This page is about Chinese Confinement in the early days. True “body-recovering” doesn’t actually happen until past days 10-12. That’s when you take out the heavy artillery. For now, the first 10-12 days (some say 8-10) should be light, mild and “taking it easy”. This doesn’t mean you can eat “cooling foods” or take showers and let your hair to air dry, it means your diet is light. From various sources at the wet mart and Chinese herbalists, the advice is to drink these light teas and lay off the power herbs.
I will continue to add as I learn more here, but here’s a start.
This warming tea has so many amazing purposes! It’s amazing for post partum areplenishing and nourishing blood and Qi.
For post partum:
This tea I drank as a confinement tea and within the first 0-5 days of confinement to help eliminate the lochia. It’s a simple tea with 3 ingredients (the meat is optional if you’re vegetarian) and very easy to make. It’s a sweet, slightly tart tea and must be drank hot/warm. It’s one of the better tasting teas I know available for confinement! You can boil a whole big batch for 5 days worth, refrigerate and then reheat when needed or boil fresh batches everyday. It is recommended to drink 1-2 glasses a day (depending if you’ve got other teas or soups already filling your tummy!). Do not add additives like sugar or salt. Keep it clean, light and natural.
Soak your dates and wood ear for 10-15 minutes in cool water
Boil your soup or tea water
When the water boils, add all the ingredients together and boil on a medium boil (covered) for 1.5 hours
Serve hot/warm directly as is
You can pre-soak the wood ear first thing in the morning. This will soften until you need to boil them.
Be sure to buy and use pitted red dates as the seeds are quite fiery (not in a good way). Some red dates come pre-seeded, but if not, you can use a sharp knife and remove them or halve them first and remove.
My parents were graced with grand child #7 two days ago and this story is the journey of confinement #7 for sister #2. We welcome baby Ashley to the family and because she was early, our personal “Pu Yuet” – who is grandma, is still stuck in Toronto waiting eagerly to board a flight to Hong Kong to help. So both myself and sister #3 have taken over with my mom’s guidance to provide the ultimate confinement diet for my sister #2.
This journey is an inclusive “diary” of the discoveries of food, drinks, soups, teas, traditions and little knick knacks that normal people don’t follow.
I will continue to add to this post as part of the whole story with subsequent posts. Stay tuned and thanks for your continued support. I also welcome any advice or guidance as well. It’s incredible how vendor A will tell you to do A and vendor B will tell you to do B. The knowledge of wealth comprised within that tiny wet mart near my house is incredible and part of my interest now is document it and share it with you.
Traditional Chinese Name: 鮑魚清雞湯 (bào yú qīng jī tāng)
This soup is a powered up version of the Chicken Herbal Soup. Packed with the natural sea-sweetness of the abalones and herbs, it’s a great soup for the cold winter months or confinement. You can eat the abalone as whole pieces (usually the smaller ones are cheaper, but it’s still an expensive soup), or sliced thinly and dipped in soy sauce. Regardless, don’t waste the abalone! In addition, I know it says Chicken soup, but the Chinese commonly also add a small pork shank or pork bone to their otherwise known as Chicken and even Fish soups. You can’t get away from the staple pork.
Tomatoes are the ideal partner in fish soups. It helps alleviate some of the fishy scent as well as bring a sweet and slightly sour taste to the soup. This soup is ideal for confinements and children (at least one year in age as tomatoes are considered too acidic to young children) and is very neutral and healthy. There is virtually no fat in the soup and the broth is rich in flavor and nutrients. It is a great soup base for other ingredients such as other vegetables (celery, onions, carrots, corn, pumpkin) or additives (chestnuts, water chestnuts).
You may have noticed that over the past few months we have been posting many pregnancy and confinement soup recipes to this site. As this blog closely follows the soups we are making for ourselves and for our families, you’ve probably already guessed that we have had a pregnancy in the family. Actually, we’ve had TWO!
On September 1, our sister Carol delivered a healthy baby boy and exactly one month later, on October 1, I (Tracy) welcomed my second daughter into the world. Carol and I and our babies both enjoyed very normal delivery experiences. Besides feeling only slightly weaker, after my daughter was born, I felt happy and healthy and ready to begin my month of post-pregnancy “confinement”.
