Epicurean confinement

Updated: 2012-05-29 14:26

By Donna Mah (China Daily)

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Epicurean confinement

Homemade glutinous rice wine provides warmth for the mommy in confinement. Photos by Donna Mah / For China Daily

Epicurean confinement

Pig trotters and hard-boiled eggs are added to the black vinegar and ginger broth. Skinned old ginger is gently crushed and simmered in sweet black vinegar for about three weeks. The end result is a bowl of delicious, nutritious comfort food for the recovering mother.

Epicurean confinement

With a new baby in the house, a new mom faces unexpected challenges at mealtime, so Donna Mah falls back to culinary traditions.

Seems that this year 'tis the season for having a baby. It's the Year of the Dragon and there are expectant moms everywhere you turn. Since it's considered the mightiest of the signs in the Chinese zodiac, expectant parents hope that their little Dragons will grow to be strong and successful under this sign.

For me, it means that babies are on the brain this year, and in fact, I recently gave birth to my own Dragon baby. I was unaware that he would be a Dragon baby until almost everyone I spoke to while pregnant commented on the fact and congratulated me.

So, as my due date loomed, I started to prepare for my post-pregnancy confinement period.

Traditionally, the confinement period lasts for a month, in which the new mother stays at home (indoors), eats special foods to nourish and heal her body, and does not let in "cold" - therefore no bathing or washing of hair.

In all honesty, I didn't adhere to many of the traditions, but I did enjoy investigating the food part of it more seriously.

The concept of "confinement" after pregnancy was never discussed with my non-Chinese Canadian friends, but with friends of Chinese ancestry, it was a topic that few could go without discussing when someone gets pregnant.

One rule which I could not understand or follow was the one where you were to refrain from bathing and washing your hair during the month-long confinement period.

Some people follow these rules and some don't, but the warning was always that we would feel the ill effects when we were older if we didn't do as we were told.

Now we have another conundrum. What exactly are the rules? There seem to be lots of different rules depending on who you ask.

This only confused me, and I decided that it was better to get lots of information and then use common sense and my own good (or so I think) judgment, to decide what to do.

For the southern Chinese, glutinous rice wine is used in confinement recipes. For others, alcohol is not taken during this period. I liked the idea of making my own wine, so I found a recipe and proceeded to make my own glutinous rice wine.

A very sweet pale yellow colored liquid, this wine is thought to be good for the recovering mom as it warms the body and promotes good circulation.

It actually was not difficult to make, but the most important thing to remember is to make sure all the jars and utensils used are very clean. If not, you may end up with a moldy mess instead of wine.

This was the second time I've made this wine, having made it three years earlier when I was pregnant for the first time with my little girl.

Making glutinous rice wine was a bit of an experiment, but I found it to be very therapeutic.

The steps are simple: Cook the glutinous rice, layer the rice and crushed yeast in jars, seal the jars with tape, wait, add a bit of brandy, wait a few more weeks, strain, boil and bottle. The wine I produced is sweet, mellow, and has a lovely fragrance.

Traditionally, "cold" foods are to be avoided during confinement, and "hot" foods are recommended.

Cold foods are foods that are considered cooling in nature, not because they are actually cold. Cold foods are thought to hamper the body's recovery after childbirth and therefore should be avoided.

Another popular confinement dish is sweet black-vinegar pig trotters.

To many, the dark and usually greasy pot of pig trotters, chunks of ginger, and hard-boiled eggs, is anything but appetizing. But again, this is a dish that I find very comforting and tasty. I do make an effort to remove any grease I see floating on the surface.

The sweet black vinegar helps to stimulate appetite, the ginger helps to warm the body, the pig trotters provide collagen and calcium - which is leached into the vinegar - and the eggs provide protein, vitamins and minerals. The vinegar is often eaten as a sauce on cooked rice, as well.

There are only a few ingredients in this dish, but the process of making the confinement version starts about three weeks before the baby's due date.

The old ginger must be washed and peeled, gently bashed with a cleaver, and then simmered in the black vinegar. The ginger and vinegar mixture is put in the fridge and reheated every few days, and, after three weeks, the pig trotters and eggs can be added.

It's common to find this dish on dim-sum menus in Hong Kong now, but the dim-sum version is the "light" version and not made with as much ginger or cooked for a month before being eaten.

I still order it when I see it though.

For many expectant mothers, advice is often offered by those near and dear, as well as strangers they meet on the street.

The expectation of a new life being brought into the world seems to give everyone an excuse to start chatting with a pregnant woman.

It's often out of concern or kindness, but for the pregnant woman it can sometimes add to the stress she may already be feeling. For her, there may just be too much information being provided and she has not learned to process it all yet.

Most expectant mothers are happy to chat about what needs to be prepared for the arrival of their little one, but it is important to keep it simple and not to overwhelm.

Pregnancy and childbirth, though natural, can be stressful. Sleep deprivation and getting accustomed to having a newborn in your life doesn't make it easier, but with good planning and a strong support network, your life will be enriched by the new arrival.

And for all the women out there who are expecting their Dragon babies, always remember to eat well.

Recipe | Fried ginger and egg in glutinous wine

Here is a favorite recipe for fried ginger and egg in glutinous wine that I ate during my confinement - and whenever I feel like having it. It's a very simple dish, but one that incorporates different textures and flavors.


2 eggs

Pinch of salt

3 tbsp sliced or shredded ginger

2 tbsp sesame oil

1/4 cup glutinous rice wine


1. Heat sesame oil in a frying pan. Add ginger and fry until fragrant and starting to brown at the edges.

2. Add eggs (I make mine over easy). Sprinkle salt on the frying eggs and add rice wine to the pan. Cook for another 1-2 minutes.

3. Plate and serve.

The eggs can be eaten with rice, but I am one of those people who can eat fried eggs on their own. This dish helps to warm the belly and has become a dish I relate with comfort.

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