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Friday, June 12, 2020
Main Food-My Gift
What does this phrase mean to you? Meat? Fish? Something you eat before dessert? Something else?
I have been traveling to China for 30 years, have lived there for 10, and visited more restaurants than I can remember or count.
Until recently, my focus was to enjoy as many of the unique dishes as I could- meat, fish, even blood and offal.
When I was asked, near the end of the meal, “what would you like for your main food?” I was a little lost. Wait-didn’t we just eat, like, 15 dishes? And we didn’t eat the main food yet? OMG my aching stomach!
Even once I understood what that question meant, it didn’t help me to answer why, even in today’s prosperous China, they are still asking me if I want rice or noodles?
A quick look at the cultural origins of this expression-
To understand, let’s look at what the typical Chinese (or Asian) diet is NOT. It is NOT meat and vegetables or salad with a side of bread, rice, potatoes etc. as in the Western way. Even the language of dining reveals this:
IN the US, a “main dish” is the protein, which also tends to be the largest quantity of food; a single dinner plate may be mostly occupied by meat or fish, with “sides” of vegetables, rice, potatoes, etc. In many restaurants, you order your protein and get your choice of “sides.”
In Italy, the meal is divided into sections: Antipasti-appetizers, “before Pasta”, Primi- Usually Pasta or Risotto; Secondi- the meat or fish; Contorni- the vegetables or rice; Dolce/Cafe- the sweets with coffee.
In Latin cuisine, the main food is known as “plato fuerte”- literally, Strong Plate, really the meat or fish course.
In a typical Chinese meal (not banquets or business entertainment), A large bowl of rice or noodles is by far the largest quantity of food eaten, which is accompanied by plates of meat, fish, vegetables, etc. which are eaten as “flavoring” for the main food.
I am not suggesting that Americans or Westerners change to eat exactly like everyday Chinese; most of us have our eating habits so embedded that it would be difficult to change.
HOWever, what I AM suggesting is that we take a look at our health profiles- cholesterol, overweight, liver and kidney ailments etc. and rebalance our diets to eat more of the “main food” and a LOT less of the meat and fish, PLUS increase the proportion of vegetables in our diet. So, the way I have learned to eat now, and the way that I am recommending for you, is to plan your meal quantities in the follow, descending order (most to least):
1. Main Food- Rice, Potatoes, Grains, Noodles, etc.
2. Vegetables- Leafy, Green, the more fiber the better.
3. Meat or Fish- Don’t worry about the fat content of the meat if it tastes good, once you have the quantity under control.
But, you say, isn’t rice fattening? NO, rice is not fattening; eating too much is.
So your main objective will be to reduce how much you eat.
f you do this, you will be able to stop worrying so much and eat some things that you gasped at before with no negative consequence on health, but tremendous positive consequences on flavor. For example, when I cook duck, which I do often, I render the extra fat and use it later for cooking- you (unless you are a chef or a fanatic foodie like me) have no idea how much that and other tricks like it can change the flavor of your food, for the better.
My health profile, since I started eating this way, is immaculate, especially for someone of my age.
This tip is my gift to you- learned from the wisdom of the ages and a life of traveling to every continent.
(Notice in the picture that follows that the only dish which is yours is the rice; the others are shared)