Tuesday, June 22, 2010

In praise of food

A delicious razor clam dish I've had on more
than one occasion at Tung Po Seafood Restaurant

Scene from a hot pot feast that several friends and I
partook of one evening this past February

At lunch today, I observed to my lunchmates that since coming to Hong Kong, my stomach visibly looks to have grown bigger even while -- thanks to hiking and other exercise -- such as my calf muscles have considerably developed and my general health has improved. This is because -- and there's no two ways about it -- I've been eaten plenty of delicious food over the past three years or so.

Back when I was living in Tanzania, I got to realizing that some people eat to live but others live to eat. Tanzanians, I decided, fall into the former category as surely as Malaysians fall into the latter category. And based on what I've observed here in the Big Lychee, most Hong Kongers also tend to fall into the culinary hedonist side of the eating equation.

What of the rest of the world -- and this blog's readers? To help you decide which side of the equation you fall, here's sharing with you the following: that is, that this evening, I left work feeling so blue that I actually thought that I had (temporarily) lost my appetite and contemplated skipping dinner. But figuring that was not a healthy state of affairs, I "forced" myself to try out a sushi restaurant in Causeway Bay that had got some positive reviews.

Suffice to say that the experiment was a success... with my not only having had a pleasing meal there (topped by mentaiko nigiri sushi that was to die for) but a dinner that was so good that it actually changed my mood into a significantly happier one! Put another way: yes, a delicious meal really can make me happy -- and my day. (And no, it doesn't have to be exquisite sushi either although this evening, that most definitely did do the job!)

So... can a wonderful meal -- or even one dish within a meal -- change your mood for the better? And if so, are there any foods in particular that can pretty much be guaranteed to do so? For myself, the answer to the first question is an emphatic "of course"! As for the second... wow, there's so many... that they might have to be the subject of another post... if there's enough interest, of course! ;b


lissa said...

I think there are certain food that changes the body chemistry, thus making us feel happy - though I have not found one that does that for me

Anonymous said...

Hi YTSL! I'm also a firm believer in the mood enhancing properties of food. When I'm feeling down, any of my favorite or comfort foods will do the trick, but I've noticed that Indian food makes me particularly happy. The strong and complex flavors definitely produce a high in me. But simple flavors, like a plain miso broth, can be just as comforting.

sbk said...

hi ytsl,

Like you and duriandave I have foods that help change my mood. Comfort foods, seasonal foods (meaning specific foods I like to eat in certain seasons) and sometimes just something salty, like a couple of saltine crackers, "picks me up".

Please do more about food. I may too.

Glenn, kenixfan said...

I used to really enjoy finding a sushi restaurant and eating by myself. I would enjoy that solitary meal more than any other form of solitary eating. Not sure why. Maybe the act of sitting at the sushi bar and watching the chef and paying attention to the kinds of seafood being served?

I think, speaking as a fat person, the idea of food changing our mood is a dangerous one and explains why so many people in America seem to always be eating comfort food of some kind -- "I'm depressed so I need this..." or "I feel great -- let's go get..."

Really an unhealthy kind of mindset over here and I say that from personal experience too.

That said, one of the things I will miss when I finally leave this country for Asia is the pleasure of driving around on a summer evening and finding some junk food -- usually 7-11 hot dogs -- and eating them while standing near my car outside in the parking lot -- or, better yet, sitting on the hood of my car.

It's a very silly, very American kind of road food but it's weirdly fun.

Maya said...

Those razor clams look yummy. I am one of those that loves food. I can spend hours on end at the market and grocery store looking at food and pretty much everything in our house comes from scratch. If I had to pick one food that makes me happy I would have to say New Mexico Style spicy food (chile stew, enchiladas, tacos, etc...) However, a simple, well cooked meal of in-season produce and products always brings a smile to my face.

gweipo said...

I'm with Glenn. While I'm by no means a fat person, I do tend to resort to food to calm me down, pick me up and generally help me cope with the daily demands. I'm reading an interesting book called "eat what you love love what you eat" and the whole premise is to break the emotional eating cycle that makes people fat.
In her book, if you weren't hungry, you needed to ask yourself what need you were trying to fulfil by eating anyway!

At least here in HK for the most part we're eating 'real' food. Heaven help the rest of the world where food manufacturers carefully balance the SFS (sugar fat salt) ratios in order to optimise craving and over-eating.

W said...

To avoid getting fat, do what the older generation Chinese mums used to say: Stop when you are no longer hungry. Leave the food to others.

