China’s Ancient Tea Horse Road

August 6, 2014

Many have heard of or read about the Silk Road between China and Europe, but I think few have heard of the ancient Tea Horse Road, which I first read about in the May 2010 issue of National Geographic (NG).

Legend says that tea from China arrived in Tibet as early as the Tang Dynasty (618- 906 A.D.). After that, the Chinese traded tea for horses, as many as 25,000 horses annually.

But that isn’t what struck me the most about the NG piece. It’s the example that demonstrated why the peasants loved and possibly worshiped Mao Tse-Tung.

From May 2010 National Geographic Magazine, page 103

For more than a thousand years, men fed their families by carrying hundreds of pounds of tea on their backs across the rugged mountains into Lhasa. Some froze to death in blizzards. Others fell to their deaths from the narrow switchbacks that climbed into the clouds.

This all ended in 1949 when Mao had a road built to Tibet and farmland was redistributed from the wealthy to the poor.

“It was the happiest day of my life,” said Luo Yong Fu, a 92-year-old dressed in a black beret and a blue Mao jacket, whom the author of the National Geographic piece met in the village of Changheba.

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Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of My Splendid Concubine [3rd edition]. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too. This is the love story Sir Robert Hart did not want the world to discover.

Low-Res_E-book_cover_MSC_July_24_2013

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Eating swiftlet bird saliva

June 10, 2014

Just the thought of eating soup made from bird saliva gives me the shivers. However, there is a history behind this Southeast Asian delicacy and there may be health benefits but also some degree of danger for a few people.

Myth has it that The Chinese have been eating this saliva for 1,500 years since the Tang Dynasty (618-907 AD). But another myth says China’s most famous eunuch, Admiral Zheng Hi, brought these nests made from bird saliva back to China in the 15th century.

What we do know for sure is that the Chinese have been making soup from imported swiftlet nests from Southeast Asia for centuries.

A Review of Scientific Research on Edible Bird’s Nest from the 1990s of a few comprehensive scientific studies in Asia and China revealed that this particular bird saliva appears to play a crucial role in major normal cellular processes and may help resist the effects of aging.

However, the Malaysian Society of Allergy and Immunology reported that for a few people there is a major risk of an allergic reaction after eating Bird’s Nest Soup and death could occur.

To be fair to the birds and their saliva, eating peanuts and getting flu shots may also end in allergic reactions with severe symptoms that may lead to death—for a few.

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Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of My Splendid Concubine [3rd edition]. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too. This is the love story Sir Robert Hart did not want the world to discover.

His latest novel is the multiple-award winning Running with the Enemy.

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China’s boiled peanuts

April 30, 2014

The first time I tasted boiled peanuts was in China in 1999. Since I was use to oil-roasted and salted peanuts, it took time for me to acquire a taste for the Chinese way of cooking peanuts.

Although archeologists have dated the oldest known domesticated peanuts to Peru back about 7,000 years, it was Portuguese traders in the 17th century who introduced peanuts to China.

Peanuts then became popular there and are featured in many Chinese dishes, often being boiled, which enhances the health benefits of the peanut.

What scientific studies have proven about the boiling process is that peanuts prepared this way are preserved and the presence of phytochemicals are enhanced having the same qualities as antioxidants, which are noted for protecting the body’s cells against heart disease, diabetes and several different forms of cancer.

In fact, a 1990 Harvard study determined that women who ate five ounces of more of nuts per week were only 65 percent as likely to suffer from coronary heart disease as women who avoided eating nuts.

Another study in 2007 at Alabama’s A&M University’s Department of Food and Animal found that the health benefits for boiled peanuts were far healthier than oil-roasted, dry or raw.

The Chinese boiling process brings out and enhances the health benefits of the peanut.

In fact, the Chinese eat more boiled peanuts than any country.

However, in the US, the states of Florida, Mississippi, George, Alabama, and North and South Carolina also have a tradition of eating boiled peanuts.

Today, China leads the world in peanut production with about 40% of the crop followed by India, which produces about 19% of the globe’s peanuts. Sources: ehow and tititudorancea

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Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of My Splendid Concubine [3rd edition]. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too. This is the love story Sir Robert Hart did not want the world to discover.

His latest novel is the multiple-award winning Running with the Enemy.

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Was ice cream invented in China: Myth or Fact?

