Home Cooking in Shanghai – TCM Style

I had the pleasure of meeting Shanghai based Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) food therapist Anna Na during the recent annual Shanghai vegan challenge.  While I am not a practitioner of TCM principals of eating, I agree that the TCM plant based style of eating is very healthy.  Anna has expert knowledge of local ingredients and how to prepare them.  From memory alone, she can name every type of produce available at a Chinese market along with price, seasonal availability and pesticide usage.  Quite a feat when you consider the variety in the local wet market.  I wish I could do the same! Luckily, Anna provides cooking classes in Shanghai!

Cooking With Anna Na
Home Cooking in Shanghai

I recently received a one-on-one cooking class from Anna. She brought to my house a plethora of interesting ingredients including; purslane, spring bamboo, yam, black mushroom and broad beans.  I have seen these ingredients in Chinese restaurants but trying to prepare them at home has been a huge challenge. Restaurants in China often use lots of additives (including MSG) to create an intense flavor that is difficult to replicate. When cooking at home, I don’t want to use mystery ingredients or chemical additives. I was blown away by the food that Anna created. It was way better than restaurant food, with no chemicals used.

Delicious Tofu
TCM Tips When Cooking

How did Anna do this in my kitchen? She used some flavorful – and healthy – spices.  These included black sesame paste, soybean powder, salt with dried bamboo, soy sauce, red rice wine, chili paste, black vinegar and Chinese miso. Anna purchased all these ingredients from the local Chinese farmer’s market.  She taught me that the best vinegar is from Shaanxi province and not to buy Shanghai soy sauce or vinegar because the Shanghainese often add sugar to it! Shanghai people are famous for their love of sweet flavors and will even add sugar to their stir fried bell peppers.  Anna added miso to our potato and bean dish –something I would never have thought of; it provided a very intense and delicious flavor.

Another “trick” she uses to ensure her dishes are flavorful is to be mindful of vegetable combinations.  She uses the different flavors of vegetables (sweet, sour and bitter) to complement each other.  One of the most interesting ingredients to me was the purslane. It’s a deep green succulent with yellow flower buds that looks like an inedible weed. However, it’s indeed edible and has a bitter peppery flavor similar to arugula. Anna explained that this vegetable is extremely healthy (as many deep green vegetables are) but is unpopular & therefore good value in Shanghai due to its bitter flavor.

Broad-beans & Vegetables
Get Cooking!

We made five giant dishes that cost very little. It took me three days to eat what we made! For those of us wanting to eat a healthy and cost effective plant based diet in Shanghai, learning to use local ingredients and cooking methods is invaluable. Even if you can afford weekly Kate & Kimi or Epermarket deliveries, it seems a real shame to come to China and not learn any of the local food culture.  If you are concerned about pesticides, get a weekly veggie box from Goma Greens (RMB 159 weekly for a box of local veggies) and get creative in the kitchen. Good luck!

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

Down On The Farm

Goats enjoying themselves down on the farm.
Goats enjoying themselves down on the farm.

Food safety and the authenticity of food products are an ongoing concern in China.  Therefore, it is important to be a knowledgeable and empowered consumer. This applies to people across the globe but is particularly relevant to China.  Avoiding fresh produce or eating only at McDonald’s is not the answer.  Buying imported food items is an option but can be expensive and environmentally unfriendly.  One way of checking the quality of the food here is to go to the source!  I had the opportunity to visit a farm on the outskirts of Shanghai to see local food producers in action.

Rosa Grange Farm is a small farm on Chongming Island that abides by organic farming practices in cooperation with other farmers on the island.  Rosa grows a variety of vegetables, fruits, nuts and rice.  She has up to 1000 ducks, 500 chickens, 30 geese and a few goats and pigs too!  Rosa began her farming business six years ago after leaving her job as an IT college professor.  Rosa explained, “I wanted my son and others to eat good safe food.  I was unsure where to get it so I decided to grow my own.”  Her birds happily run or swim freely around the farm eating the bugs off the crops.  I noticed a plethora of all kinds of insects and birds.  Rosa showed me the damage some of the bugs had done to her rice.  It was nearly harvest time and the rice was too dense for the ducks to run through and eat the bugs.  Rosa stated, “I don’t stop the insects.  I believe they belong here and must be here.  There will still be enough crops to harvest.”  The variety of weeds growing on the farm is another indication of the pesticide-free farming that Rosa practices.  She tames the weeds simply by cutting them down.  The pigs on the farm are fed scraps of produce such as gourds and melons.  Rosa grows several varieties of whole grain rice.  I highly recommend this article on the health benefits of brown rice over white.

Rosa from Rosa Grange Farm
Rosa from Rosa Grange Farm

Not all farms on Chongming Island use organic methods.  Persistent organic pollutants and cross contamination are a concern here and indeed worldwide.  However, enterprises  like Rosa Grange Farm provide environmentally friendly and safe local produce that I would happily eat every day in Shanghai.  At the end of my tour, Rosa prepared a beautiful meal using her own produce that included a variety of vegetables, rice, and whole blended melon fruit; a healthy and simple homemade meal that could never be purchased on Sherpa!

Ducks taking a swim.
Ducks taking a swim.

Rosa sells her produce online (in Chinese language only) and also through some companies that cater to the expat community.  For example, I bumped into Christina from Goma Greens shortly after my farm visit.  They provide boxes of fresh fruits and vegetables to consumers in Shanghai.  They source local produce that either is organically grown or meets EU pesticide safety levels.  They are committed to paying farmers a fair price and donate 10% of their earnings towards community projects that inspire organic farming.  Goma Greens will source some of their produce from Rosa Grange Farm.

Until the next time… – Eat Well Shanghai! –

Jessica W.

Farmer Jessica ready for a hard day's work.
Farmer Jessica ready for a hard day’s work.