Black chicken, hot ginger coke and red tea — to your health

On a recent visit to Yixing, China (a comparatively small city of less than 1.5 million people, a few kilometres from Wuxi in the Jiangsu province, two hours from Shanghai), I discovered a triptych of unusual health remedies.

I first thought it was a joke when I saw the “black chicken” delivered to the kitchen at our hotel.

The black-bone chicken is a special Chinese breed from the Wushan Mountain in Taihe, Jiangxi Province, where it has been raised for more than 2,000 years. The main difference from other breeds is the black color of the bird’s skin, muscles, bones and some internal organs.

Mainly used for chicken soup, this breed is deeply rooted in the Chinese culture of Taihe and, like so many dishes in China, its consumption is beneficial to your health, especially to improve overall physiological functions, support anti-aging and strengthen muscles and bones. It is particularly recommended for elderly people, children and pregnant women.

I must say that tasting it “blind” I could not recognize a black chicken from a regular one! But I trusted my host, David Sun Yongwei, on that one.

Another discovery during this trip was a very simple but unusual drink for a Westerner: the hot ginger coke. While it is very common in China to drink boiled water with sliced ginger and honey or sugar as a cure against respiratory diseases, I was genuinely surprised by the hot container filled with a more “Western” version. Indeed, the boiled water was replaced by cola. When it’s cold and rainy, or if a guest has a cold, offering a “ginger coke” is an attentive and considerate service much appreciated by guests. Please, do try this at home … I leave it to your taste buds to decide the health benefits!

Finally, I could not leave Yixing without paying a tribute to its beautiful and famous tea pots. The production of these famous clay art pieces started in Yixing around 500 years ago, during the Ming Dynasty. The area is characterized by rich natural deposits of clay, and master artists established a reputation for their craft in all of China. The pots are valued as antiques as much as for brewing tea. A couple of years ago, a famous manufacturer sold one for almost US$3 million.

The teapots are handmade with the special local clay and almost assume a life of their own. I have nothing against the glass or porcelain teapot; on the contrary, some teapots are just amazing and delicate, but they aren’t quite as individual as the ones from Yixing.

Even though these clay pots require more maintenance, they can glow, acquire a patina, evolve while being used and sometimes be proudly bequeathed to the next generation. Because the inside is rarely glazed, it is recommended to use only one type of tea for each teapot. I would suggest the local “red tea” (what we sometimes call “black tea” in Western countries). The city of Yixing has established a controlled growing area, making this tea a cultural and historical symbol, combining a great taste with positive health effects.

This trip to Yixing was a true discovery for the senses but at the same time reminded me how much China can and does mix traditions with modernity.