Tuesday, May 27, 2014

A Taste of the Island

One of my favorite parts about our stay in Taichung, Taiwan, was learning more about the large variety of foods Taiwan has to offer. Have you ever heard of a bitter melon? I hadn’t either. Dr. Chow, the director of the nutrition department at CMU provided a lecture on bitter melon during our stay. The title of her presentation was “Bitter Melon Flavored Ice Cream—Research and Development of Functional Food.” Up to this point, we hadn't had many formal education sessions related to nutrition, so I was quite excited for this lecture. 
Dr. Chow showing us what Bitter Melon looks like in the powdered, concentrated form
Dr. Chow kicked off her lecture by discussing more about functional foods. In Taiwan, functional food labeling has been regulated since the Health Food Control Act of 1999. They are ahead of the United States in this aspect, as there are very few regulations regarding supplementation. For you non-dietetics majors reading this, functional foods are essentially those which are able to provide added health benefits beyond the basic nutrition specifically to an intended population. One of the foods we consistently saw the seal on was yogurt. Good thing I am a big yogurt fan!
A product with the functional food labeling in the upper right corner

After covering functional foods in detail, we then learned more about the bitter melon. The bitter melon is grown in Taiwan and, as the name indicates, has a bitter taste. It has been examined in studies for its role in weight loss promotion and benefits on hypoglycemia. We also learned about capsaicin and its relationship with anti-obesity. l of this information provided a nice introduction to the bitter melon ice cream and capsaicin cones we would be making that afternoon. Many of the CMU students came together to teach us how to make the bitter melon ice cream. (The cones had been prepared for us earlier that morning.) When I first tried the bitter melon, I have to admit that I was a bit skeptical of how delicious the ice cream would be, but I was pleasantly surprised. Yum! It is always rewarding to try a treat that you prepared instead of simply purchasing.
Here is what bitter melon looks like
Preparing the eggs and milk
Their professor is showing us how to best cut the bitter melon
Boiling the bitter melon to soften it
Christina and Kevin working hard on the bitter melon ice cream
Our ice cream is almost complete!
The finished product: Yum!

We had more opportunities to cook with the students later in the week. One day, we were divided into groups with CMU students. It was a cooking competition! The students had written their own original recipes and prepared creative recipe display cards. I don’t mean to brag, but my group rocked!! They were a blast to work with and were so nice about including me in the preparation of their recipes. The recipes we followed were for Sauteed Chicken Slices with Scallion and Japanese Miso Soup. After our time had expired, each group tasted each other’s foods and were allowed to vote for the best dishes. My group tied with another group for the most votes. (We are the champions in my book!)
The recipes my group composed
I look pretty helpless in this photo, but I promise I contributed!!
Kevin is telling me how small to cut the green onion
How creative is my group?!?
Note the little rabbit carrots cut-out at the top of the plate
Representing SDSU Jacks from afar! :)
I loved working with my group!
Later, we also prepared a traditional dish that is usually eaten at the Chinese Dragon Boat Festival. I think it is safe to say that we never went hungry during our stay in Taiwan! Zongzi is made of rice stuffed with a number of different ingredients. We would refer to them in the West as rice dumplings. We had a number of options for stuffings, including: rice, pork, egg yolk, peanuts, and shrimp. Since I was so full already, I tried a small bite of the zongzi.
We formed an assembly line to make the zongzi
Concentrating on properly tying the bamboo leaves
Jessica and I enjoying the process
Dr. Kattelmann finally learned the secret to proper folding of the bamboo leaves
We placed strings around each for the steaming
On Thursday morning, we were greeted by Dr. Stacy who teaches college level psychology courses in Taiwan. He was actually from Mississippi and has been living with his Taiwan-born wife there for several years. He met with us to talk about some of the contrasts between the United States and Taiwan. One of the things that stuck out to me was the education of young students. Earlier in the week, when Dr. Wang was lecturing to the Taiwan students about the U.S. and South Dakota., he mentioned sarcastically that college students never experience stress. However, the Taiwan students suggested, overall, that they really don’t feel stressed in school. This was interesting to note as Dr. Stacy spoke about the tremendous amount of stress placed on students in elementary and middle school. Not only do students arrive at school around 7:20am, but they also attend Cram School in the evening to maintain their competitive edge. He also mentioned that students really don’t have leisure time like American students do. At times I felt as if he was generalizing American students and underestimating how hard we work. However, I don’t doubt that the students of Asian countries do work hard. I am very thankful that I not only had a good work ethic in school, but I also was able to involve myself in a variety of extracurricular activities and sports. I think it is important to have that balance in life, starting from a young age. 

More on my time in Taiwan in my next post! 

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