the food!  It was fresh, organic and harvested straight from the mountain.  The farm technology consisted of little more than an ox.  Everything tasted better than the food I have had anywhere in China (except for Chongming Island).  The food was light with minimal spices and oils but still big on flavor.  Some of the meals featured a little too much salt for my tastes but otherwise it was very healthy.  We were served around 12 different types of veggies alone at every evening meal!  I attended a dumpling and tofu making class and even watched an 80 year old lady collect root vegetables from the top of a waterfall!  Our Chinese hosts seemed driven to feed all of us constantly, as if we would never eat again.  We stuffed our faces at every meal but the hiking meant that we needed these extra calories.  Our hosts had their own beehives, providing a fresh source of beautiful honey.  The village also had loads of cows, pigs, and tons of chickens.  It was great spending the Chinese New Year of the Rooster surrounded by roosters!

Fresh vegetables in the countryside

All in all it was a great chance to really see China and return to Shanghai refreshed and happy to be back to civilization.  Do you think a trip like this isn’t for you because of kids or because of fitness levels?  Not true! M2adventure, and other Shanghai based tour groups, have trips suitable for bringing the kids along.  They can also cater to different fitness levels.  The trips are also very good value.  They range from around 800 to 1500 RMB for the budget savvy.  Please be warned that luxury accommodations are not part of the package for the tours.  Just to give you an idea, our group had to poop sitting on a log in a “bathroom” with no door, next to a cow!  You are sure to make lots of memories and come home with some interesting stories.

Until the next time, Eat Well Shanghai!  😉  – Jessica W.

Year of the Horse…Yum!

Saddle up folks this week marks the start of Year of the Horse. Those who know me  or have read this blog for a while know that I have passed more than a few Chinese New Years here in Shanghai, actually I am on my second go ’round on the zodiac wheel.

So rather than run down the traditional foods and customs of Chinese New year I thought it would be fun to look at the Year of the Horse from a more “culinary” perspective.

Horse meat or as French butchers prefer to call it “horse beef”, has long been a part of the Chinese menu. In fact China is the world’s largest producer and consumer of horse “beef”*. ( I am sure there is some bad feng shui in here somewhere). Most commonly eaten in the province of Guangxi, where you will find the local specialty, Mǎ ròu mǐfěn (马肉米粉) aka horse meat and rice noodles.

Eating (or not eating) horse meat  became news about one year ago when the British Isles were rocked by a horse meat scandal  when frozen lasagna labeled beef included horse meat. The problem wasn’t the horse meat but the not so truthful labeling of the “beef” in the lasagna.  Actually horse meat is one of the more nutritious meats you could eat.

Horse meat is an excellent source of iron, having double the concentration of beef. From a cardiac standpoint horse meat is the overall winner as it is lower in total fat, higher in monounsaturated fat and omega 3’s ( like 5x higher ounce for ounce). The higher concentration of omega 3’s makes sense as  horses are pastured raised therefore grass-fed  which increases their intake of the plant sources of omega 3’s. As a bonus horses are immune to BSE (bovine spongiform encephalopathy) so no risk of Mad”horse” in this meat.

France and China aren’t the only nations who have a passion for the ponies. Traveling to Indonesia, check out the horse meat satay and while you are in Japan grab a plate of thinly slice horse meat(Bassahi) from the sashimi train. Lest you think horse beef is only an Asian delicacy, next time you order sauerbraten be sure to ask if the roast neighs or moos. That’s right traditional German sauerbraten is made with horse meat. And then there is the rest of Europe from prosciutto de cavallo in Italy (yes ma’m that ham once wore shoes) to horse burgers in Slovenia to the classic entrecote and fried potatoes in France, horse meat has always been a part of the menu.  The United States, the United Kingdom and several South American countries are about the only nations where horse meat stays in the stable.

You probably won’t find  horse at your nián yè fàn 年 夜 饭  this year (fish or Yú is generally favored) but if you do , rest assured that much of the world enjoys it with you!

Xīnnián hǎo    新年好!

Eat Well, Live Well Have Fun!

Best Wishes for a Prosperous and healthy New Year of the Horse!


Enter the Year of the Dragon

thumbnailCAOYW8KNOver the past two weeks you have undoubtedly read and heard about the traditions and symbols of the upcoming Chinese New Year holiday. And if you were paying attention you know that  food and feasts are a huge part of the celebrations.

Over the next 15 days families and friends around China will gather to celebrate the New Year with tables full of symbolic , if not delcious dishes.

If you are lucky to be included in a Chinese New Year’s eve feast, you might start the evening by helping to make jiaozi, the familar pork and vegetable dumplings that are cleverly shaped to resemble ancient Chinese money, something everyone wishes for in the New Year. The meal might also include Tang Yuan soup, a sweet concoction of round and slippery glutinous rice balls stuffed with the magical black sesame paste.  The smooth round shape of the rice balls symbolizes the togetherness of the family for all time. And without a doubt the New Year’s eve meal will end with a  platter of steamed fish,  a  traditional wish for abundance in the coming year to all who partake.

These are just a few of the dishes you are most likely to see on a banquet table set for the New Year. There are plenty more.  Mandarin oranges and kumquats both “abundant” at this time of year, are not only round but their bright colors remind the family of the happiness of being together. If  your host offers you  extra long noodles symbolizing a long life, be flattered, but don’t cut them. The Chinese believe that by cutting them you just might be “cutting  your life short”. This is the time to twirl.

From a nutrition standpoint all these dishes have something good to offer and you won’t go wrong trying each and every one.  Like most holidays, eastern or western,  moderation is the key to survival.  Gong Xi Fa Cai !