From My Wok to Yours - Taking the Mystery Out of Everyday Dining and Meals!!

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Chinese Fitness Foods

Michelle, one of my lifelong friends, is the owner of TeaMe Fitness and works as the fitness trainer with a goal of creating a fit body, healthy mind and lifestyle by using proven training methods.  The results have been remarkable for many of the people willing to subject themselves to the rigors of a good hard work out.
One of the primary reasons why I wanted to mention Michelle’s work is because she bases much of her training on the foundations of proper nutrition.  One could work out for HOURS but if their post work out meal is a Big Mac and Large Fries (especially the extra large Diet Coke) then they are not doing themselves much good.
I often surprise a lot of people by suggesting that Chinese food is a healthy option for a family. Some people will write Chinese food off as fatty and full of MSG (Mono Sodium Glutamate). Saturated fats and excess salts are considered bad for the heart and so it follows that Chinese food is unhealthy, right?

Wrong. Many Chinese dishes, corrupted to become popular to western palates, are breaded, fried, over-sauced and thus fit this bill. (I have written about this often…) Authentic Chinese food is not fatty, and MSG, if used at all, is used sparingly. In fact Chinese food has a long history of being directed towards promoting health; a much longer one than any local 'fad' in the west.

Food plays a central role in Chinese culture. Cooking healthy food for the family is a lifelong profession for most women. Children are brought up with some knowledge of the health properties of their food and dietary restrictions are commonly understood and observed. Eating healthily is almost an obsession and forms an unspoken bond between family members.

Traditionally, foods are classified in 4 groups:

Grains are for sustaining

vegetables for filling

fruits for supporting

meats for enhancing

Using modern terminology we can identify Grains as equivalent to carbohydrates, vegetables as roughage, fruits as vitamins and minerals and meats as protein.

A balance of 40:40:10:10 is considered ideal, with perhaps some variation in the balance between vegetables and meats.

Note that dairy products do not feature here. Most Chinese do not eat any dairy foods after childhood and, in fact, become intolerant to them as young adults.

Bearing just this little bit of knowledge in mind it is possible to order better and more healthy Chinese food. By definition that will also be more authentic Chinese food.

Steamed rice, preferably brown, is the staple of choice at any Chinese meal and if cooked properly should be tasty. Forget the various forms of fried rice and try it next time.

Avoid dishes in which meats have been coated and deep fried. The batter soaks up fat whereas fat used to stir fry meat and vegetables forms only a thin film. A little bit of fat is fine (and indeed necessary) but keep it reasonable.

Avoid dishes with sauces. These are laden with sugar and are often the culprits if excess MSG is being used.

Finally, watch what you are drinking. Boiled water and tea are traditional, though usually only before and after a meal not during the actual eating.
I look forward to collaborating with Michelle on some of her healthy eating efforts.
Take a look at the nutritional information provided for some of the more popular dishes.  It will definitely make you think twice before ordering everything off the menu.
Until then, Eat Well, Friends…

