Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Collagen, Fish Maw & Aging Gracefully

It's been a rather busy time for me (but hey, that's life, right?) with our new website product for the business as well as going home to Banting to visit my parents in March.

March was also my birthday month where I turned 38. I am 2 years away from the big 40.

One of the things which I love about soups is that if you drink soups regularly, your skin won't age that badly even if chronologically you are ageing! (That and a penchant for foot reflexology - I've been going for foot reflexology sessions twice a month and I believe that helps with preserving good health too!)

Speaking of which, my friends from France who came to visit Nic and I two weeks ago (after their conference in Singapore) were rather intrigued by all this health and wellness they seemed to see everywhere in Penang. When we were going to a restaurant for lunch, we walked past a health and wellness exhibition.

"Health is really a big deal here," Hugh commented.

I never really gave this much thought until Hugh brought it up. He said that it seemed everyone in Penang was very much into longevity and good health.

It's true. Health definitely is wealth to any Chinese. Living a healthy life and ageing well seem to be our main aim in life.

We spoke at length about this too when he pointed to the menu and asked what fish stomach was. This was a dish on the menu ("perut ikan"). Perut ikan is a classic Nyonya dish known as a pickled fish stomach curry.

In fact, he asked good questions because after thinking about it, it all boils down to eating for health, right? I see that a lot among the Chinese (and I am a Cantonese though I have my reservations about eating stuff like birds' nest and such).

"It's all about collagen," I told Hugh.

A healthy (slim) body with a lovely smooth complexion - these are what Chinese women generally wish for.

Then I realized, we do eat a lot of food with collagen - chicken feet, fish maw, fish stomach, birds' nest, pig trotters. The stuff that most foreigners look on with horror, we dig into them with such glee!

Unfortunately for Hugh, we didn't manage to taste fish stomach because the restaurant had run out of this dish that Saturday.

But I wanted to know more too so I started reading up on fish stomach. Is it maw? Is it called "fa kau" (in Cantonese). I've seen the puffed and fried versions in Hatyai markets but I didn't know if they were the same as the flattened and dried versions (the expensive ones sold in Chinese shops!).

Here's the difference: "yue piu" is the fish bladder or swim bladder of the fish and it is not the same as fish maw or "fa kau".

Fish maw is the stomach of the fish that has been cleaned and sun-dried whole. However most people mistake one for the other and refer to them as fish maw/fish stomach.

Fish bladder or fish stomach is often sold fried, looking all golden and puffy. It has to be deep fried and soaked before cooking while fish maw is never deep fried.

Fish maw is sold flat and dried.

Fish maw is usually braised or double-boiled in soups to infuse it with flavour as it is a rather bland ingredient. Apparently, fish maw harvested from the croaker fish is the best as it has thick stomach walls and of a fairly large size compared to other fish maw. (Just in case you are considering, fish maw is supposedly cheaper than birds' nest but does provide the same benefits - smoother skin!)

Fish maw is an excellent source of collagen and it ranks as a luxury food together with abalone, sea cucumber and sharks' fin.

Frankly, I think these types of food are over-rated.

We Chinese love to spend atrocious amounts of money just to eat parts which taste rather rubbery and on its own (without the sauces and braising) rather bland and uninspiring!

I've never liked abalone or sea cucumber and as of this year, I am going sharks' fin- free - meaning I won't be eating any sharks' fin soup during Chinese banquet dinners. I have come of age or maybe turning 38 is making me rethink my food choices.

I was also very surprised that my mom who is 63 years old this year told me that she doesn't want sharks' fin soup on the menu for my dad's 70th birthday dinner (coming up in June).

Now THAT is an eye-opener. My mom has never been much of an environment freak and environmental issues like finning sharks and all that never used to bother her.

So I was pleasantly surprised when she brought up the idea of not having sharks' fin soup. I don't know what prompted her to change but I am very glad she is coming around to saying no to killing sharks for their fins. (Hurray for the sharks!)

Back to fish maw. This ingredient in soups is supposedly good for coughs, asthma, lung problems and blood circulation (even fertility or so I read). It's a tonic for those recovering from illnesses too. When cooked, it tends to become slippery and soft.

I have never cooked fish maw because it takes some effort to clean and cook it while at the same time, ensuring your soups do not taste fishy! That's rather ironic because a dried fish maw will taste and smell fishy right? You'll need to cover fish maw in boiling water and leave to soak for at least 2 days to soften it for cooking. If it is not soft enough, you repeat the process.

Anyway, since I don't cook fish maw or fish stomach, you may want to hop over to this blog and check out this easy recipe for fish stomach soup. 

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