Medicinal or tonic cuisine is a centuries-old tradition in China. It's based on the notion that all ingredients can be classified as yin (foods that slow the metabolism), yang (foods that increase it) or neutral. When combined in the right proportions, these ingredients can help attain the key to all health: balance.
Tonic cuisine's scientific efficacy remains up for debate, but Chinese herbal doctors swear by its powers to help cleanse and rejuvenate the body, prevent disease and maintain health and longevity. "There are around a hundred Chinese herbal medicines that can be considered both as food and medicine," says Mary Cheng, senior manager and pharmacist at Eu Yan Sang, a 130-year-old traditional Chinese medicine company. "We eat tonic cuisine for the beneficial effects of the herbs themselves, preserving your health, and because [the herbs] blend great with the dish."
Appetite whetted? Here's a look at some of the ingredients most commonly used in tonic cuisine, and some restaurants that serve it.
Valued for its antiaging properties, the neutral fox nut is also said to benefit the internal organs (particularly the spleen) and be an antidote to indigestion.
Typically taken in teas or soups, astragalus, a yang tonic, is believed to strengthen and promote the flow of energy, to protect the immune system and to reduce inflammations.
Otherwise known as lycium fruit, wolfberry is rich in antioxidants and minerals. Considered a yin tonic, it is thought to remove toxins from the liver and kidneys.
Also called red date, jujube is a neutral tonic used to relieve stress, replenish energy, and treat anemia.
This neutral tonic is believed by herbalists to strengthen the spleen, replenish the kidney and nourish the heart.
Where To Try Tonic Cuisine
Whether you're in the mood for herbal soups or fried crispy ginseng root, a meal at the Metropole Herbal Restaurant, tel: (65) 6333 0398, can put a spring in your step. Don't miss the roasted herbal Peking duck a tonic twist on the northern Chinese classic.
Located just south of the Zhong Yang bridge, Yusheng Fang Yaoshan Canting, tel: (886-2) 8981 8999, was founded by a traditional Chinese medicinal doctor and skillfully blends tonic herbs in its many seafood and poultry dishes.
Jars of tonic ingredients including dead snakes line the shelves of the tiny but atmospheric She Wong Leung, tel: (852) 2578 8135. Tell the specialist your ailment and he'll concoct a remedy on the spot.
Serving both tonic and general dishes, Zhong Wei Yu Yuan Fu Shan, tel: (86-10) 6282 9863, is famed for Kung Fu soup, which uses more than 20 herbs and must rest for 48 hours before serving.
with reporting by Ling Woo Liu