Appetizers & Soups


Egg Roll (1)
Calories: 200 Sat Fat: 2 grams Sodium: 400 mg
Spring Roll (1)
Calories: 100 Sat Fat: 1 gram Sodium: 300 mg
A thinner wrapper and smaller size give spring rolls fewer calories than egg rolls.
BBQ Spare Ribs (4)
Calories: 600 Sat Fat: 14 grams Sodium: 900 mg
An order is equal to two pork chops. Some appetizer.
Vegetable Dumplings (6 steamed)
Calories: 400 Sat Fat: 3 grams Sodium: 1,100 mg
Pork Dumplings (6 steamed)
Calories: 500 Sat Fat: 6 grams Sodium: 900 mg
Add just 10 calories per dumpling if you get them pan-fried. (All bets are off for calories in the deep-fried wonton appetizer.) Dipping sauce means even more sodium.
Egg Drop Soup
Calories: 100 Sat Fat: 0 grams Sodium: 900 mg
Hot & Sour Soup
Calories: 100 Sat Fat: 1 gram Sodium: 1,100 mg
Wonton Soup
Calories: 100 Sat Fat: 1 gram Sodium: 800 mg
Soups are bad for your blood pressure (but not your waistline). Think of every ½ cup of fried noodles as a small (150-calorie) bag of potato chips.
Stir-Fried Greens
Calories: 900 Sat Fat: 11 grams Sodium: 2,200 mg
Yikes! Spinach and other greens are packed with vitamins, but (thanks to the added oil and salt) your waist and blood pressure pay a price for them.
Eggplant in Garlic Sauce
Calories: 1,000 Sat Fat: 13 grams Sodium: 2,000 mg
Eggplant isn’t a vitamin-rich superstar, but it is a vegetable. It also really soaks up the oil, which boosts the calories and saturated fat.
Tofu & Mixed Vegetables (Homestyle Tofu)
Calories: 900 Sat Fat: 9 grams Sodium: 2,200 mg
Blame the deep-fried tofu (bean curd). Ask them to stir-fry it instead.
Szechuan String Beans
Calories: 600 Sat Fat: 6 grams Sodium: 2,700 mg
String beans in chili-pepper-garlic sauce don't sop up as much oil as spinach or eggplant, but the sodium is still ridiculous.
Stir-Fried Mixed Vegetables (Buddha's Delight)
Calories: 500 Sat Fat: 2 grams Sodium: 2,200 mg
A veggie lode. Mix it with a vegetable-poor dish to create two (or three) healthier meals.
Ma Po (Hunan) Tofu
Calories: 600 Sat Fat: 4 grams Sodium: 2,300 mg
A pound of soft tofu (bean curd) with scallions isn’t too bad if—like the samples we analyzed— it comes without the pork that some restaurants add.
Meat & Seafood
Chicken with Black Bean Sauce
Calories: 700 Sat Fat: 5 grams Sodium: 3,800 mg
Expect ½ to ¾ pound of sliced stir-fried chicken with chunks of green pepper and onion. If only it weren’t so high in sodium.
General Tso's Chicken
Calories: 1,300 Sat Fat: 11 grams Sodium: 3,200 mg
The name may sound exotic, but it’s essentially fried chicken with a smattering of vegetables.
Lemon Chicken
Calories: 1,400 Sat Fat: 13 grams Sodium: 700 mg
It’s like eating three McDonald’s McChicken sandwiches plus a 32-oz. Coke. The culprit? The deep-fried breading.
Kung Pao Chicken
Calories: 1,400 Sat Fat: 13 grams Sodium: 2,600 mg
The calories may be high (thanks to nuts). But at least you’re getting stir-fried (not battered and deep-fried) chicken and veggies.
Moo Goo Gai Pan
Calories: 600 Sat Fat: 4 grams Sodium: 1,800 mg
Stir-fried vegetables and chicken keep the calories and saturated fat (but not the sodium) relatively low.
Chicken Chow Mein (with crispy noodles)
Calories: 700 Sat Fat: 10 grams Sodium: 2,500 mg
Chow Mein varies. Our numbers are for vegetables and chicken served with rice (not soft noodles). Add 120 calories if you eat the thin, crispy fried noodles that come on the side.
Mu Shu Pork (without the pancakes)
Calories: 1,000 Sat Fat: 13 grams Sodium: 2,600 mg
Two-thirds of the dish is veggies. Add roughly 90 calories for each 8-inch pancake or 60 calories for each 6-inch pancake. Mu Shu Chicken cuts about 200 calories and 5 grams of sat fat.
Orange (Crispy) Beef
Calories: 1,500
Sat Fat:
11 grams Sodium: 3,100 mg
Orange (or Crispy) Beef has roughly ¾ pound of flour-coated, deep-fried meat that isn’t outweighed by the garnish of vegetables. Shrimp or chicken might trim the sat fat, but you’ll still be downing more than 1,000 calories and two days’ sodium.
Beef with Broccoli
Calories: 900 Sat Fat: 9 grams Sodium: 3,200 mg
Although more than half the dish is broccoli, the ½ pound of beef still packs half a day’s worth of saturated fat.
Sweet & Sour Pork
Calories: 1,300 Sat Fat: 13 grams Sodium: 800 mg
More sugar means less salt. Sweet & Sour Chicken may be slightly lower in calories and saturated fat. But either way, you’re eating more oil-soaked breading than meat.
Shrimp with Garlic Sauce
Calories: 700 Sat Fat: 4 grams Sodium: 3,000 mg
Shrimp stir-fried with veggies. The calories and saturated fat—but not the sodium—stay on the lowish side.
Shrimp with Lobster Sauce
Calories: 400 Sat Fat: 3 grams Sodium: 2,300 mg
Shrimp in wine sauce with a sprinkling of mushrooms, egg, and scallions isn’t quite as good as shrimp with snap peas, broccoli, or other veggies. But at least it won’t pad your midsection like battered, deep-fried dishes will.
Szechuan Shrimp
Calories: 700 Sat Fat: 2 grams Sodium: 2,500 mg
Shrimp stir-fried with vegetables in chili pepper-garlic sauce. It’s likely to be almost half vegetables, so the calories (though not the sodium) stay under control. If it’s breaded and deep-fried or contains nuts, the calories climb.


