Going vegetarian for good health is increasingly the choice of men and women showing dietary awareness.
Lee Feng-san, a qigong master with rapidly multiplying followers among the professionals seeking to regain their health after losing it through a far-from-ideal lifestyle, is a mentor who influences those who come to learn from him on how to eat to enjoy good health. He actually draws on the wisdom of ancient Chinese people.
Lee even quoted Confucius as saying, "If the food is not thoroughly cooked till soft, don't eat it. Leftovers from the night before should not be eaten. Refrain from eating food without sauce, too."
"Our ancestors have taught us that if the food ingredients like vegetables are cooked thoroughly," pointed out Lee, "all the nutrients end up in the soup. Once the consumption takes place, the body digests and absorbs the nutrients directly. The body has no need to do anything else."
Lee revealed: "All the soups on the menu of the newly opened Mei Men Tavern are slowly cooked for three to eight hours. This means that the nutrients which can be derived from the fruit and leafy vegetables have been transferred to the soups for the convenient consumption of growing children as well as the senior citizens."
Lee also acknowledged the importance of sauces. "Commercial sauces, however, often rely on spices. We have our own tried and tested home recipes. We use stocks extracted after allowing vegetable ingredients to cook and simmer for long hours. The resulting aroma and taste are absolutely natural and unflavored by additives."
Wei I-kai, a follower of Lee and a former chef at the Grand Hotel, spent two to three years trying to learn from Lee the essence of nourishing vegetarian food. He then experimented hundred of times on the dishes for Mei Men Tavern's menu. Strictly fresh and natural ingredients were used. Only salt was allowed in the recipes. There was no room for other seasonings.
Wei said goodbye to his days of feasting on rich and greasy food when he became Lee's follower a few years ago. He presently runs the kitchen of Mei Men Tavern, a new vegetarian restaurant on Chunghua Road, Sec. 1, in downtown Taipei. The meat-free meals he serves offer balanced nutrition. Set meals range from NT$320 to NT$380 in price.
His vegetable soup, a recipe learned from his qigong master, is something the restaurant is proud of. Wei explained: "There are more than 10 vegetable ingredients in it. The preparation is tedious. The soup is cooked slowly. A pot takes almost the whole day to cook. The sequence of the cooking is very specific to ensure that all the nutrients are eventually absorbed by the body, protecting also the stomach in the process."
Dropping meat completely requires finding protein substitutes in the vegetable family, according to Wei. The ingredients in the soup as well as in the other dishes served account for a balanced diet. The dish choices on the menu are limited though. However, a diner is certain to find something interesting worth trying. The seasonal food recipes are designed to nourish and improve the flow of the body's qi or vital energy. Squash and lotus root are recommended when colder weather sets in. Taro or yam and peanut are deemed nutritious especially in a meatless diet. Mushrooms help build and strengthen the body's immune system.
Rice does not necessarily have to be eaten plain at the Mei Men Tavern. One menu option features melted cheese poured over rice.
Call it fate. One day, while busy deep-frying food in the kitchen of the Grand Hotel, Wei happened to cast around and his eyes fell on a newspaper with a small announcement about the qigong class of Lee. Having studied martial arts in the past, he developed an interest in the traditional Chinese qigong. He decided to go for lessons in the gentler art. He has never turned back.
"I was very much overweight before," said Wei. "But by turning vegetarian, I lost so many kilos. I feel now much healthier."
Wei made a total commitment to follow the teachings of Lee to the extent of joining the master's live-in community at the Mei Men Qigong and Culture Center on Guangzhou Street in Taipei and even bringing his family along with him.
Wei went to work in a vegetarian restaurant for a while to master the preparation of veggie dishes. However, his qigong teacher taught him to focus on the use of natural foods. The artificial vegemeat or fake meat commonly used in vegetarian restaurants was rejected from the beginning. All the serving attendants at the Mei Men Tavern are avid practitioners of qigong. Some are already teachers. They are ever ready to win converts to "pingshuai" or level arm swing. This is what Lee Feng-san teaches as a foundational qigong exercise.
The staff introduces the Mei Men Qigong and Culture Center through a film in the restaurant. A demonstration of "pingshuai" is also possible right inside the restaurant.
Raising both arms to chest level, then dropping and swinging them backwards continuously for minutes on end, bending knees simultaneously after every five counts, are what this exercise is about.
Such regimen puts practitioners on the way to a life without medicines. As Wei put it, "I used to have high blood pressure and other health problems. But I don't take medicines at all. In fact, I don't see the need to go and see the doctor. My health insurance card is unused."
The Mei Men Qigong and Culture Center invites the public to join the "pingshuai" movement at the 228 Peace Park in Taipei at 9:30 a.m. today. "Pingshuai" or the level arm swing, if done regularly without fail, helps strengthen the body's immune system.
The Mei Men Tavern is located at 2F, 104 Chunghua Road, Sec. 1, Taipei. For more information, call tels. (02) 2361-7919 or (02) 2375-5905.