There was so much to learn and celebrate as we experienced our Chinese culture. This was definitely our growth story!
Before I begin, you should know that my sisters and I are not into “extreme confinement”. That is, we do not strictly confine ourselves to our home, we shower regularly (and wash our hair, but do blow dry right away) and we even turn on the air conditioner (can’t survive +35C in Hong Kong)! That said, we do, however, take our confinement food (especially our soups, of course!) seriously.
Now that my confinement is done, here is a brief summary of my personal confinement story from a soupy perspective.
There were several soups I was required to drink throughout the entire confinement period. Every day, I drank three to five BIG bowls of soup. Each bowl was the equivalent of five or six smaller bowls (similar to the soup sizes served in Chinese restaurants) and it gave me a pleasant and warm feeling of being warm and full for most of the day. My confinement lady (a.k.a. our wonderful mother who is a true Chinese soup lady) cooked at least three different soups every day made from ingredients purchased fresh each day from the nearby wet markets in Hong Kong. The constant soups I drank throughout the day were:
Papaya Fish Soup
This soup is delicious and healthy and is used to help with milk production. When I was engorged (too much milk!) I continued to drink fish soup without the green papaya; instead, we substituted healthy vegetables such as sweet corn and tomatoes.
Chicken Herbal Soup
Everyday, a large pot of chicken soup was made with TWO fresh chickens (black silkie chickens were preferred). Using two chickens made for a very dense and nutritious soup. Drinking “heaty” soups is essential during confinement and so staple herbs included dried longans and fish stomach (pronounced as “fa gao” in Cantonese). Wolfberries and red dates for sweetness were also staples in the soup. Whenever I felt too heaty, we would not include any fish stomach or longans in the soup.
Another “constant” in the second half of my confinement period (after the 13th day) was the traditional ginger and vinegar “soup”. Almost every day, I would eat a small bowl of some pork meat and a boiled chicken egg which had been sitting and marinating in the tangy and delicious stew for days… yum!
Occasionally, my mom also made other drinks and soups for me to drink based on my specific needs. This would vary depending on how far along the confinement you’re at and how you’re feeling. And when I say unique, some of these are truly unique and new for me! The amazing thing about this experience is seeing the difference between Western and Eastern, and blending it so it’s really customized for me. For example, crocodile meat and soft-shelled turtle are common staple meats available in supermarkets in Hong Kong.
Black Bean, Rice and Ginger Water
While I was still at the hospital (the day of delivery), I started to drink an almost tasteless concoction made of water with boiled black beans, rice and ginger. This drink is said to help reduce “wind” in the body and “warm” it up to help with the healing process after giving birth. Instead of drinking water, whenever I felt thirsty, I was encouraged to drink this for the first week after delivery. After my milk came in, we stopped drinking this and focused on fish and chicken soups instead.
Soft-shelled turtles are a “healing” meat and are often consumed even outside of confinement / pregnancy. I drank this soup for only two days half-way through my confinement period to continue to help with the healing process. This should be consumed only if you are not sick as it is believed to “feed” your sickness as well.
DEer Antler with Korean Ginseng Soup
My sister drank this during her confinement as it is also considered a “healing” drink and popular among Chinese as a confinement soup. However, when it came time for me to drink this soup, I was already feeling too “heaty” and so we did not make this for me. Similar to turtle soup, this should be avoided if you are ill or have a fever.
Foods to avoid
All “cooling” foods and soups should be avoided during confinement. I occasionally craved the cooling foods, but was a “good girl” and resisted until after my confinement month was done. Even now, I am still only nibbling at “cool” foods and soups and will continue to do so until after the third month. Foods I avoided include:
Watermelon and other “melons”, including cantaloupe and honeydew
Tofu (and all soy products including soy bean drink)
I also avoided foods which are believed to be slightly “poisonous”:
Crab and other shellfish
Although I’m sure there are many other cooling and poisonous foods which should be avoided, these are the foods which stood out for me because I eat or drink them on a regular basis and had to consciously avoid them.
And here ends my confinement story. I’m happy to say the month is now done and I feel more free to do and eat what I please. If you have other tips or foods to eat or avoid during confinement, please share with us and our readers by posting to our comments.