YTSL said...

Hi Lissa --

Interesting that you've yet to find a food item that can change your body chemistry and make you happy... Chocolate seems to get many people's vote but have to say that it doesn't have a super strong effect on me.

Hi duriandave --

Interesting that Indian food does the trick for you. Care to tell me when you first ate Indian food and realized it did the trick for you?

Hi sbk --

Thought-provoking comments... and you may be on to something there with the salt as the piece de resistance last night for me was very salty (and delicious) indeed! :O

Hi Glenn --

Thanks for sharing your thoughts on the subject. Something that occurred to me while reading your comments: the food that seem to most make me happy is not junk -- not least because they're meant to be eaten slowly and usually is pretty natural. (Sure I like some fast foods but I think you'd agree that, say, sushi is hardly junk food.)

Hi Maya --

Trust me, those razor clams *are* yummy! :b

As for New Mexican fare: had GREAT blue corn tortillas in New Mexico. And I looooooove Navajo tacos and fry bread (with honey -- soooooo decadent!). :)

Hi gweipo --

Hear, hear re your comments re Hong Kong and food. Am reminded of Anthony Bourdain's comments in his TV show's Hong Kong episode -- about how in Hong Kong, it's not fast food but food fast -- NOT the same thing! :D

Hi W. --

My mom said that too but I tend to eat what's put on my plate because, as a Japanese restaurant owner friend of mine said, you have to honor not only the cook but the person who produced the raw material (the rice farmer, the raiser of pigs, etc., etc., etc.)! ;S

Anonymous said...

YTSL, I've always liked Indian (although I first encountered it as an adult), but the first time I got "high" from it was at this really excellent vegetarian restaurant in Silicone Valley. They serve the most amazing Gujarati and South Indian thalis. Each little dish is like a fireworks display of flavor, and the flavor of each dish is totally distinct from the others. Since then, I always make note of those Indian restaurants that seem particularly adept at working the masala magic. I'm sure that you are no stranger to good Indian food, growing up in Penang. ;)

Diana said...

I love good food but I am not a "foodie." I rarely can "talk" food like some people can, how it was prepared, how it smelled, how it tasted. I either like it or don't. I envy people who can. To me, it is either good or not.

It doesn't raise/diminish my mood either, but rather I eat according to my mood, for example, I eat more when I am depressed or bored. Not good for my waistline or my health.

Living in NYC, the food is almost always good, it is so competitive there that if a restaurant isn't good, it closes pretty quickly. So when people say, oh, you are going to eat such good food in HK I get a little puzzled, because I am already used to really good food, how much better can it be? To me HK food is also good, but in a different way because even what seems familiar, like McDonald's, is still different.

eliza bennet said...

I do love food and eating but after thinking a lot about it, I realised that when I'm down food is not one of the things that makes me a bit happier.

I tend to eat when I'm already happy and immediately lose my appetite when I feel down for some reason. Just water and weak tea would go down and nothing else.

But when I'm happy food is very welcome and I'm consider myself one that lives to eat. Favorite food is Turkish food of course and Korean comes a close second followed by Indian (but unlike Durian Dave I prefer mutton and chicken curries with rotis and parathas.

And I'm eager to read more about food from you.

YTSL said...

Hi again duriandave --

Reading your comments got me recalling reading some time back that chillies, like chocolate, actually have been scientifically proven to lift moods. And a Google Search unearthed this piece:-


But for my part, my favorite Indian food for making me happy are chapatis -- because, among other things, they bring back wonderful memories of three weeks spent in Kenya years back, over the course of which I ate 96 chapatis. (A quick explanation: the family I was staying with are Kenyan Indian -- Gujerati, to be precise! ;b)

Hi Diana --

I think we can safely establish that I, OTOH, am a foodie... ;b

And speaking from a foodie perspective: New York may have many good restaurants... but my foodie friends have wailed about how they can't find any really good Cantonese food (especially dim sum) in New York -- in comparison to Hong Kong. And one of them also said he couldn't find Japanese restaurants in New York that were as good as Hong Kong's!

Hi "eliza bennet" --

My natural reaction (too) is to lose my appetite when I'm feeling down. But I've found that if I persist (like I did on Tuesday evening), I can find foods that not only will bring my appetite but also change my mood for the better.

As for when I'm happy: well, let's just say that I consider deciding what to eat and eating it to be among the pleasures of life itself! :)