Rice & Noodles


Chicken Chow Foon
Calories: 1,200 Sat Fat: 7 grams Sodium: 3,400 mg
Like the thinner lo mein noodles, these soft, wide, rice noodles are a blow to your belly and blood pressure, and the veggies are still largely AWOL.
Combination (House) Fried Rice
Calories: 1,500 Sat Fat: 10 grams Sodium: 2,700 mg
Why blow three-quarters of a day’s calories on 4 or 5 cups of salted white rice, oil, and meat sprinkled with vegetable bits?
A single version (vegetable, shrimp, chicken, beef, or pork) still has at least 1,000 calories.
Combination (House) Lo Mein
Calories: 1,100 Sat Fat: 7 grams Sodium: 3,500 mg
Beef, chicken, pork, shrimp, vegetables, and oily noodles. Budget fewer calories for the solo chicken, shrimp, or vegetable version, but it’s still a load of greasy refined carbs.
Combination (House) Chow Mein (with soft noodles)
Calories: 1,200 Sat Fat: 9 grams Sodium: 3,600 mg
This version of chow mein features soft egg noodles stir-fried with beef, pork, chicken, shrimp, and a smattering of vegetables. It looks like lo mein on the plate...and on your hips and arteries. You can lose a few hundred calories by switching to a single version (chicken, shrimp, or vegetable).

Daily Limits (for a 2,000-calorie diet): Saturated Fat: 20 grams. Sodium: 1,500 milligrams.


