New Year Of The Pig

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!

Vegetables variety

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

Shanghai Not Sleeping.

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!

Until the next time,

EWS! – Jessica W.

Take a Healthy Bite!

March is Nutrition Month and dietitians around the world will be promoting ” Take a Healthy Bite Out of Life”. While I think the slogan is a bit ( or is that a bite…) too long , the thought does promote the Eat Well Shanghai philosophy.  We are all about enjoying tasty, healthy food.

The last few years during Nutrition month I have used a theme of my own to get across the importance of eating well for good health, both physical and mental. This year is no different but rather than pick on a few super foods, I want to take this month to talk about method. Just what is the best way to get those delicious meals on to the plate and into our families mouths?

This first week we are going to highlight having a healthy pantry. You can’t offer good food if you don’t have it in the cupboard. Most of the complaints I get about trying to eat healthy is lack of time.  I get that. No one wants to come home at 6 pm and still have to run out to the shop for dinner ingredients. The solution is to have the ingredients right there in the cupboard.

Take this week to survey what your household staples are.  Some of you might always have swiss chard and brown rice on hand and others might open the fridge to find a jar of mustard and some juice. Most of us , I would guess are somewhere in-between.  But this is the week we change all that. Once you see what you have, then you need to list what you want.  If you would like to switch to more whole grains then that goes on the shopping list. Most grains, flour, rice and quinoa will be fine if left in the cupboard of freezer. They should be sealed tightly in either place.

How often do you have fruit? Apples, pears and oranges will stay fresh on the table longer than strawberries. Along those lines check out what fruits and veggies are in season and add those to the weekly list. You can’t eat them if you don’t have them. Buy veggies in smaller quantities to avoid spoilage and leave yourself a reminder on your phone that those yummy greens are in the refrigerator drawer.

Besides grain/fruits and veggies, legumes ( dried beans/peas) are super good foods that we should all get more of.  The most well known of legumes are your chick peas ( think hummus), kidney beans ( think chili), lentils and cannellini beans ( think pasta fazul).   If time is an issue, and for most of us that is the case, then using canned beans is an option. Also you can soak  dry beans when you do have time and put them in the freezer for later use.

Last but not least consider your protein options: Do you usually have eggs on hand?  Eggs are great protein packages, low in fat and high in protein, iron and essential fatty acids like DHA ( great for your brain!). Eggs can be a quick wholesome supper as well as a morning meal. Tofu is also a low cost protein source that can keep for 3-5 days past the “Best By” date, if unopened. If opened, tofu is good for another 3-5 days.  You can freeze tofu for 3-5 months.  Meats should be frozen if not used within 3 days of purchase. Once the meat is cooked use them up in the next 3-4 days . Leftovers are a great low cost and healthy lunch option.

What to eliminate for a healthy pantry? The short answer is anything in a box. This month I will provide easy ways to replace some of the common foods we usually buy ready made, including spaghetti sauce, salad dressings and pancakes.

Eat Well, Live Well, Have Fun!

If  you are looking for more ideas on how to be well in Shanghai, consider attending the only Wellness Summit in Shanghai. Join Sprout Lifestyle for a one-day health experience featuring keynote speakers, interactive wellness workshops including yoga, meditation, nutrition and improving personal well-being, and health bazaar!

The one-day themed event, “Your journey to health”, will be held on March  28th. For more information contact:


Chinese Takeaways

I don’t know about you, but I am a huge fan of spicy food and Sichuan food has become a bit of a staple in my diet since moving to Shanghai. Top of my list are “mapo doufu” (麻婆豆腐), “dry fried green beans”(四季豆) and “kungpao chicken” (宫保鸡丁). Sichuan food has a characteristic numbing spiciness, created using Sichuan peppercorns; in this cold weather, nothing seems more appetizing than a spicy meal to warm you up.

Over lunch a few days ago, whilst ladling another generous helping of mapo doufu into my bowl, I started to think about how healthy or unhealthy these dishes were.

Mapo Doufu:
Indicated by its name, mapo doufu’s main component is tofu, cooked in a spicy bean-based sauce with perhaps some mincemeat. For humour’s sake, I feel I should tell you that the literal translation of this dish is “Pockmarked Grandma’s Tofu”; you may therefore see it written as this on menus.

My concern was the amount of oil being used to make this dish – but my fears have been averted. The recipes I looked at, including speaking to a friend who recently attended a Sichuan cookery course, show a relatively small amount of oil needed to make mapo doufu. The addition of a fatty meat such as mincemeat, however, does significantly increase the fat content of this dish. Nevertheless, tofu, which is the basis of the dish, is a very low fat source of protein as well as being a good source of calcium.

Dry Fried Green Beans:
You could easily be misled into thinking from its name that this is a very low fat option, unfortunately this doesn’t seem to be the case. This dish is created using haricot, verts or Chinese long beans and is a vegetable dish very far from being bland. Garlic, chilli paste, ginger, peppercorns and salt all go into the making of this dish to create a flavoursome concoction. It may also include dried shrimp meat or pork. The dry fried beans are stir fried with oil; they require constant moving in the work to prevent them from becoming stuck. The amount of oil added to this recipe does seem to vary; but unfortunately, to prevent the beans from sticking, a significant amount appears to be used.  All vegetables are naturally low in fat, however this dish seems to have turned something very healthy, full of vitamins and minerals into a high fat side dish.

KungPao Chicken:
This dish is typically made with chicken, peanuts, vegetables and Sichuan chilli peppers. Although many variations of this dish can be found in different regional Chinese cuisine, it originates from Sichuan. Being one of the most popular chicken dishes in Chinese cuisine, there are many variations, including some westernized versions.

Chicken, the primary ingredient, is a low fat source of protein and the peanuts provide a healthy source of ‘monounsaturated’ fats known to improve your cholesterol levels as well as providing protein, fibre and  B vitamins. Most Chinese meals receive criticism for adding salt and sugar. Despite this, there appears to be only relatively small amounts of salt and sugar added to a dish for four people – 2 teaspoons of sugar and 1teaspoon of soy sauce. Of course, eating out is always going to allow for variations in recipes and these may possibly be less healthy. Whilst these recipes suggested only a small amount of salt and sugar, mass catering could see large quantities added.

Consequently, it seems as though there is something we could all learn from traditional Chinese cooking: the creation of flavour using ginger, onions, garlic and those spicy Sichuan peppercorns demonstrates that there are other ways of providing taste aside from fat, sugar and salt.

Sophie Thomas, Dietitian