Traditional Chinese medicine holds that each season the diet should change to maintain health and energy.
Chinese chefs take TCM wisdom to heart as they unveil their late autumn and winter menus featuring medicinal herbs such as ginseng, Chinese angelica, medlar, jujube and chestnuts.
According to TCM, late autumn through winter (from now until the end of February) is a good time to nourish the body and boost energy through food therapy. That’s because people lose energy and fluid in cold, dry weather, says Frank Hu, chef de cuisine at Jumeirah Himalayas Hotel Shanghai.
In TCM, each food has its own nature, either yin (“cold”) or yang (“hot”), dry or moist. People’s constitution also reflects energy balance and the right yin-yang balance in the diet balances yin-yang in the body, according to Shang Li, deputy secretary-general of the Shanghai Association of TCM.
People with excessive inner heat are encouraged to nourish cool yin energy by eating more “cold” foods and herbs, such as turtle, lotus seed and the caterpillar fungus (or winter worm, summer grass).
Those deficient in yang energy (inner heat) are encouraged to build up their yang by eating warms foods, such as lamb, venison, jujube, ginger and yellow wine.
Supplying qi, the basic energy circulating around the body, is also important in this season for virtually everyone. Chestnut, black sesame, and ginseng are among the foods and herbs said to boost qi.
Besides, TCM observes that “you are what you eat,” meaning bones (such as pork bone soup) nourish the bones and heart (such as chicken heart) nourishes the heart.
A chef preparing TCM cuisine faces various challenges:
Many people prefer to have hot food in cold winter, so keeping the serving temperature is necessary.
Some medicinal herbs taste bitter, and the bitterness needs to be removed or covered up.
Some herbs are ineffective if they are insufficiently cooked.
It’s best to cook ingredients slowly, typically by stewing and braising, to extract the most flavor and nutrition from herbs and other ingredients, says Sam Gao, Chinese executive chef at Pudong Shangri-La, East Shanghai.
But before they go into the pot, herbs need to be dried and stir-fried to remove the bitterness.
Kevin Ji, Chinese executive chef at Renaissance Shanghai Pudong Hotel, prefers to use a clay pot to maintain the serving temperature. Furthermore, the distinctive, earthen smell of the clay pot is infused into food, making it more aromatic.
Chefs emphasize balancing the flavors, since TCM holds that the five basic flavors — sour, sweet, salty, bitter and spicy — correspond to the liver, spleen, kidney, heart and lung, respectively. Unbalanced flavor upset internal body harmony.
Some chefs add Chinese rice wine to enhance the aroma, balance the bitter taste of herbs and warm the body.
Shanghai Daily discovers appetizing and nourishing new dishes in five-star hotels. They reflect new food thinking, integrate exotic seasonings and feature innovative presentation.
Beef soup with maca
The soup is best served in cold weather. Both beef and maca root, an herb famous in Peru and grown in Yunnan Province, are warm in nature and strengthen yang.
Double-boiled for hours, the soup concentrates all the flavors. Maca tastes mild and does not overpower the soup. The chef adds medlar fruit to add a fresh taste.
Venue: Gui Hua Lou, Pudong Shangri-La, East Shanghai
Tel: 6882-8888 ext 6888
Address: 1/F, River Wing, 33 Fucheng Rd, Pudong
Pork bone in clay pot
The meat, alternating fat and lean, is braised with watercress in sauce. The pork bone is marinated in advance to lock in the juice and enrich the taste. Watercress adds freshness and cuts through the fat.
Pork shank stewed with nuts
The stew is served in a pot to retain warmth. The shank nourishes the skin and peanuts nourish qi. The shank has a complex texture, soft and bouncy. Peanuts nourish blood and chestnuts benefit the kidney. They add a crunchy texture, nutty flavor and subtle sweetness.
Venue: Wan Li Restaurant, Renaissance Shanghai Pudong Hotel
Address: 2/F, Changliu Rd, Pudong
Flambe cod fish
The dish looks like a flaming honeycomb when waiter lights the wine in the dish. It’s a deep-fried taro cake shaped like a honeycomb, served with pan-fried cod fish.
It’s coated with a sauce of fermented bean paste and topped with rose wine. The cake is crispy outside and smooth and silky inside. The mashed taro is naturally sweet. Fermented bean paste brings out the sweetness and richness of the fish. Rose wine enhances the freshness and adds a sweet floral aroma.
Venue: T’ang Court, Langham Xintiandi Shanghai
Address: 5/F, 99 Madang Rd
Poached lobster in lemongrass-tomato soup
The dish expresses chef’s fusion thinking. Lobster, a Western ingredient, is braised the Chinese way, but the chef adds spicy Tai seasonings and fragrances, such as lemon grass, to make the sauce. With long braising, the lobster absorbs all the flavors, so the meat is juicy and rich.
Double-boiled Qidong lamb with Hetian date
Sizzling lamb and aromatic jujube are served in a clay pot. The fragrance of lamb, the scent of jujube and the distinctive earthen smell alternate. Precise heat control and sauce make the lamb juicy, tender and flavorful.
Venue: Shang-High Cuisine, Jumeirah Himalayas Hotel Shanghai
Address: 6/F, 1108 Meihua Rd, Pudong
Chicken soup with snow lotus
Snow lotus nourishes yin energy. Chicken, dried scallop and preserved ham create a subtle umami flavor. Snow lotus, medlar, apricot, yam, jujube, and the caterpillar fungus add nutrition and texture. Yam nourishes the spleen. Cordyceps boosts liver and kidney. Jujube replenishes blood and supplies qi.
Venison tendon braised with jujube
Venison, which boosts warmth and nourishes yang, is braised in soy sauce with jujube. Long braising makes the meat tender. Red jujube brightens the color and gives the dish a sweet aroma and fruity flavor. Rock sugar makes it even sweeter and balances the meat taste; sugar also makes it glisten.