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Monday, August 27, 2012

"NOT" Chinese Food

I was at a gathering recently where many vendors were offering the attendees samples of the cuisine offered at their restaurants.   One of the restaurants featured was offering a sampling of their Pad Thai, a flavorful noodle dish.  While eating my sample, I overheard another attendee saying that it was some of the most flavorful Chinese food she had tasted recently.  I about choked on my food from the shock of having heard that statement.  Such a statement is indicative of not just the local ignorance of Asian cuisines, but the wide array of Asian foods that “Chinese Restaurants” now offer.
Chinese food presents a fascinating phenomenon. It is perhaps the most widely eaten definable ethnic cooking in the United States, with the exception perhaps, of pizza. As extensively as it is eaten, it is written about in newspapers, magazines and books, and presented on television. It is discussed to such a degree that most people believe they know just about all there is to know about Chinese food.
Those who write about it and others who present it, generally do so with confidence and often with arrogance and ignorance. They allow us, their audience, to believe that they, too, know just about all that there is to know about this great historic kitchen. Actually, they do not. Very few of those who profess such knowledge really know very much. Worse, perhaps, is that in most cases they proceed with ignorance. They do not take the time or the effort, and they seem not to care or learn about Chinese food and cooking.
For the most part, they write and present time-worn clich├ęs, blatant inaccuracies, information gotten from second- and third-person sources, or from inaccurate translations. Suppositions and ill-founded research become perpetuated. What results is a circle of ignorance regarding Chinese foods, traditions, and preparations.
So what is offered is a great deal of information as to what Chinese food is, when it is not. What are presented below are what Chinese food is thought to be; examples have appeared and continue to appear in newspapers, magazines, or on television. In none of these examples, are names of authors given; the purpose is not to embarrass anyone, rather to hope that those who write about food will devote the time necessary to study what Chinese food is before they write or broadcast what it is not.
Witness the following statements, assertions, and/or conclusions. All are in error even though all are reported as Chinese food fact. Along with them are what I will call occasional notes, in italics, all mine.
* From a magazine food critic who described a dish as 'Cantonese Empanaditas' and really loved the 'Grilled Black Grouper Szechuan.' That type of inattention to detail sends incorrect information to their readers.
* From a television cook who described hoisin as a sauce of 'mostly soybeans, sugar and tomatoes, I think,' and later referring to sambal ulek first as 'Indonesian' and later as 'Malaysian.' Reading what one writes before allowing it to be printed is needed here.
* From a newspaper writer, generally well-regarded, who said 'The dim sum (called Yum Cha in Australia) knocked our socks off.' Yum Cha is a Cantonese phrase meaning 'drink tea;' it has nothing to do with Australia.
* From a magazine writer discussing cooking in Shanghai: 'Duck is the mainstay of the eastern provinces.' For the record, Shanghai is a city, not a province. And this from a magazine writer: 'Shanghai region is partial to chicken dishes.' Look; this city now becomes a region!
* From a magazine writer: 'Chinese foods are most often fried in cottonseed oil.' Currently, rapeseed oil is popular in China; in the United States, soy bean oil is used more frequently.
* From a television presenter, after dropping more than a spoonful of MSG into a wok, as he demonstrated: 'It's natural. They always use it.' No, it is not always used, and certainly not by a teaspoon full of it.
References, too numerous to mention individually, are made to 'Mandarin' cooking or cuisine or to 'Mandarin' restaurants, as a school of Chinese cooking. There is no such school of Chinese cooking.
An article about Fujian food contains recipes that are not from Fujian, likewise one about the cooking of Chiu Chow. A restaurant review is presented about supposed Hakka food when the dishes reviewed are not Hakka. Likewise, an article on Asian green vegetables that misstates their properties and tastes, but which were beautifully photographed. In this country, foods from New Orleans would not be touted as Bostonian; why such ignorance about China, or about properties or tastes?
* From a food magazine quoting a Western teacher of Chinese food. 'Very few Chinese can cook dishes from other regions than their own'... (the) 'food of native Cantonese chefs is usually bland.' This was followed by an assertion, 'I know how to teach them what they need to know. I have never met a Chinese-born instructor who does.' Aside from the obvious prejudice of this one, it surely is most outrageous.
* From a newspaper writer on the cooking of the Chinese-Malay people of Singapore known as Nonya, when describing what a 'rempeh' is, said it was 'A spice mixture called rempeh cooked like a roux, (it) is a base for most curries and sauces.' It is not rempeh but rather rempah and it contains pounded raw ingredients, which when cooked are referred to as sambal.
* From a food critic who loved a 'flavorful and densely packed eggroll.' The eggroll is not Chinese, the spring roll is.
* From another writer who suggested that a 'Spring Egg Roll'...(is) 'similar to a typical egg roll.' He hedges his bet, do you not think so??
* From a magazine writer who described Hunan as 'China's rice-producing province.' Geography and agriculture lessons needed here; as to the latter, all southern provinces raise considerable quantities of rice.
