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Rallying The Yang Gang: Warming Foods

In Chinese culture, foods are allocated to a spectrum of the internal temperature or energy of your body – cool (yin), neutral and warm (yang). In the realms of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), there is an ideal yet delicate balance in one’s body, directly affected by the foods we eat. A neutral state helps to prevent chronic illnesses and fatigue, which are often derived from too much cold energy. While Hong Kong may not have had a cold, hard winter yet, it is still believed that the weather affects your energy. So as the temperature dips, we took a look into some of the city’s traditional dishes to raise your yang.

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Lamb Hot Pot

Hot pot is an undeniable pillar of the Hong Kong culinary landscape, most notably in the colder months. Lamb is a winter favourite – hearty meat believed to be full of yang energy and often served with other warming foods like bamboo shoots, dried beancurd sheets and chestnuts, in a broth full of warming herbs and spices like onion, garlic and chillies. Some restaurants serve their hot pot with cooling ingredients like winter melon, to balance the effects of the dish. Remember, too much yang is not the answer, but rather the energy ratios between yin and yang should be balanced to each individual’s internal temperature.

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Snake Soup

Snake shops are usually multi-generational family businesses because of the special training and expertise required to handle and process the snakes and make the soup. There are still several places in the city to get ser geng, or hot snake soup. The reptilian delicacy’s popularity comes from a firm belief in its benefits and ancient origins. The dietary therapy of TCM considers snake an ingredient that culls the cold in the body, aids recovery of bones and muscles and benefits dry skin and improves circulation. 

If you are feeling brave and interested in this local favourite, read more here. 

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Drunken Chicken Pot

Hugely popular in Hong Kong, this dish is made in a variety of ways, but has a fragrant staple – Hua Tiao wine (a close companion to popular Shaoxing wine). Hua Tiao is a rice wine made from glutinous brown rice, which sits high up on the yang scale. The soup or broth which the chicken is cooked in is often made with the ingredients found in TCM stores all over the city. All you have to do is tell the shopkeeper that you are planning to make Drunken Chicken and you will be handed a pack of warming medicinal treats – ginger, red dates, goji berries or wolfberries all included. This means that the broth is full of healing properties, to stave off nasty winter ailments. 

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Red Dates and Lotus Seeds Porridge

While the Western world dips into oats in the winter, in Chinese culture a different type of porridge is popular during cold months: red dates and lotus seeds porridge. The popularity is based on the belief that these foods warm and nourish the body through increasing blood circulation (which usually slows in cold weather). Red dates and lotus seeds also aid vital organs, including the heart, and so are best for those recovering from common winter ailments. The porridge is made from boiling pitted red dates and lotus seeds with rice and sugar until it becomes soft and thick, like a porridge. 

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Roasted Sweet Potatoes and Chestnuts

There are certain images that are emblematic to Hong Kong, signifying moments or traditions that only those who live here will recognise. Sweet potatoes and chestnuts roasting on the side of the road in deep, round bowls during winter is one of them. Whether eaten as a snack, or a quick desk lunch, they are believed to warm your body (and your hands).

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Chicken and Ginger Soup Recipe

Chicken soup for the soul anyone? TCM prescribes high yang energy to certain meats and vegetables, accelerated when cooked and eaten in a warm dish like soup or broth. This makes the Chinese iteration of chicken soup (packed with ginger – an important element in warming energy) an ideal winter dish. Vegetables high in yang are common in chicken and ginger soup, especially garlic and onion. Herbs and spices are usually added for extra warmth, particularly black pepper. 

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Glutinous Rice Balls

Beloved in Hong Kong and greater Chinese culture, glutinous rice balls are eaten on festivals as symbols of happy family reunions and are a pillar of holidays like the Winter Solstice. But how do glutinous rice balls track in dietary beliefs of TCM? Glutinous rice is a source of warming energy, especially if prepared in a warm broth of rice wine. Black sesame paste, which sits in the neutral position on the energy spectrum, is the most common filling during winter months, but variations can be found around the city. 

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