The Breakfast Ties That Bind

Wang Jiawei wrote . . . . . . . . .

Zhu Tong never forgets the mist that gushes out when the steamer opens. As the breakfast joint owner scoops out glistening grains into a bowl, he tops it with sprinkles of fried dough and a generous ladle of broth made with mushroom and minced pork. Zhu would use a stain-less steel spoon to thoroughly scrape down every inch of his bowl.

This is how Wenzhou sticky rice, a breakfast staple of Zhu’s hometown of Wenzhou in southern Zhejiang province, was consumed in the family-run shops by the entrance of his village. But for the first 26 years of Zhu’s life, he experienced such delightful memories barely once or twice a year, when his parents took him back home for a visit.

Born in Wenzhou’s Yueqing Town in 1988, Zhu was raised in Qinhuangdao, Hebei province, some 1,600 kilometers north. Zhu’s father is a veteran Wenzhou businessman who, starting in the 1980s, traveled widely and distributed electric appliances made by the city’s burgeoning manufacturing industry all across northern China. The work was hectic and distances long, so the family rarely returned to their hometown, which made the taste of sticky rice especially precious to Zhu since childhood. “Each year, I went back to relive the same flavors from the year before,” Zhu recalls.

Following the successful economic reform experiments in Guangdong and Fujian, in 1984, China’s leaders selected Wenzhou among 14 coastal cities to “open up” to foreign investment. This launched the coastal city, already with a rich history of commerce and handicrafts, into a period of rapid economic development. Small family-run factories mushroomed around the area to churn out shoes, clothes, lighters, and other “small commodities,” which were then distributed by local businesspeople, who’ve left their footprints all around China and even the world as they search for greater opportunities. For members of the Wenzhou diaspora, like Zhu, a bowl of steaming sticky rice connects them to their memories of home and bonds them to each other.

To make sticky rice, Wenzhou cooks always soak glutinous rice for about five hours, or until the grains become transparent and break at the poke of a finger. The rice is then placed in a gauze-wrapped wooden steamer and steam-cooked for 20 minutes. In the local dialect, this procedure is known as chui.

Although sticky rice is enjoyed all over China, the dough bits and broth bring out the distinctive soul of Wenzhou’s rendition. Each grain of rice absorbs the savory taste from the thick dark broth, and the aroma of pork and shiitake mushrooms slowly rises along with the mist of the heated rice. When the fresh-out-of-bed breakfasters take a bite, the crunch of the crispy dough fritter, the salty aroma of the broth, and the faint sweetness of the rice immediately gets them ready for a new day.

At a typical breakfast establishment in Wenzhou, a bowl usually costs six to 10 yuan ($1.50), and most patrons enjoy it with a bowl of soy milk on the side. Retired elders, white-collar workers wearing suits, college students with their backpacks, and diners of all ages gather around the same table to eat.

Wenzhou sticky rice, however, is not well-known to people outside the city. In China, the stereotype of Wenzhou is a city full of business cunning and people always on the go (plus a devilishly difficult dialect). Starting in the early 2000s, people in many cities across the country have even complained about “Wenzhou property speculation groups”” — businesspeople from the city who allegedly arrived in droves to buy properties and flipped them for profit, causing housing prices to rise for locals. But for the descendants of Wenzhou, wherever and in whatever circumstances they find themselves, sticky rice still glues them together.

At a breakfast joint near a middle school in Wenzhou, 48-year-old Xiao Zhi does brisk business every morning, and says she has been selling sticky rice for 26 years. She says there’s no special reason why the city’s people are fond of this food — rather, eating it is like second nature to her. “I have eaten sticky rice for as long as I remember,” she tells TWOC.

But for Zhu, who did not grow up in Wenzhou, a bowl of sticky rice became the emblem of his adolescent pining for his hometown until the end of 2014. That year, at age 26, he opened a restaurant called “Sticky House,” specializing in Wenzhou sticky rice in Hong Kong, where which he had called home since 2007.

