Foods eaten on Lidong, 1st day of winter, in Taiwan

A list of foods Taiwanese eat on Lidong, the 1st day of winter

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Snow on Yangmingshan. (CNA image)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) -- Today (Nov. 7) is Lidong (立冬), the first day of winter on the lunisolar calendar and as such, it is a time when Taiwanese traditionally prepare for the cold and soggy winter in Taiwan by consuming various foods and tonics to warm their bodies. 

In the lunisolar calendar, Lidong starts when the sun reaches celestial longitude 225° and comes to an end when the sun hits 240° longitude, which generally corresponds to Nov. 7 - Nov. 22 on the Gregorian calendar. 

On the first day of winter, people in Taiwan traditionally eat foods and drink tonics to "warm" their bodies based on the Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) core tenet of balancing Yin and Yang, which in this case means trying to consume foods that are more Yang (warm) in nature to counteract the Yin (cold) of winter.

Examples of foods that Taiwanese eat at the start of winter are mulberry, dried longan, softshell turtles, and black fungus. TCM practitioners advise that meals should be more plain in nature, include foods that are higher in calories, and fresh vegetables are important to avoid vitamin deficiencies. They also advise eating more protein, taking more vitamins, and consuming foods with a higher fiber content. 

Foods that are high in Yang energy that TCM experts suggest consuming during winter include, beef, mutton, Silkie chicken, soybean milk, milk, radish, celery, potatoes, Chinese cabbage, spinach, apples, longan, and black rice. TCM experts also suggest consuming more nuts during winter, such as peanuts, walnuts, chestnuts, hazelnuts, and almonds. 

Examples of tonics that Taiwanese consume during this period that are more Yang in nature, include sesame oil chicken soup, ginger duck stew, mutton hotpot, herbal chicken soup, ginseng chicken soup, and Silkie chicken soup. During this time of year, chain restaurants that specialize in just one these dishes really kick into high gear, with lines out the door, and seating for customers spilling onto the sidewalk.

Popular chains that sell these dishes in Taiwan include Bawei Ginger Duck (霸味薑母鴨), Changjiang Mutton Hotpot (長疆羊肉爐), Wanhua Sesame Oil Chicken (萬華麻油雞), Fengxianju (鳯涎居), and Yushanbao (御膳寶).

A doctor of TCM at Taiwan Landseed Hospital, Chen Tsung-cheng (陳宗政), in an interview with Liberty Times said that when the weather is unseasonably warm, people should take care and not consume too many such tonics to generate heat when it's not necessary. Chen has already had a patient who consumed too many warming brews resulting in severe constipation.

Chen also said that if a person experiences dry mouth, a red tongue, excessive body heat, insomnia, constipation, or acne, then these could be signs of overdoing it with warming (Yang) herbs and foods.  

Chen recommended that those wishing to consume herbs and tonics for specific medical conditions during the winter, should first consult with a qualified TCM physician to ensure that they are receiving appropriate and balanced treatment based upon their physical condition. In addition, the Minsitry of Health and Welfare reminds people who are suffering from high blood pressure, hyperlipidemia, hyperglycemia, chronic diseases or colds, or who are currently taking prescription medicines, to first consult with medical professionals before consuming such tonics to avoid complications.