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Sunday, July 1, 2001


Eat right to beat the heat

Staff writer

Japan's long, hot, humid summer can certainly put a damper on both mind and body. So what kind of food, if any, will help you cope with the intense heat and make you feel cool?

Fresh fruits and vegetables -- spicy and sweet -- keep off summer's heat.

Somen (Japanese vermicelli), hiyamugi (iced noodles), kakigori (shaved ice) and watermelons immediately come to mind for many Japanese. They'll cool you down temporarily, but if you rely on them exclusively you'll end up feeling far from genki. On the other hand, though dishes like yakiniku (barbecued beef) or unagi (eel) may give stamina, they're too rich to go down well in hot weather.

One strategy you can try is eating hot and spicy -- heat the belly to cool down the body.

Thai and Indian food makes you perspire, reducing the body's surface temperature. This is caused by red pepper, which also spurs secretions of gastric fluid, boosting the appetite.

Yakuzen, a type of cuisine originating in China, is another option. Yakuzen has its roots in "ishoku dogen," a phrase of Chinese origin meaning that medicine and one's daily diet are equally important in making an ailing body well. One of the ishoku dogen concepts advises eating seasonal vegetables: cool cucumbers and tomatoes in summer, and warming broccoli and turnips in winter.

Kazuhiko Tei, owner and chef of Ryu-tan, a Taiwanese restaurant in Osaka, follows the principles of ishoku dogen. He suggests that people oversensitive to the cold (a condition known as hiesho in Japanese) eat vegetables fried or cooked in a soup.

Fruits are also ideal in summer. Tei recommends fresh pineapples, papaya and kiwi fruit, which are full of vitamins and minerals. They make an ideal end to a meal, as the citric acid in fruit aids digestion.

Hot soup and Chinese tea are also recommended in summer instead of cold drinks that can stress the stomach, Tei adds.

Yasuko Kamimura, a nutrition adviser, agrees with Tei that excessive consumption of cold food or fluids is not good for the body, saying that it is important to take in not just food and drinks that cool you down, but also those that raise body temperature.

"Balance is important. If you want to have tofu, then you should have it with a garnish such as Japanese onion, ginger, garlic or red pepper," Kamimura says. "This will make a good balance between something that cools down your body [tofu] and something that heats up your body [spices]."

The kind of food you eat should also be based on the kind of environment you are in.

"If you stay outside during the day and your body gets hot, you should eat food that brings the body temperature down. If you stay inside an air-conditioned office all day, it's the other way round," she says.

Kamimura suggests that warming dishes, such as butashabu (boiled pork slices) and kimchi, are good to counter the indoor chills.

Yakumi (spices) such as wasabi, shiso, karashi (mustard) and myoga (Japanese ginger) can warm up the body, too, as well as increase the appetite. They are also said to have antibiotic properties that help prevent food poisoning.

Kamimura recommends satsuma, a Shikoku dish that has become a staple of Kagoshima, as a simple, nutritious meal perfect for the summer.

To prepare this, cook aji (horse mackerel) and grind it in a mortar. Add miso and dilute with a little dashi-jiru (broth) and crushed sesame. Serve on rice like tororo-gohan (boiled rice and grated yam) and add sliced cucumbers or myoga as garnish.

"It is always worthwhile going back to traditional Japanese cuisine and seeing what our predecessors used to have in summer. From there, we can find useful tips for keeping cool during this season," Kamimura says.

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