Following the completion of his bachelor’s degree in public policy and management at Hong Kong City University, Zhu stayed to work for a state-owned finance company. But both the “nostalgia for the flavors of home” and the “‘never settle’ attitude ingrained in the bones of Wenzhou people,” he says, led him to quit his respectable, stable job and devote himself to Sticky House.

Zhu’s parents didn’t understand his career choices. “The older generation thinks the food industry is tough work,” he explains. “But they didn’t object either.”

Zhu swiftly found four business partners through the Wenzhou Youth Association in Hong Kong. The team even spent a month in Wenzhou to study how to chui sticky rice with an old local cook. “For the broth, the cook only told us the general recipe, and we had to experiment the details by ourselves,” Zhu says. After they arrived at the perfect recipe, “we weighed all ingredients on a scale.”

Since opening, many seniors who had migrated from Wenzhou to Hong Kong have frequented Sticky House for a taste of home, even though some of them have forgotten how to speak the Wenzhou dialect. Curious Hong Kong locals have also come for a try.

Outside China, Wenzhou people also ventured out across the world, their footprints covering 131 countries and regions in five continents, according to official statistics from the city in 2016. In Italy alone, according to Wenzhou News, there were about 300,000 people of Wenzhou descent in 2011. Many of them arrived young without knowing how to speak any foreign language. They started out painting houses, washing dishes, or making clothes, but finally returned home having made their fortune.

In 2012, state broadcaster CCTV released a TV series called Family on the Go, which tells the story of a family that left Wenzhou in the early 1980s. Zhou Ayu, the protagonist, was sent to Prato, Italy, at the age of 13 by her parents, who sold their ancestral house in order to pay her costs. She works and studies hard to start her own clothing brand, while the family back in China also strugglesd to start their own business.

As children of Wenzhou set down new roots in lands far away from home, they have brought sticky rice with them. Some set up Chinese supermarkets or online shops offering vacuum-sealed packages of the dish ready to be steamed to restore its original flavor.

In Milan, where the Italy Milan Wenzhou Chamber of Commerce (the first such organization in Italy, which facilitates business and social connections for the local Wenzhou diaspora) was founded in 1999, there are now several breakfast joints in the city’s Chinatown serving Wenzhou sticky rice among the steamed buns and other more common Chinese breakfast offerings. Many Wenzhou natives who now call Milan home shrewdly compare the ingredients and prices of each store before choosing an establishment to patronize.

Zhu’s Sticky House only stuck around for about half a year, and in 2019, he moved back to Hebei to join his father’s venture. But Zhu still idolizes the flavors that haunted his childhood and youth. Once, during a family trip to Venice, he stumbled upon a restaurant selling Wenzhou sticky rice. After a quick bite, however, he left without finishing the food. “Maybe it was the ingredients in Europe… [It] was just not authentic enough,” he laments.

Source: SixthTone






In Pictures: Food of Sushi Wadatsumi in Tsim Sha Tsui, Hong Kong

Omakase Sushi and Japanese Cuisine

The 2022 Michelin 1-star Restaurant





U.S. Leads in Health Care Spending, But Is Last for Health Outcomes Among Rich Nations

Denise Mann wrote . . . . . . . . .

The United States spends up to four times more on health care than most wealthy nations, but it doesn’t have much to show for it.

Life expectancy in America continues to decline even though this country spends nearly 18% of its gross domestic product on health care, according to a new report from the nonprofit Commonwealth Fund.

“The U.S. stands out as the only nation in the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development [OECD] without universal health coverage, our life expectancy is dropping, and we have higher rates of avoidable deaths than other nations,” said report author Munira Gunja. She is a senior researcher for the Commonwealth Fund’s International Program in Health Policy and Practice Innovation, in New York City.

Besides the lack of universal health care coverage, the United States has too few primary care providers and doesn’t spend enough on primary care, which makes it difficult for folks to get basic preventive health care and sets them up for chronic conditions, she added.

In the report, Gunja’s team compared health care spending and outcomes in the United States with those of 12 other high-income nations and the averages for 38 OECD member nations between January 2020 and December 2021.

What did the team find? The United States fell short on many measures.

Americans had the lowest life expectancy at 77, which is three years younger than the average among people in other wealthy nations.

