As many Chinese cities have been experiencing yet another wave of high late summer temperatures over the past few days, locals have been turning to special food recipes to fight off the heat. Among them, many of the most popular summer recipes have links to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM).
While those who happen to know a bit about Chinese cuisine might be able to name a few of the more famous summer snacks, such as mung bean soup, plum syrup (which contains dark plums and dried oranges) and herbal tea, even they may not be familiar with the exotic snacks listed below:
Also known as Immortal's Jelly in southern China, this traditional Chinese summer dessert is especially popular in southern Chinese cities and provinces including Guangdong, Fujian and Taiwan. Mixing black-colored jelly made from xiancao (lit. Immortal's Grass) - a type of local h erbal plant that is believed to be effective in preventing sunstroke - with peanuts, taro, pinto beans and glutinous rice cubes, grass jelly tastes sweet and cool and is even better served cold. Similar snacks like Guiling Jelly, which is made from tortoise plastron (in TCM this is generally believed to be good for the heart and can help treat insomnia) and a series of TCM herbal medicines, are also said to be able to help improve one's health and expel heat from the body.
Qingbuliang refers to two things: a type of soup and a dessert often seen in the tropical and subtropical areas of South China.
The dessert Qingbuliang is a mixture of coconut juice, milk, mung beans, red beans, pearl barley and tropical fruits that are especially popular in South China's Hainan Province such as watermelon and mango.
The soup is a summer must-have that is extremely popular in Hong Kong, Macao and South China's Guangdong and Guangxi provinces, where the weather tends to be humid and stifling hot in the summer. The ingredients used in the soup can differ, but often include pearl barley, lotus seeds, Chinese yams and fox nuts - all ingredients considered effective in reducing heat and driving away "dampness" (a TCM term referring to a condition that easily leads to extreme fatigue, poor appetite and constipation and is often believed by TCM practitioners to be caused by humid and hot weather) from the body.
It often takes two to three hours to boil the soup as local people believe cooking over a low fire helps the soup absorb the best nutrients from the ingredients. This is why the soup is also known as laohuo liangtang (Well-cooked Soup).
Sweet fermented rice soup
Made of jiuniang, a kind of alcohol produced from glutinous rice fermented with a starter called jiuqu, sweet fermented rice soup is quite popular throughout China during the summer. It is often mixed with small glutinous rice balls and goji berries. Some people also like to add dried Osmanthus petals to the mix. With the added taste of alcohol, sweet fermented rice soup is considered by Chinese food lovers to be one of the best summer snacks.
Apricot rind drink
Originated from Dunhuang, Northwest China's Gansu Province, the drink is made from boiling dried apricot rind, dried oranges (in TCM this is generally considered to help treat abdominal distension), hawthorn and rock candy. It tastes both sweet and sour and is quite similar to the flavor of the renowned plum syrup, another highly popular summer drink in China.