The Dietary Philosophy of Sichuanese

By Victor |  release time:January 11th,2018

  Few Westerners know of the wonders of konjac and tofu. It's a foodstuff that's almost too good to be true, and what is most surprising is its obscurity. Few people in fact outside some regions of Asia would recognize the plant and tuber of this strange plant that's native to the tropics of east and south Asia. In China it's predominantly consumed in Sichuan; in other parts of China it's often found in Sichuanese restaurants.


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  It's consumed most widely in its jelly form - in Chinese it's known as moyu tofu - and I cook it widely at home. I like to use it as the main substantive ingredient in pungent stews, and I add it to soups. It's a foodstuff that has come to symbolise, in my mind, the variety of foodstuffs and uniqueness of ingredients consumed in Sichuan.


  Sichuan is blessed in this manner and, as people become more health conscious, there are plenty of healthy foodstuffs to indulge in aside from konjac. Healthy eating has become a preoccupation in our time given the growing concerns of excessive meat consumption. In recent decades, as China prospered, the consumption of meat has risen steeply. Mind you, the consumption of meat per capita in China is still much less than its equivalent in the west. 


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  Nutritionists have been modifying their advice in major ways in recent years. We have had the news that red meats - and especially processed meats (such as sausages, hams, smoked meats, and so on) - are carcinogenic. And fats have concurrently come back into favor. This upends decades of advice in favor of a low-fat diet, something that led to high intake of refined sugars and carbohydrates that has exacerbated health ailments. And fats are now no longer seen as a culprit to avoid at all costs: fats are now seen felicitously as a foodstuff that's good for its energy richness and satiating qualities, something that is good in moderate quantities in a mixed, low-meat, high-veg, low-carb diet.Nutritionists have been modifying their advice in major ways in recent years. We have had the news that red meats - and especially processed meats (such as sausages, hams, smoked meats, and so on) - are carcinogenic. And fats have concurrently come back into favor. This upends decades of advice in favor of a low-fat diet, something that led to high intake of refined sugars and carbohydrates that has exacerbated health ailments. And fats are now no longer seen as a culprit to avoid at all costs: fats are now seen felicitously as a foodstuff that's good for its energy richness and satiating qualities, something that is good in moderate quantities in a mixed, low-meat, high-veg, low-carb diet.


  People in Sichuan consume many parts of the animal, including fats, and most people still eat plenty of vegetables in a varied diet. The main deviancy from current nutritional advice is the growing consumption of meat, as well as other lifestyle digressions - little physical activity, high prevalence of smoking and alcohol consumption. 


  The way to go is to cut down consumption of meat and eat more vegetables and pulses, as well as tofu. That's another wonder food - tofu - widely consumed and loved. Tofu is high in protein, making it a perfect substitute to meat, and it comes in many tasty forms - fresh and chunky, smoked and cut in sheets, runny (douhua), semi-dried, pungently pickled, and so on. There are some memorable restaurants in Chengdu that use tofu creatively and delectably. 


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  The array of fresh vegetables and pulses available in season in the Chengdu plain is also impressive. People in Chengdu who are used to such variety might not realize it, but the range of fresh vegetables available in markets and supermarkets is among the widest, if not the widest, in China's regions, and even in the wider world. There are even several unique leafy vegetables that people just add to soups in the last minute, infusing the soup with a fresh leafy flavor and heartiness.


  Then we also got a range of mushrooms to behold, once again a greater variety of fresh mushrooms available throughout the year than most other places in the world. These are the dark stars in Sichuan cuisine. I eat mushrooms regularly, in soups and stir-fries particularly, and some of my favourite restaurants in Chengdu are the ones that specialize in hot pots in which a range of mushrooms can be side-ordered and cooked. 


  But I haven't told you about the wonders of konjac jelly yet (it's mostly consumed in its jelly form in Sichuan). It's very high in fibre, rather filling, but it's almost got no calories. It is used in Chinese traditional medicine for detoxification, tumour-suppression, blood stasis alleviation, and phlegm liquefaction. No wonder the tuber from which the jelly is made is called moyu in Sichuan - the literal meaning is 'magical taro' - there is indeed something magical-seeming about it.


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