January 29, 2014

While researching topics about China, I kept running into claims that ice cream was invented in China, and Marco Polo brought the recipe back to Italy.

To discover the facts, I did some virtual sleuthing and discovered that immigrants arriving in Ellis Island were treated to a bowl of ice cream upon arrival.

I wonder if the Chinese arriving at Angel Island in San Francisco Bay got to eat ice cream. Considering the way the Chinese were treated then—probably not.

Ice Cream History and Folklore says, “Most books are full of myths about the history of ice cream. According to popular accounts, Marco Polo (1254-1324) saw ice cream being made during his trip to China, and on his return introduced it to Italy.”

In fact, “During China’s Tang Dynasty  (618-907 A.D.) something vaguely on the order of ice cream was made from cow, goat and buffalo milk, flavored with camphor and thickened with flour.” (The History of Ice Cream)

More details came from Wonderquest: “The first concoction resembling ice cream was made in China during the Tang period…. Ice-cream makers … heated buffalo, cow, and goat milk together then fermented the brew to form yogurt. They thickened the yogurt with flour and flavored it with camphor (an insect repellant, of all things). Refrigerating first, they served the confection to the king.”

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Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of My Splendid Concubine [3rd edition]. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too. This is the love story Sir Robert Hart did not want the world to discover.

His latest novel is the multiple-award winning Running with the Enemy.

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The Power of Ginseng

November 13, 2013

My wife often cooks with ginseng. She slices the ginseng thin and it goes into the wok with what she is cooking—tofu, cabbage, edamame, Bok Choy, etc.  Ginseng is a dried root that the Chinese believed possesses magical powers because it’s shaped sort of like a little person.

The Chinese also use Ginseng as a powerful herbal medicine.

At one time, modern scientists rejected these claims, but recent research shows it does help the body resist illness and heal damage caused by stress by stimulating the immune system.

Because I only eat ginseng with food my wife cooks, I’ve never taken the herb for its healing properties but I love what it does for flavor.

Records in China show that ginseng was used as an herbal medicine over 3,000 years ago and in cooking as far back as 5,000 years. Chinese emperors valued ginseng enough to pay for the herb with its weight in gold.  In America, ginseng was also used by several North American Indian nations. Source: Ancient Ginseng History

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Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of My Splendid Concubine [3rd edition]. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too. This is the love story Sir Robert Hart did not want the world to discover.

His latest novel is the multiple-award winning Running with the Enemy.

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“Peking to Paris” – more than a book review: a journey

May 6, 2013

This is the real life story of Dina and Bernard Bennett driving in a road rally from Beijing to Paris in 2007—starting in Beijing, China to the desert sands of Mongolia, braving the potholes of Russia to reach Eastern Europe and eventually Paris, France with endless break downs and repairs to keep an almost 70-year-old car running.

The closest books I can compare this reading experience with is Paul Theroux’s “The Great Railway Bazaar: By Train Through Asia” and Tom Carter’s “China: Portrait of a People“.

The big difference is that Theroux rode the rails, and Carter walked for most of two years across China. In Peking to Paris, Dina and her husband drove a 1940 Cadillac-LaSalle 52 Coupe that Dina named Roxanne.

On page 79, Dina says, “China is full of surprises.” Then she dives into a description of a café that specializes in Mongolian hotpot. She says, “Behind me is a full wall of shelves and bins stuffed with vegetables, fish, poultry, pork, lamb and beef.  I count four sections, each easily five feet wide, divided by eight shelves reaching the ceiling. Every shelf is crammed with ingredient bins …”

With this description, Bennett shows us that China is an eating culture.  Food is important to the Chinese—very important.

In another chapter, she discovers that the Chinese and Americans have more in common than she had thought when they stay the night at a rustic Chinese dude ranch where urban Chinese come to rough it on vacations spending time with Mongolian herders.

In China, the ride seemed smooth and easy, but once they cross the border into Mongolia, a band of boys exercising their democratic freedoms throw rocks at the car and shatter the driver’s side windshield.

However, when they were still in an undemocratic China ruled by one party, the CCP, no one threw rocks at them. Instead, while driving down remote country roads police officers in fancy dress uniforms wearing white gloves waited at intersections to guide them in the right direction.