Despite spending more on health care than other nations, the United States also continues to have the highest rates of preventable deaths from diabetes, high blood pressure-related diseases and certain cancers, and the highest rate of people living with multiple chronic conditions, the report found. The obesity rate in the United States is nearly double what is seen in other OECD nations.

What’s more, the United States also had the highest rate of death from COVID-19 compared with other nations. And Americans are more likely to die from physical assault, including gun violence, while the country has the highest infant and maternal death rates among OECD nations.

Even though screening rates for breast and colon cancer and flu shots in the United States are among the highest in the world, COVID-19 vaccination rates are falling behind many nations, the new report showed.

There has been some progress in expanding access to health insurance in the United States, but more work is needed to fill in the gaps and get people the health care they need, the researchers said.

Enacted in 2010, the Affordable Care Act (ACA, or “Obamacare”) opened up a marketplace for purchasing affordable health insurance. More than 3 million new people signed up for health insurance under the ACA this year, raising enrollment numbers to a record 16.3 million Americans.

Despite the ACA, millions of Americans still can’t afford coverage and/or live in health care deserts without access to physicians. “Many states haven’t expanded Medicaid, so they have no good affordable options,” Gunja noted.

“We have to make sure everyone has access to a health insurance plan that is affordable and that preventive care is free with no co-payment,” Gunja said. “We need to invest in the primary care workforce, provide incentives for physicians to enter primary care, and enact loan forgiveness for medical school debt, or we will never be able to solve this crisis.”

But it’s still possible to turn things around. “Other countries did it, so we should be able to do it, too,” she said.

U.S. health care policy experts have ideas about how to solve the health care crisis in the United States.

“We are financially out of control in the U.S. and spend too much on what others get for far less money, with no effect on the health outcomes,” said Dr. Arthur Caplan, a bioethicist and founder of the division of medical ethics at NYU’s Grossman School of Medicine in New York City.

In addition to improving access to health insurance, the United States needs to make sure that health care is available everywhere, Caplan added. “We need to find ways to get services to rural or poor people, because even if they have insurance, it doesn’t mean that there is a physician nearby,” he said.

Better use of technology, including telemedicine, may help fill some of these gaps, he said. Primary care delivered by physician assistants, nurse practitioners and pharmacists can also improve access to health care.

“We have to get more creative than we have been to get services out there,” Caplan said.

Focusing on prevention and wellness in schools and other community settings may also help people live longer, Caplan suggested.

Improving access to primary care doctors is an important part of the solution, said Emma Wager, a policy analyst at Kaiser Family Foundation, in San Francisco.

“We have fewer physicians than other countries, and fewer Americans see a primary care doctor every year, and that is a major reason why we have poorer health outcomes,” said Wager, because people who see primary care doctors tend to fare better.

Source: HealthDay







4 shrimp in shells without heads, about 30 g each
80 g chicken thighs, skinned
4 fresh shiitake mushrooms
1/4 bunch mitsuba (trefoil)


3 eggs
1-3/4 cups dashi
1 tsp mirin
2 tsp light soy sauce
pinch salt


  1. Shell and devein the shrimp. Cut chicken into 2-cm cubes. Parboil shrimp and chicken briefly, cool in cold water, and drain.
  2. Cut shiitake into halves, and parboil. Cut mitsuba into 3/4-inch lengths.
  3. Make the custard. Beat eggs lightly so they won’t bubble. Combine dashi and seasonings, add the mixture to the eggs, and strain through a sieve.
  4. Pat dry shrimp, chicken, shiitake, and mitsuba, and distribute evenly into 4 serving cups. Fill with custard to four-fifths full, and cover with lids or plastic wrap.
  5. Transfer the cups to preheated steamer, and cook over high heat for 2-3 minutes. Turn down heat to low, and cook for 15 minutes more. Custard is done if clear juice comes out when it is poked with a bamboo skewer.
  6. Remove cups from steamer and serve hot.

Makes 4 servings.

Source: 100 Recipes from Japanese Cooking

Today’s Comic




In Pictures: New Japanese Sweets of Kameya Mannendo Japan (亀屋万年堂)