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Healing Meals, the Asian Way
Diners at the Imperial Herbal Restaurant in Singapore get more than just chopsticks with their meal. They're also treated to a medical checkup with the resident herbalist, who presides over an apothecary cabinet full of herbal powders, slivered roots and time-honored tonics at the front of the restaurant.

Wearing a starched white coat, the Chinese doctor reads your pulse, examines your tongue, inquires about the foods you eat, and listens to any health concerns--all traditional components of Chinese diagnostics and healing. Depending on your age, your general health, and even the time of year, the herbalist recommends appropriate menu choices. He will prepare individualized blends of herbs targeted at your specific needs, which the Imperial Herbal's chefs then use to season the many types of seafood, meat, tofu, and vegetables on the menu. He will advise on the best course to follow for a healthier lifestyle. You can even order a custom mix of herbs to go.

An Ancient "New" Idea
Healing foods are nothing new to Asians. For thousands of years, Chinese doctors have traditionally prescribed particular foods and herbs to get the body's vital energy (chi) flowing. The aim is to restore a healthful balance of yin and yang--the two dueling but complementary forces that according to Taoist belief rule the universe, including individual illness and health. Someone who is listless, quiet, easily tired, or quick to become lightheaded, for example, may have an excess of cooling yin; a helpful remedy may be hot (yang) foods such as ginger, beef, or lamb. Conversely, a person with an excess of yang, who might tend to have an angry or volatile temperament, be overweight, or suffer from high blood pressure, might benefit from such yin foods as tofu, cucumbers, or bean sprouts. There's no guarantee that a visit to the Imperial Herbal will relieve your arthritis, clear your complexion, cure a hangover, or stop a toothache in its tracks. But at about $25 for a meal, it may be worth a try.

Most common health complaint from patrons:
Stress and low energy. Suggested dishes: Double-Boiled Soup with American Ginseng (an herb that "relieves fatigue, breathlessness, and restlessness," in a broth that "enhances mental sharpness and sexual potency"); Braised Canadian Codfish with Dangshen and Huang Qi (two Chinese herbs that "relieve fatigue and strengthen resistance").

Most popular menu selection:
Imperial Chicken with Eight Precious Herbs (dangshen, Rehmanniae praeparata, angelica, baizhu, white peony, Ligustici chuanxiong, China root [fuling], and licorice). A balanced blend of yin and yang, which the menu describes as "the classic formula for building blood and energy." Reservations: Phone (65) 337-0491; fax (65) 336-1305; e-mail herbal@pacific.net.sg. Located on the third floor of the Metropole Hotel, 41 Seah St., Singapore.

Recommended related cookbooks: Grace Young, The Wisdom of the Chinese Kitchen (Simon & Schuster, 1999); Nina Simonds, A Spoonful of Ginger (Knopf, 1999)


Date Published: 01/14/2000
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