A few hundreds yard into Mongolia, the paved roads they had enjoyed in China suddenly end and the rest of the trek across this landlocked country is mostly on dirt and sand taking a heavy toll on the mechanical health of the LaSalle. Then they reach Russia’s paved roads where the challenge becomes avoiding horse-trough sized potholes capable of swallowing cars whole.

Because of this experience from Peking to Paris, Dina and Bernard are bitten by the travel bug and they have now completed more than a dozen road trips all over the world—after you read this memoir, you may want to follow them by visiting  the author’s Blog at Dina Bennett.net

I’m planning to.

Oh, and lest I forget, I was contacted by Dina’s publicist and agreed to accept a complementary uncorrected proof, which I read in record time. I have never met or talked to Dina and her husband online or in person.

 

The LaSalle in the above video is not the one that Dina and Bernard drove in the 2007 rally from Beijing to Paris, but the video gives you an idea of the car they drove 7,800 miles across China to Mongolia, then Russia to Eastern Europe and eventually Paris, France—thirty-five grueling days.

It has been some time since I read a book that I wanted to wake up early in the morning to read and eagerly waited to read before I slept. For me, reading Peking to Paris was an adventure, and I highly recommend it.

Discover Country Driving with Peter Hessler

 

Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of My Splendid Concubine [3rd edition]. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too. This is the love story Sir Robert Hart did not want the world to discover.

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The Delights of Tofu

December 24, 2012

China was making tofu from soybeans more than two thousand years ago. But mention it to most Americans and it is “yuk” time.  American prejudices for tofu are so strong, most will not taste a morsel.  Horror fills faces and complexions turn green.

That’s why we never mention to the beefy McDonald’s, Burger King, Pizza Hut, KFC, cancer and heart attack  generations that eat at our house as guests that the ice cream we serve is made from tofu or the chocolate pie is made from tofu or that …

They never know the difference. We reveal the truth after they eat.

When we are in China, I get up early to go the the nearest market that makes fresh soy juice and I buy it without sugar or sweetener added. There is no comparison. It’s warm. It’s fresh. It’s China. It’s different from the genetically altered, American, factory-farmed soy juice sold in American markets. That stuff is “yuk” and I don’t touch it.

There are thousands of foods that humans eat. Most Americans eat about a half dozen. Maybe soy and tofu is the secret explaining why there are more than 1.3 billion Chinese.

And, if you are curious enough to overcome your prejudices, visit one or all of these Websites and Blogs to learn more:

Tofu

tofu and soymilk

Tofu or Not Tofu

History of Tofu

Gluten-Free and Sugar-Free Ginger-Baked Tofu with Agave-Peanut Sauce

The Chinese invented tofu, but some Americans are reinventing it. I was introduced to Chocolate Tofu Pie at Mother’s Market in Costa Mesa, California. Then I figured out how to make it at home by experimenting.

Ingredients:

  • Two 10-ounce containers of soft or silken organic tofu
  • Two four-ounce packages of baker’s, unsweetened chocolate—but use only six of the ounces. This chocolate has no milk or sweeteners added.  Use six ounces of the eight.
  • One bag of malt-sweetened chocolate bits. There are no dairy or refined sugars in this chocolate. Use half of this bag. If you skip this ingredient, add more of the baker’s, unsweetened chocolate.
  • Agave nectar. This low absorbing sweetener is absorbed into the body slowly.
  • One package of readymade whole-wheat piecrust (recommended for fiber).
  • Use one tablespoon of arrowroot for a thickener

Directions:

  • Mix the tofu in a blender with the arrowroot or another natural thickener.
  • Heat the chocolate in a pan (double boiler hopefully) until melted and pour into blended tofu and mix.
  • Add the Agave nectar.
  • Taste to make sure it is sweet enough and that the bitterness from the baker’s chocolate is gone. Add more Agave if desired. Our daughter enjoys this step the most, since she is the taster.
  • Blend until it is all one smooth color.
  • Pour equally into the pie pans.
  • Put pies in oven at 350 degrees for 30 minutes.
  • Let pies cool after cooking; put in refrigerator after they are cool.
  • The pies will be ready the next day.

Note: I usually shop at Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s for the ingredients used in the tofu chocolate pie.

Discover China’s Noodle Culture

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Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of The Concubine Saga. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too. This is the love story Sir Robert Hart did not want the world to discover.

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