There's an old Chinese proverb that says: "Better to be deprived of food for three days, than deprived of tea for one", as the Chinese have known for thousands of years the health benefits of drinking black tea to stay young and healthy. One of my staff asked me the other day why there doesn't seem to be as many sick Chinese in the hospitals and at the medical clinics, mainly Fijians and Indians. And why do the Chinese look much younger than both the iTaukei and Kai-Idia people? As a Chinese Australian, the answer is very clear; the Chinese people see food and drink as medicine for their bodies, including black tea. Nearly everything we eat and drink is for good health and long life, not only because it tastes good or we're hungry. One of the most influential physicians in the history of Chinese medicine, Sun Simao (581-682 AD), who lived to be 101 in the 7th century, instructed his students to "Treat an illness first with food. Only if this fails should medicine be prescribed".
You don't need to be a doctor to understand that the human body is made up of a complex balance of water, minerals and natural chemicals, so everything we digest can have an effect on how healthy our bodies are on the inside. From our hearts, lungs, liver and kidney, to our blood, tissue and cells, can be affected by the unhealthy and synthetic chemicals we eat. Dr Byron Cragun, an American chiropractor and doctor of natural medicines, who lives and works in Suva, describes the health impact of what many Fijian's eat very simply. He says that if everyone in Fiji removed the trans-fatty cooking oils, margarine, refined sugar and salt from their diet, this country's non-communicable diseases would decrease rapidly. It's hard to argue with his view, as many of the iTaukei Fijian's living on the outer islands like Kadavu and Bua in Vanua Levu, are certainly living longer than those closer to the urban areas. Ratu Apenisa Vuki, the Tui Kabulau, says that his family has lived to nearly 100 years or more, mainly because they eat the fresh foods of fish, root crops and green vegetables that his ancestors have always eaten. He discourages his people to follow the Western lifestyle and foods, and gets angry when he sees the young children in his villages eat Bongo snacks, tinned tuna, canned mutton and fizzy drinks – all filled with artificial chemicals that he knows may make them sick when they get older. Dr Cragun explains that because our cells need plenty of oxygen to function properly and healthy, when we put synthetic chemicals, man-made proteins and bad oils into our bodies, the cells don't get the oxygen they need and eventually die or become cancerous. This doesn't happen straight away, but after many, many years of eating the same non-fresh foods. So while fast, deep fried and canned foods might taste good and be fast to prepare, if you could only see what it does to your inside your body, you would be shocked and begin to understand why the urban Fijians are more sick than those living in rural areas who eat mainly fresh foods every day.
Foods that are high in antioxidants, like coconut, raw fruits, raw vegetables, ginger, garlic and tea, are nature's remedy to repair unhealthy cells that cause aging, cancer and disease, and all of these foods are eaten in abundance in the Asian diet.
Even the Chinese tourists from Hong Kong and China have learnt about the health benefits and high antioxidant power of the Fijian kura, and they are buying Noni juice by the cartons at the airport to take back home to stay younger and healthier.
Chinese also drink black tea with no sugar or milk powder, as these have no real nutritional benefit, except for taste, so it is always shocking for me to see how much milk and sugar most Fijians put in their cup of tea! Fijians drink mainly one type of tea, the black Ceylon tea leaves, but there are lots of different types of tea.
Oolong tea is known for both its antioxidant and anti-aging properties, helping to reduce wrinkles, age spots and other signs of growing old. Green tea is rich in antioxidant treasures that protect against heart disease, sneezing allergies and cancer. Nutritionists also believe that green tea helps arthritis and helps to build bone strength.
The Strong Cancer Prevention Centre in New York City also believes that black tea is one of the single best cancer fighters you can put into your body, helping to keep cells healthy and reduce the risk of cancerous cells. They recommend 4 cups of green tea a day to provide the powerful antioxidants to combat and inhibit cancer cells. Tea is also known for lowering bad cholesterol and helping to prevent heart disease by preventing blood clots. And the best thing about Chinese tea is that you don't need as much to make a pot and it is totally fat free! Like yagona is used in Fijian ceremony and rituals, the Chinese use tea as an official ritual to introduce newlyweds to each other's family, and it's a way for newlyweds to show respect and appreciation to their parents.
The newlyweds kneel in front of their parents, serving tea to both side of parents, as well as elder close relatives to celebrate a long and healthy life.
So today I'm sharing a recipe that combines the antioxidant power of oolong tea with the flavours of Asian spices in this aromatic tea-smoked chicken dish, which I've also included in my forthcoming travel cookbook about my adventures living in Fiji.
Lance Seeto is a chef, author and International food & travel writer based on Castaway Island. Follow his culinary adventures on his Facebook page "Fijian Food Safari".