I bought The Family Herbal Cookbook by Cecilia Tan and so I decided to step into a Traditional Chinese Medicine Shop to buy some herbs and try out some recipes. I hate entering a shop when I am ignorant about the product that I am going to buy. Its easier to cheat an ignorant person. Afterall, herbs can sometimes be very expensive and how do I know if they are the real thing or fake? So I enter the shop with caution.

And, I AM ignorant. I can’t differentiate between the different herbs. To me, they all look the same. They look like wrinkled old dried up twigs (which they sometimes are) or twisty, ugly, wormy looking thingys. I feel very self-concious at the shop because it is obvious that I do not know my herbs.

I did not grow up in an environment where going to herbal shops comes naturally to me. My mum died at 10 and thats when all things herbal died too for me. So I can’t remember much except for when I was 17 and living with my aunt. I vaguely recall her making a herbal concoction for me by using a double boiler over a charcoal flame on several occassions. That was the extend of my knowledge.

Language is a barrier for me too. I speak limited Cantonese, no Mandarin and my hokkien is half past six (meaning, its lousy). Fortunately for me there are recipe books that comes with complete color photos of the various herbs plus a detailed description of what they are for and there are traditional chinese medicine shops in shopping complexes now. These shops look like they are being run by the second generation English speaking kids who have taken over the running of the business from their parents. Phew! Thats a great relief for me, not having to struggle with my words and have no one understand what I want.

Even then, I embarass myself by not being able to distinguish the herbs and not knowing the prices. When I told the guy at the counter that I wanted 30g of a certain herb, I almost fainted when he told me the price. Lol!

Well, knowledge can be attained, so I shall not let a small thing like that hinder me. I shall continue to study my herbs by reading my recipe book from front to back cover. Don’t laugh. Some of the recipe books are interesting reads as they explain what a certain dish is for and why you mix the ingredients in that manner. So yes, I read my recipe books from front to back before I decide what to try out.

Another thing about Chinese herbs, when I was pregnant, I consulted my gynae about whether I should take things like bah kut teh for example and she told me that its ok to take herbs that you can see in actual physical form but not those that are in powder form because you don’t know whats in them. I think thats sound advice so I’ve followed that from then on. I like to know what I’m ingesting so even if I go to a Chinese Medicinal Hall, I normally won’t tell them to “Chap” (pack) some herbs for me for a given purpose. I prefer to tell them what I want. For that same reason, I don’t usually buy those ready packed ones even though those are much easier to buy and a lot less intimidating then going to a Traditional Chinese Medicine shop.

I haven’t much time to blog these days but hopefully, I can steal some free time here and there to read my recipe book instead.

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