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Understand culture through food
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By Jenny Hammond

Deep frying and MSG don't figure in the CCS cooking classes that offer invaluable insight into not only Chinese cuisine, but also the rich associated culture, writes Jenny Hammond.

As the heat of the summer starts to set in, it is natural to crave healthy, light bites, rather than the comfort food preferred in the cold winter months.

However, this can be difficult to find when many dishes are deep fried, covered in rich sticky sauces or high in carbohydrates.

All is not lost, however, as a local cookery class is teaching how to cook Chinese food that is both healthy and nutritious.

"My philosophy of cooking is that it is not just what we eat, but a life philosophy, healthy eating leads to a healthy life and a healthy attitude," explains Dana Qiu, Community Center Shanghai's healthy Chinese cooking instructor.

"Much of Chinese culture and philosophy is based on food," she continues.

"So if people coming to China want to know more about Chinese people and their culture, then they should learn about Chinese food."

Now, offering her philosophical and passionate approach toward food to her students, the 26-year-old says: "I love cooking, and have cooked for my family from the age of six. Because I loved and enjoyed cooking, I read many cookbooks and I throw many dinners and parties for friends."

Following from this it was a natural progression for Qiu to begin to teach.

"Before I worked at the Community Center, people used to say I was good at cooking, but I wasn't sure if they were just being polite. However when so many different sorts of people at the Community Center also complimented me, I thought it would be good to run a class."

The classes started in mid April this year.

"Usually we make one complicated dish with meat, a less complicated dish with vegetables and meat, and one simple vegetarian dish," she says.

A typical class is around two and a half hours long, and has four to six students.

In the cooking class, Qiu incorporates the history and significance of each dish prepared.

"I also talk about the medicinal benefits of the ingredients used based on traditional Chinese medicine. I find that many foreigners are not familiar with the wide variety of vegetables, herbs, beans, fruits, and mushrooms we use in China. Introducing these to my students is an important part of my classes too.

"For example some of the dishes I teach include a cold dish with celery, black fungus and pepper, leek with bean sprouts, pork and shrimp herb dumplings.

"We don't make any heavy deep fried Chinese dishes," the instructor says. "Instead, we prepare steamed food, lightly fried dishes, soups and cold dishes. We also avoid using MSG, substituting it with healthy broths and herbs. Just like cuisine from other countries, some Chinese dishes are healthy and some are not. With all the fresh vegetables and ingredients available, it is not difficult to eat healthily."

Similarly, it is not difficult to cook healthy food, she continues.

"My students find that the preparation is more complicated than the actual cooking process. Preparation involves choosing produce, washing and cutting/chopping."

She adds: "For the best food, you need to always choose the freshest ingredients. Some basic ingredients you often need include ginger, garlic, onion, soy sauce, sesame oil, Chinese cooking wine, and vinegar.

"However, people need not bring anything to the cooking classes other than a sense of adventure, the courage to try new things, and enthusiasm,'' she finishes.

"I like people to have an open mind, and to use my recipes as a guide only and adjust them to suit their own tastes. They should be creative."

Venue: House No. 89, Windsor Place, 2222 Jianhe Rd, Shanghai

Tel: 5175-0510

Time: 9:30am to 12pm-12:30pm

Cost: 800 yuan (US$115) for the four-session series

Contact the Community Center Shanghai at Puxi for enrollments.

The next series of cooking classes starts today.

(Shanghai Daily May 22, 2008)

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