A glimpse of Chinese food culture and psychology

Disclaimer: This post is more about my household food culture and less about nutrition. I have no idea if this will be interesting to other people…


I printed and pinned up my list of banned and allowed foods from the last post:

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The two white sheets on the oven — posted where we can all see it!

For the first week of January, I’ll still be staying with my parents, who are mildly enthusiastic about my project and might actually join me in giving up sugar!

I managed to get them interested by mentioning some science on how cutting sugar likely lowers blood pressure and improves the poop experience (although maybe not at first, as the yeasts die off..?), I plan to explain all of this in future posts. So much to write!

While my parents say they’re willing to cut down on sugar, they refuse to throw away or even put into a cupboard the things they supposedly won’t be eating. Dove ice cream bars, Twix bars from Halloween, European chocolates they got for Christmas, Digestives… These are all (except the ice cream) just sitting out on the dining table!

My mom’s logic is that, if she craves it later, it’ll be because she needs the nutrients. #headdesk

However, she seemed thoughtful when I mentioned the “sugar is more addictive than cocaine” studies (though results are questionable) and part of the fundamental attribution error (i.e. we underestimate the effect of environment on our decisions and overestimate our own agency).

Also, this afternoon, after she nagged at my step-dad for snacking on the dining table goodies (a daily occurrence), she allowed that maybe there was something to this hiding food strategy after all, especially for absent-minded men.

I don’t get why she reprimands my dad for snacking and yet insists on keeping food out of the cupboards so we don’t “forget to eat it.” When does she expect us to eat it then??

This afternoon we had our last meal of 2017. It was full of some of my favorite Chinese dishes, but I’ll just describe two of them here. First, the dessert:

Tang Yuan

My parents kindly agreed to have our New Year tangyuan on New Year’s Eve instead of for breakfast on New Year’s Day.

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Tanyuan with black sesame paste

Tang yuan (“soup balls”) is a traditional Chinese dish involving glutinous rice balls, usually filled with black sesame paste, peanut butter paste, or other sweet pastes. The “broth” is sometimes just hot water, but today we had it with jiu niang, a mild rice wine. Sugar AND alcohol! Both on my banned list. Good bye, tang yuan!

I used to be that awful kid who sucked all the paste out and left the empty glutinous, mochi-like shell. I still believe this is the optimal way to eat tang yuan IF one is eating alone. Life is short. Skip the bland parts, right?

Unfortunately, Chinese culture is such that, if I left something edible on my plate, my parents would eat it, to avoid wasting food. And because I don’t want them to eat unhealthy AND unenjoyable foods on my account, I ate all the gross, slimy, bland mochi shells today. And thus we all stored a little more unnecessary fat in our bodies, in the name of not wasting food. Oh, the irrationalities of eating!

Ti Pang Tang

The other dish that I just had to say a final goodbye to was ti pang tang (“pork hock soup”), a traditional dish from my ancestral hometown, Ning Bo (a city south of Shanghai).

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My mommy’s yummy di pang tang (<– Shanghainese pronunciation)

This soup involves super tender pork hock (lower leg areas?) stewed in a broth of dried dates, dried lychees, and sugar. All three of these ingredients are on the banned list, though I can’t help but notice the irony that the pork is the most objectionable ingredient, health- and ethics-wise. But one change at a time!

My mom claims ti pang tang is great for enriching a woman’s blood during her monthly blood-loss fiesta. However, a quick search suggests that the internet has nothing to say on the subject ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ At any rate I associate this dish with winter break ^_^


Tomorrow I will post my “before” state (waist circumference, photos, etc) for the record and an initial overview of why sugar is bad. Oh god, there’s so much to write and research, so overwhelmed!

# of sugary snacks eaten in the process of writing this post: 12. …At least I’m consistent? Although one of those was a bowl of ti pang tang…

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