Despite this year’s mild winter, some of us are still enjoying hearty soups and other cold-weather dishes. Practices such as traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) or Ayurveda take a holistic view of the relationship between living beings and their environment, and offer clear recommendations not just for seasonal diets but also for harmony of food and body types. TCM categorises food as 涼 lèung (“cooling”), 熱氣 yiht hei (“warming”) and neutral – and practitioners use the nature of the foods to balance the body’s yin and yang.
Such notions are widely held in most Chinese communities, including that in Hong Kong, where mothers often scold children for eating fried food, “Don’t eat that: it’s yiht hei!” Because if you consume too much food that is yiht hei (“heaty, causing internal body heat”) you are liable to develop symptoms such as a sore throat, cough, mouth ulcers, acne, sore eyes and tiredness. If you eat yiht hei food, then, according to TCM, you need to consume something chīng yiht (“cooling”) to clear the heat and toxins, cool and calm the blood and nourish your yin. Typical cooling drinks include lèung chà (“cool tea”), such as chrysanthemum tea and yah sei meih (“24-flavour tea”). Beer is also considered a cooling drink and is referred to as gwéiló lèung chà (“Westerner’s cool tea”).
New Englishes, such as Singapore English, have evolved to encompass these cultural concepts as lexical items. Singaporeans constantly advise each other that eating too much durian, mango or chocolate will make you heaty, and such an indulgence has to be countered by consuming something cooling, say, mangosteen or coconut water.
Such widespread currency of these words in new Englishes has been recognised by the Oxford English Dictionary: the words “heaty” and “cooling” were included in its December 2016 update, the former first documented in print usage in 1940, and the latter as far back as 1842.
So, if during the festive season you notice a friend indulging in too much bakkwa, those Fujian-origin savoury-sweet grilled dried pork slices so popular during Lunar New Year, don’t hesitate to warn them, “Don’t eat too much of that – it’s heaty!”