*From a food critic who said she could not make out what a 'water dog' was in the Chinese restaurant she visited. What she reacted to, in ignorance, was the word gow which, depending upon intonation, is either dog, the number nine, or a dumpling. In this case, had she done some work and not opted for a laugh, she would have found that what was referred to as 'soy gow' was a water dumpling, a staple of the 'dim sum' kitchen.
* From a newspaper food writer describing a preparation as 'washed' in a 'sticky, sweet Hoisin style glaze.' Whatever is that?
* That same writer, in the same account, suggests that a dim sum dumpling skin would stretch 'two, even three inches' and that in Peking Duck, the 'fat is hardened' and that crisp-fried seaweed is 'actually deep-fried shredded cabbage.' What is the purpose of stretching and how much dough was stretched? In Peking Duck, rarely is there any fat because most is melted and drained in the roasting of the duck...and it is never served. As to seaweed, it, Chinese broccoli leaves, pearl leaves, and other greens are occasionally deep-fried.
* Nor is this writer alone. Another writer, interviewing a Chinese restauranteur noted that in his restaurant there was 'no cornstarch, no MSG and no gunk' and then actually set down as fact the restauranteur's assertion that all of his food was cooked only with scallions, ginger, garlic, tangerine skin and a 'hint of chili' and 'that's about it.' What is gunk?
* From a magazine writer: 'Fish balls...can make or break a (Chinese) chef.' No one succeeds on one food item, and anyway, fishballs are served only in Chiu Chow, Hakka, and noodle restaurants.
* From another, a critic, who wrote about 'Plum Duck' as a 'lightened-up version of Peking Duck; it is lean and boneless in a beany sauce.' Beany? And, variously we have the 'five' schools of Chinese cooking referred to as 'Canton, Szechuan, Peking, Honan, and Fukien,' or the three as 'Peking, Szechuan, and Hunan.' Then there are such marvelous additions to the pseudo-Chinese table as an authentic 'Chili Crustace Sauce' or 'green oriental radishes,' or 'souffle balls,' even 'Melon balls in ginger ale.' Not to mention the ghastly food called Chinese served up not only in those steam-table, fast-food outlets, but also in such chains as China Coast and Chopstix, to cite just two, or the all-purpose Chinese sauce marketed as 'Soy Vay.' Think you have my point.
* From a cookbook author, whose announced expertise is not Chinese, yet felt she could describe the 'traditional' way of presenting Peking Duck classically....the first course, she said, consisted of skin in a dipping sauce of hoisin, sherry, and sesame oil; the second course 'meat folded into flour doilies;' the third, duck appetizers 'which included the liver and jellied duck webs;' the fourth, a 'thick duck soup.' All of this is so inaccurate as to defy correction. Perhaps that was its intent.
* From another cookbook author, who wrote in a food magazine that prosciutto could be substituted for Yunnan ham. How soft sweet ham can replace hard, salty ham is beyond belief. Also mentioned was Beggar's Chicken as 'roasted' instead of baked, and that it was cooked in a paper oven bag. How far can tradition and adaptation be stretched?
* From another cookbook author who advises that if fresh water chestnuts are not available, then substitute apples. Or another, who suggests that tortillas can be substituted for the pancakes served with Peking Duck and Moo Shu Pork. Read on dear friend.
What all of the above say is a lack of knowledge, or sadly, an indifference to the properties and tastes of foods that make up the Chinese kitchen. The following are other substitutions, all of them offered in a book alleged to be about Chinese cooking: For bamboo shoots, substitute celery, green peppers, carrots, or rutabaga; for water chestnuts, substitute basically the same; for bean spouts, substitute shredded onions; for brown bean sauce, substitute Bovril; for ginkgo nut or lotus seeds, substitute blanched almonds; and for fermented black beans, substitute salt. Yes, salt.
* From a television food person who demonstrated how to steam a fish 'the way the Chinese do.' He said to place all of the ingredients of what normally would be a marinade into the bottom of a wok, heated to boiling, then place a fish on a rack over the boiling marinade. Really!
* From a food critic who wrote of her Chinese meal saying that one dish was covered with a 'malty black bean sauce,' that another was beef 'plated with colorful Asian vegetables;' also, that 'despite being fried the duck had a light taste' and, that a breaded pork dish was 'without a whit of the flaming taste of lemongrass.' Mixed cultural signals, I think.
* From a magazine food writer who, after a visit to that public relations exercise in Singapore known as the Imperial Herbal Restaurant, wrote that its food 'combined haute cuisine techniques and delicate, subtle flavors with traditional Chinese herbal cooking.' Huh?
* From a newspaper writer who described as 'dim sum' as a dish of soft shell crabs cooked in a black bean and coriander sauce. Huh? again.
From television food people who seem to have difficulty with the word Sichuan. It usually comes out as 'Sesh-Wan' or 'Shush-Wen' as it did in a program about 'white Taro cake' which in reality is a cake of turnips. Listen also to what happened with Shao-Hsing wine which on television becomes 'Shee-Shing' or 'Show Shin' or simply 'Chinese cooking wine.' Seems they rarely make such gaffes over locales or words related to the news.
And so on. As I noted earlier, all of these, all of which are incorrect, now reside somewhere in newspaper morgues and libraries, in computer resource banks, in television storage facilities waiting to be found and used as research. How sad!
Let us hope that those that are interested, or who regard it as an obligation to tell the reading and watching world what Chinese food is, will discard all of the above and study and consult with those who know what Chinese food is, really is.
Until then, Eat Well, Friends…

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